10 year-olds are the new 16 year-olds!

How to parent pre-teens/teens, in forming healthy relationships

In our private, silent, cyber world, (social media, mobiles, the Internet) our children are being over exposed to explicit sexual images and skewed messages about sexuality and intimate relationships. These questionable information sources are having a huge impact on our children’s self-image, self-esteem, sexual values, morals and behaviour.

So how do we, as parents, best communicate to our pre-teens/teens when we are often the last people to know and certainly the last people they want to open up to?

Don’t panic! They may look all grown up, but they are just kids learning a new skill, just like when they learned to walk and kept knocking into the furniture!

Pre/teens are practising and acting out how to conduct intimate relationships

Peer groups rule!

At this age children copy each other without an in-depth insight into what they are doing or saying, let alone the impact on the other person. They are all fumbling in the dark and trying it all on for size; if you excuse the puns!

Pre/teens need support, understanding and patience

Making inroads with the opposite sex, together with exam pressure and unpredictable mood changes, makes for a turbulent, painful and confusing time, often affecting self-esteem, confidence, school work and sleep. Our role is to walk by their side, offering advice and support and the opportunity for non-judgmental discussion along the way.

Our aim is to be approachable, give moral guidance, unconditional love and support: we don’t want to chastise, humiliate or criticise. If we do, our pre/teen will go underground! Make no mistake, there will be many casualties along the way. We are not rescuers, but we are allowing them the space to learn from their mistakes and at the same time, to form loving, respectful, sexual relationships.


Stand back, breathe and count to ten.

  • Beware of judging your pre/teen. It is easy to expect them to behave like adults because they look like adults. Remember how little life experience they have had.

  • Explain that the process of choosing a girl/boyfriend is like choosing a best friend. We choose our best friends because they care and appreciate us for being ourselves.

  • Sexual behaviour is respectful and mutual, not a bargaining tool to buy popularity, to win friends, to be used as harassment or for abuse

Physician heal thyself

Do you model the kind of intimate relationship you want your children to follow?

Discuss with your partner your values and views on love, sex and intimacy. It could be an interesting discussion.

What are both your views on:

  • Emotions and how you demonstrate them.

  • Gender roles and responsibilities.

  • Sex, the expression of sexual feelings.

  • Intimacy - how comfortable is it for you?

  • Expressing affection in public?

  • Same sex relationships, transgender issues, teen sex in the home, the pill, condoms?

Be aware of your psychological baggage around relationships

How healthy is your own relationship? Crises with your pre/teen can set off any of this unfinished business. Oh, the joys of parenting!

How do you communicate your love for each other? Are you respectful? Do you have a fulfilling sex life? Are you a team? Are you good listeners? Do you communicate difficult feelings openly and honestly? Maybe you need a few sessions of couple counselling?

  • If your pre/teen shocks you and all your psychological buttons have been pressed by their behaviour, then…..take time out, discuss and process these feelings with your partner.

  • Do not approach your pre/teen about the issue until you feel grounded and logical! Write the issue down or discuss it with someone close. This helps to create distance so you can deal with your own emotions and then the situation

Make open communication as enjoyable and easy as possible

Inform you pre/teen that you would like to discuss something important and negotiate a good time, when you are both relaxed and happy. Choose a good setting, such as a car journey or walk. The aim is an exchange of opinions in the spirit of mutual respect, giving opportunity for feedback and a mutual exchange.

Choose two points you want to raise. Discuss each point, say what you need to and ask your pre/teen for their opinion, let the discussion bat forwards and backwards. Come to an agreement. This helps your pre/teen to learn and practise critical thinking, informed decision making and assertive communication skills.

Love and sex go hand in hand, so talk about them together

Provide non-threatening opportunities to explain and discuss biological changes during puberty, together with the nature of healthy, loving, intimate, relationships. Everyone’s body develops differently at different rates and are all normal! Encourage respecting difference. Discuss height changes, voice breaking, menstruation, wet dreams, facial, body hair, masturbation, sexual intercourse. The dreaded spots, self-image and teasing, as well as body odour and the need for a consistent personal hygiene routine.

Stress that healthy intimate relationships are built upon mutual respect, mutual trust, teamwork, valuing each other, making each other happy and regular open communication. Above all our intimate relationships should improve our self-confidence and self-esteem and enhance us as individuals!


  • Buy recommended ‘cool’ books and leave in your pre/teens room.

  • Make it clear that you and your partner are available if they have any questions.

  • Suggest they chat to a trusted person whom they consider a role model.

  • Talk openly about your own experiences of puberty.

Trust your gut feeling

If you suspect something is going on that rings alarm bells, don’t delay, get to the bottom of it, even if it means asking their friends. It is our responsibility to know what our pre/teens are doing, where and with whom.


  • Negotiate ground rules for using devices, text time, bed time.

  • Explain it’s our job to keep pre/teens safe, so from time to time, we will check phones, PCs etc.

  • Remember we are all learning!

  • Take time off from parenting, have a glass, meditate, relax!

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Tring, Hertfordshire, HP23
Written by Kim Harries, BA (Hons) MBACP Accred
Tring, Hertfordshire, HP23

Kim Harries is a qualified Counsellor, Psychotherapist and Supervisor. She has a private practice and works with individuals and couples. In her day job, as part of Social Services, she coaches people with mild to severe mental health issues and a wide range of disabilities back into the workplace.

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