Back to nature

It may be scorching hot outside, but keeping in touch with nature is still important. More and more tweens and teens are so plugged-in to technology and social networking that they aren’t spending nearly enough time outside. Exploring nature is beneficial to kids because it decreases stress, increases a sense of community and belonging, and provides meaning and purpose that can increase tween’s self esteem, confidence and sense of place in the world. 

Since it is 100+ degrees on Texas summer days, you may have to get a little creative! We’ve collected some ideas to get you and your child started so you can get some fresh air this summer and stay cool at the same time.

  • Bring her and her friend to Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center 

    on Thursday nights for Nature Nights 6-9pm

  • Visit local watering holes

  • Visit Breed and Company or your favorite local nursery to pick up inexpensive clay pots, some dirt, and plants. She and her friends can decorate the pots and plant some flowers to put in their rooms or on the front porch!

  • Go to East Austin Succulents (These plants can actually survive the Texas heat, and you will find some really cool looking cacti! Be on the lookout for a Living Social Coupon or a Groupon from them!)

  • Rent a kayak off of Town Lake (aim for early in the morning or in the evening to avoid the heat)

What are some ways you stay cool while keeping connected to nature?

summer reading list

The long, hot summer is here and we can think of nothing better we'd like to do than curl up with a good book under a fan, by the pool or at the beach. With so many great books out there for tweens and teens, sometimes you need a little guidance on what to get for your reader. Local gems like the Austin Public Library and Westbank Library have staff members who specialize in adolescent literature, and are always happy to help point you in a good direction. Check out APL's NBTween Book Club this summer, too! Up next is Time Cat and Nerd Camp!

Readergirlz is an online book club for adolescents that promotes literacy and social service, and can be a great way to get your social media-savvy tween excited about books again.

Local bookstore BookPeople has summer reading lists for grades 5-6, 7-8 and a whole website dedicated to teen literature with events, reviews and recommendations!

Here are a few titles we enjoy to help get you started. Happy reading!

Ages 9-12:
ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia
WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead
    Ages 13 and up:
UNDER THE NEVER SKY by Veronica Rossi
GIRLS DON’T FLY by Kristen Chandler

invasion of privacy

We came across an article today that got us thinking about when, if ever, it's appropriate for a parent to invade their child's privacy and snoop around. Parents ask us about this often, and really struggle with balancing limit-setting, independence-seeking, trust and respect for their child's privacy.

Kids this age are striving to create their own identity, to become the masters and mistresses of their own lives, and they deserve to be spared parental intrusion into areas they wish to keep private.- via

While you may or may not agree with what the author states above, the truth is that there are real risks for the parent/child relationship when parents decide to snoop. Parents often talk with kids about their need to be trustworthy. It's just as important for parents to demonstrate trustworthiness to their children, and one way to model that behavior is to respect their right to increasing privacy as they get older.

With a young tween, it may make sense to have supervisory authority over their email and facebook accounts, and to share that with them. Whenever parents are going to access potentially private information, it's critical to be upfront with your tween about what she can reasonably expect to be shared with you. Limit setting and boundaries are still an important aspect to raising responsible kids. As they get older, you can begin to allow them more and more access to privacy, and then respect those limits to model your own trustworthiness.

We want adolescents to develop autonomy over their bodies, thoughts, beliefs, values and hopes. Trusting them to their age-appropriate privacy is one way to help them get there.

Daddy's Not-so-little Girl

Are you a dad struggling to keep your connection with your daughter as she is growing up? It is possible to maintain a strong relationship during the tween years, but you can also expect that relationship to change and evolve as she does.

Fathers play a crucial role in helping their daughters develop trusting, healthy relationships and a positive self-image. As your tween enters puberty, it's natural to experience some distancing. Dads and daughters have to navigate creating a new relationship as she becomes his not-so-little-girl, and it can be challenging for dads to watch their daughters exert their newfound independence. One of the greatest gifts a dad can give his tween daughter is the space to discover her new self while letting her know that her dad is still there for her whenever she needs him. Trust us, she will!

With Father's Day approaching, here are some ideas for dads and daughters that will help you keep that connection and score some points with your tween!

  • Take your daughter AND her friends (2 or 3) out for brunch on the weekend.
  • Make something together - visit a garage sale and repurpose a piece of furniture for her bedroom!
  • Have a movie night at home during the school week - let her stay up just a little bit longer than usual! And of course, let her choose the movie (with no grumbling from Dad) and a special snack.
  • Take her and a friend to Blues on the Green, Unplugged at the Grove or a Central Market music night for some free fun and great music!
  •  Go sweat it out with paintball! This is a high-energy game that girls and their dads are sure to love. After the game, grab a sno-cone together to cool off and relive the highlights!

Visit for some other great ideas and advice!

Tween Style: From chapstick to lipstick

Dealing with the issue of makeup can be a tough subject in some households. Each parent may hold different opinions on when, where and how much is appropriate. Sometimes it's difficult because your tween’s BFF is allowed to wear makeup and you might be undecided (or totally against it), but your daughter won't let you hear the end of it!  Here are some ideas to help you ease your tween into her new style without driving you crazy in the process:

  • Compromise - saying a flat-out no right away may backfire, resulting in your child pushing back even more or going behind your back. Listen to her first and come up with a reasonable compromise. While you may think she's trying to look like a fashion model, she may be thinking it would be cool just to wear mascara
  • Start simple - explore with her some light and natural looking makeup; go to a makeup counter with her and get some samples and a mother/daughter light makeover 
  • Set limits - let her know what her boundaries are; help her learn where and when can she wear makeup and when it's not appropriate
  • Teach technique - along with good makeup application goes good skincare hygiene; she will need to be responsible about taking off her makeup if she is going to wear makeup; teaching her proper technique will also help prevent her from going overboard! (if your tween doesn’t want to learn from you, consider a makeup class or a birthday party with a style & makeup theme)

Now...have some fun and make some homemade lip balm together using this recipe:

16 teaspoons sweet almond or peach kernel oil
4 teaspoons beeswax
4 teaspoons cocoa butter
4 teaspoons honey
24 drops vanilla flavor oil
1 teaspoon vitamin E 250 IU
Put oil, cocoa butter and beeswax into a glass jar. Place jar in pan of boiling water over medium heat. Stir occasionally and heat until all are melted. Remove from heat and add honey, flavor oil and vitamin E oil. Mix well and pour into containers. Makes approx 12-13 1/4 oz containers.

tweens and caffeine

Just because few tweens get their morning kickstarted with a cup of Mom and Dad's coffee, doesn't mean they aren't loading up on the caffeine in other ways throughout the day. The popularity of highly caffeinated energy drinks, sugar-laden coffee-based treats like Starbucks' frappucino line and the old standby sodas means that many tweens are consuming caffeine regularly.

The general consensus among doctors is that tweens and teens should consume fewer than 100mg of caffeine per day, with many more urging no more than 80mg per day. For perspective, a can of soda has about 50mg of caffeine. A frappucino ranges from 10-195mg depending on the size and style. Energy drinks vary widely, but common brands have between 80-180mg per can. If you know your tween consumes these beverages even sparingly, check out this database with her and find the caffeine content of her preferred drinks. Then work with her to limit her caffeine intake and talk about the potential for sleep disruption, dehydration and even mood disturbances like anxiety. Check out these helpful websites here and here for more information on the effects of caffeine on your tween.


get smart: goal setting with your tween

We know with summer rapidly approaching, kids are eager to leave school behind and just relax! The last thing on their minds is planning ahead. However, summer offers a great time to sit down and talk with your tween without all the pressure of homework, what to wear to school and how to squeeze in all those after school activities! Parents can use this time to help their tween learn how to set SMART goals, practice a little over the summer, and then start back to school in the fall with a solid plan.

SMART goals stands for:

  • Specific-The who, what, when, where and why of goals
  • Measurable-How will you know when the goal has been met?
  • Attainable-We're not talking about a goal to meet Princess Kate, right?
  • Relevent-Let's set a goal that matters to all involved
  • Timely-Give it a set time frame: not too long, not to short

The part many people skip over is the very first step: Get specific! Let's say you set a goal with your tween to take on more chores around the house. What does more mean? How long will she have to add on each new chore? Who will decide when it's done? What will happen if the chore isn't completed to Mom & Dad's standards? What happens when the goal is met? What's in it for your tween?

When you and your tween get the hang of setting small, SMART goals, you can help her use these skills to set her own goals. Perhaps she's always wanted to have the fastest sprint in 7th grade, or learn to play guitar or make a new friend at summer camp? When we help tweens learn the value of identifying and breaking down their goals into manageable pieces, they can take these tools and use them to gain confidence as they begin to meet, and exceed, their goals!

If you practice now, by the time school starts in the fall you and your tween will be goal-pros and you can use these steps to make homework less daunting (for both of you)! Fun summer family goals can include planting a vegetable garden, building a house through Habitat for Humanity, or planning a series of road trips that get you to all the state parks within a 4-hour drive. The practice tweens get from collaborating on these goals is invaluable, and they might not even realize they're learning anything along the way because they'll be having such a good time!


Family Fitness fun!

With summer approaching, there are a lot of opportunities to get your family moving and encourage healthy habits for your tweens! Body image concerns can grow quickly in middle school, and it's helpful for the whole family to adopt an attitude of living a healthy lifestyle rather than stressing size, weight or other aspects of physical appearance that can be a source of shame for adolescents.

While it can be difficult to get some tweens moving, there are some great opportunities to offer fun for the whole family as a little encouragement.

  • This Sunday, May 20th, Viva Streets Austin is closing down two miles of Sixth Street to encourage families to walk, run, bike, skateboard and play on a car-free road filled with music, vendors, and all-ages activities. They'll have water activities, hula hoops, bike skills courses and more! Best of all, it's a free event, open to the public and great for kids of all ages as well as their (leashed) furry friends!
  • Body Business is offering free teen gym memberships for high schoolers this summer, as a way to encourage fitness and teach basic skills in the gym. Their are some restrictions due to location, and teens must complete an intro session to be eligible.

The most effective way to get tweens and teens moving is to make daily activity a part of the whole family's routine. Things like family walks with the dog, after dinner backyard play time and quick games of basketball, hula hooping or jump rope can all be quick and fun ways to get everyone moving. Just remember to keep the focus on wellness and healthy choices for all, and not on weight and appearance. The goal is a lifelong love of healthy living, not a preoccupation with looking a certain way or fitting into a certain pair of jeans. And remember to lead by example! Keep your self-criticisms about your body to a minimum, and practice what you preach by getting off the scale and hitting the ground running every day!

Summer is on its way!

With only a few weeks left in the school year, now is the perfect time to sit down with your tween and plan ahead for those long, hot summer days! Here's your chance to beat the boredom before it starts. Set aside a relaxing 30 minutes with your tween to brainstorm a summer fun plan. That way when you inevitably hear the words "I'm so bored!" you'll have a list at hand to choose from.

Try to include a wide range of activities on your list. Some that your tween can do on her own, some that are free, some for a rainy day, some that are within walking distance. You can put activities down that are for the whole family, for your tween and a friend and special mother/daughter or father/daughter days. Day trips for you all are a fun way to break the monotony of the long summer!

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Walk Lady Bird Lake and take pictures of all the wildlife
  • Visit the fountain at Auditorium Shores and cool down
  • Help your daughter plan and prepare a theme dinner for her friends (Mexican Fiesta, Hawaiian Luau, French cafe)
  • Fly a kite at Zilker Park
  • Have a water balloon fight
  • Visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
  • Have an in-home spa day with homemade masks, manicures, and pampering! Have tea and spa snacks to create your very own staycation

Also, if some of the activities on your tween's list cost money, now is good time to have her do some extra chores around the house to save money for special outings!




Talking to your tween about grades

Talking to your tween about her grades can be a touchy subject. If you find out she got a poor grade on a big test, or her overall averages have gone down, you may feel frustrated, disappointed or angry. Chances are, even if she doesn't tell you, your daughter is feeling a few of these things as well.Before you react from a place of frustration, take some time to consider a more positive approach to working with your tween on her school performance.

When we look at grades, it's important to consider the effort your tween put into her work and to talk with her about that in an open and positive way. The relationship between effort and grades is not always so easy to gauge. Some grades may be a reflection of a lack of effort, while others may be a sign that, despite working hard, your tween is struggling in a certain area and could really use some help. Some high grades may indicate your child is gifted in a subject but not putting in her best effort. When looking at grades, keep the big picture in mind. It's important to help your tween learn how to put forth her best effort regardless of the grade, and you can help her figure out how to do that in a positive way. Find a balance between using grades and effort to measure your tween's success in school.

Open up the conversation by asking her what she thinks about her grade and the effort she put forth. Ask her if she has any ideas for what might be done differently next time. It's important to really listen to her before offering any of your own solutions, and try to help her take the lead on creating a game plan for upcoming assignments. Have her set her own goal for the next grading period, then collaborate with her to create some workable steps to help her feel successful. Remember to help her keep the goal realistic and achievable, and be sure to follow up with her gently and positively over the coming weeks to help keep her accountable!