The Science Behind Preteen Parenting

Dr. Mannis. Photo Courtesy.

Parenting is never easy, and parenting preteens can be especially tricky, as preteen brains are rapidly developing and this age group is undergoing change in every aspect of their lives. Those factors make a careful guiding hand important to their development.
Some of the answers to the complicated puzzle of preteen parenting may lie within the field of neuroscience.

“By middle childhood, which is about age 12, there are a number of shifts that are happening in terms of the neuroscience, in terms of brain development,” says
Dr. Rebecca Mannis, a learning specialist and recent contributor to parenting book “12-Year-Old Ready.”

Mannis says that there are a unique set of circumstances when dealing with preteens as a parent. Preteens are experiencing growth inefficiency of their brains, exploring and interacting with the world around them and working with growing executive functioning skills that help them accomplish their responsibilities.

But parents also have to contend with giving their kids greater freedom to explore and have independence in which they can practice their growing skills, while also juggling setting appropriate boundaries for them.

And most importantly, no two children will follow the exact same developmental path.
Mannis breaks down the way to approach this unique set of circumstances parents may face in raising their preteens through what she calls the “new TLC,” in reference to the old acronym for tender loving care.

The New TLC

The first part of this approach is based on the T in the acronym—now referring to temperament—in that parents should learn about and adapt to their child’s temperament.
“We know that some kids are hardwired, that they’re a little slower to warm up. They need a little more time to make a decision,” Mannis says. “There are other kids who are a little more impulsive.”

Information on how your child typically approaches situations can be a great informer on how to provide them with the best environment as they tackle the daily challenges of growing up, dealing with a wide variety of situations.

Next comes the L, which stands for the learning profile of your child. The learning
profile shapes the way children best discover new things and learn how to make sense of the world.

“Some kids have an easier time juggling different things. Other kids need
things laid out very methodically, and they’re more visual. They really need a
list to track the flow of the day,” Mannis explains.

The final letter of the “new TLC” framework is the C, which stands for culture or context.
Mannis says that the culture and context of the area or family a child is raised in can shape their development, and the way that kids interact with these external factors can be transformative for them.

Encouraging Growth Through Independence

Outside of the TLC framework, Mannis also shares ways in which preteens can learn
new things through increased independence in controlled settings to boost their
confidence and provide them with a great step in development, such as making their own decisions about staying up late to watch the end of a game, or in dealing with adults at school.

“Middle childhood is a great time to go set rules that are clear but also [offer] your child latitude,” Mannis says.

One way preteens can exercise independence is through social media use, but there’s also a question of the growing impact that medium is having on kids as they get cell phones and begin exploring social media platforms during this developmental time.

Mannis says that it’s important to have family rules around social media but concedes that it’s almost impossible to keep kids away from it entirely with the heavy reliance of online platforms and apps in every part of our lives.

“There are parental controls for social media. And that can be helpful in trying to help kids learn how to enjoy it and what the value of it can be, while also being responsible, especially because we were talking about those reward centers in the brain that are really deep… and we know that social media is designed to be pretty addictive,” Mannis says.

Mannis concludes that one way to deal with the issue and to stay connected to your kids is to find times and set examples where phones aren’t used. Spend time together to keep the bond between parents and kids strong, and discourage social media addiction.

Find “12-Year-Old Ready,” edited by Wendy Thomas Russell, on


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