Back to school preparation has started. We are spending lots of money, and endless hours, shopping for clothes, back packs and other back to school essentials. We fret over how to prepare healthy lunches and snacks. We update forms and we make appointments for haircuts and check ups.

Yet, we often overlook updating our tweens safety skills.

I wish adults would fret a bit more about their child’s safety health. That we would update and replace old safety skills with the promptness that we replace worn backpacks and outgrown clothing.

The “Tween” years are defined as those years “in between”. They are not little kids anymore but are not teenagers either. The ages of 8-12 represents a huge leap for kids and their parents. Back to school is a critical time to review and replace your tweens growing safety needs. Plan ahead now and your won’t be as likely to be caught off guard later.

Here are some basic tween safety skills that parents should be thinking about, talking about and practicing with their tween:

Checking In:  Tweens start to crave more independence from their parents and most noticeably parents will no longer be hanging out with their Tween at play-dates (oh, I was also informed by my Tween that they no longer refer to them as “play dates” either). Tweens will often start wanting to explore their neighborhood without a grown up tagging along.  This can be nerve wracking for parents but this kind of independence is a normal developmental milestone for tweens. Start practicing having your child “Check in” if the plan changes while they are at a friends house or if they are out and about in the neighborhood. Checking in helps you know and understand what they are doing and with whom.

Role Play:  Your tween will begin to experience more risky peer situations. Even if your child is a “rule follower” or has “good friends” or is “active in school, church or sports” they are going to experience risky peer situations where they may be asked to break the rules or your tween will be with peers who ARE breaking the rules or engaging in risk taking behaviors. Help give your Tween some good scripts on how to get out of these situations, present different scenarios that may happen and help them have tools and an escape plan to get them out of the situation. Also, let your Tween know that they can still come to you after the fact and talk to you about what happened.

Safety to and from School: Your Tween may want to start walking home from school and/or the bus stop. Evaluate your Tweens readiness by making sure they are able to stick to a regular (and populated) path. Will they come straight home or become distracted? What are the specific risks to your child? Traffic, high crime area, busy street to cross? Only YOU can determine if your child is ready to go it alone or with a buddy. If you have decided that they can start walking to and from school on their own, make sure that you practice a preferred route, identify homes and /or businesses they can go to if they need assistance. Take a buddy whenever possible and remind them to NEVER approach or get into a car with anyone, even if they know the person, without checking in first with you.

Asking questions: This is the time for parents to  really step up their game and start asking more thoughtful and engaged questions about what is happening in their Tweens life.  When your child is going to be spending time with other families, be sure to ask “what is the plan?” and “who will be watching the kids?”.  Some Tweens at this age are seasoned at staying home alone. Others are not.  The same goes for movies, games and internet access. Your comfort level about kids being home alone and your family rules about internet access and games may not be the same as someone else. If you have concerns, then talk to the adult in charge about your concerns. Also be thoughtful in asking your child open ended questions about their day, their interests and what their plan is when they are going to a friends house.

As a parent of Tween and a full fledged teenager, I can fully attest to the fact that the more we talked about safety expectations for back to school, the better things went. Tweens will test boundaries, rules will be broken, there will be many opportunities to discuss how things could be handled differently next time. Yet, by the end of the school year, in spite of some uncomfortable moments and deep pits in my stomach, we got through. We learned that the safety net we provided at the beginning of the school year was the most powerful investment we made in our back to school preparations.