How to Talk to Tweens
Fourteen Talks by Age Fourteen

How to Talk to Tweens

Michelle Icard, author of 8 Setbacks That Can Make a Child a Success and an NBC parenting expert, offers straightforward, workable advice for communicating with and understanding your tween.

Michelle Icard, NBC parenting commentator and author of 8 Setbacks That Can Make a Child a Success, provides guidance on conducting conversations with adolescents on parent and child relationships, independence, friendship, creativity, self-care, fairness, technology, criticism, hard work, money, sexuality, reputation, impulsivity and helping others.


Give tweens space, Icard advises. Talk with, not at them. To show your tweens you trust them, withhold advice until they ask for it.

From the day they were born, you and your child have been developing your own language, together. Until middle school.Michelle Icard

Don’t assume you know how your tween feels. Ask for what you want, such as time alone with your tween each week, rather than complaining, for example, that you don’t talk anymore. Set firm boundaries.

Icard urges you to apply the acronym “BRIEF” to guide your conversations with tweens. Begin with an unemotional statement. Relate instead of accusing. Interview your tween to find out what’s going on. Respond by echoing what your tween says.Offer feedback in the form of constructive action.

Start conversations casually, in the car, for example, so your tweens can avoid eye contact. Let them know they can talk to other adults, such as a grandparent or an aunt or uncle.

Never overshare. Don’t tell personal stories you wouldn’t tell a boss or a new acquaintance, and don’t share to impress, scare or manipulate. Be patient.

Your tweens may overestimate their readiness to make decisions, so let them learn to manage their mistakes and failures. Parents who respect their tweens’ need for privacy and independence foster stronger long-term relationships. Overly strict parenting may cause kids to become more remote when they reach adulthood.

From ages 10 to 14, children have widely varying maturity levels. Tweens need boundaries, but being arbitrary may provoke unsafe rebellion. Explain why you’re setting limits and provide ways your children can demonstrate their readiness for more responsibility and freedom.


Tweens feel pressure to fit in, and they struggle with how friendships change during adolescence. Icard encourages you to assure your tweens that most adolescents feel out of place and to explain that very few 7th grade friendships endure to 12th grade. Teach that mastering conversational skills and being open to new experiences will be more beneficial in the long run than seeking a best friend at age 12.

Creativity builds resilience, self-expression and future success. In early adolescence, creativity focuses on personal expression. Creative play can transform into entrepreneurship, so encourage both. Nurture creative thinking by brainstorming with your tweens. Help them see that their best ideas often emerge from their worst. 

Tweens’ complaints about unfairness often indicate that they are experiencing an unmet need or want. Share a definition of fairness with your child. Explain why you treat each of your kids differently and listen to their feedback. Communicate clearly about punishments and rewards. Being arbitrary or abrupt about punishments or even rewards makes you seem unfair.

Encourage your tweens to eat intuitively rather than trying to stick to strict diet plans. Help them get at least nine hours of sleep every night. Explain that sufficient sleep has a positive impact on their health and mental acuity.

You can and should talk with your child early on about suicide. The same is true for self-harm. Make these topics part of your family conversations.Michelle Icard

When discussing alcohol, drugs or vaping, stick to facts and your expectations. Discuss topics such as self-harm and suicide. Such discussions build awareness and resilience.

Don’t attempt to separate your tweens from technology, which can stimulate their creativity. Host a family tech meeting to set mutual guidelines and individual principles and precautions for online behavior. Tools that can be beneficial may also pose risks, so maintain a balanced perspective. Encourage creative and connective uses of technology. Invite your kids to educate you about their tech knowledge and interests.


Icard encourages parents to help their kids distinguish between constructive criticism aimed at improvement and destructive criticism meant to belittle. When giving your children negative feedback, focus on their feelings and coping mechanisms, not yours. Offer clear instructions, not opinions.

Highlighting your tween’s strengths promotes their brain development by fostering confidence and competence. Help your tweens develop their work ethic by discussing hard work, balancing work and relationships, and finding value in effort even if it doesn’t achieve the results they want. Watch for signs of burnout. If your children express the need for a break from an activity – even one they love – take them seriously.

Maintain parental privacy regarding your family’s financial decisions while educating your children about mortgages, vacations, cars and insurance.

Encourage kids to track their expenses and spend thoughtfully by discussing what constitutes a reasonable waiting period before making a purchase. Give tweens a basic understanding of how marketing and advertising work to influence them. In one piece of advice with particularly lasting positive impact, Icard advises fostering a culture of gratitude for what you have rather than one of longing for what you don’t.


Kids access porn early, normally by or before age 14. Clarify that porn does not represent real sex. Teach your tween how to set firm boundaries. Discuss the prevalence of teen sexting and explain how to avoid getting talked into it. 

If you talk early about consent, starting with nonsexual situations, your tween will develop comfort and proficiency with the concept, which will position them for safer sexual encounters later in life.Michelle Icard

Pay attention to safety in sexual encounters and talk about differences in sexual orientation, emphasizing respect for all. Since most tweens and teens are naturally impulsive and take risks, talk to them about reputation, temptation, safety and making sound decisions.

Helping Baffled Parents

Michelle Icard  wastes no time and few words. Her advice is remarkably clear and requires little explanation. She covers a wide range of situations in her 14 conversations, yet her guidance remains comprehensive and never superficial. She urges you to understand your tween’s thoughts and feelings, but not to rush to fix every issue. Icard explains that tweens need space and trust to develop their independence and coping mechanisms. Though she is an expert, she does not play the lofty know-it-all. Instead, Icard assumes, accurately, that most parents experience some degree of bafflement and frustration dealing with their tweens. She takes that as the starting point and admits her own difficulties with tweens. Icard’s instant embrace of parental confusion makes her guidance comforting rather than intimidating.


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