Teenagers and tweens want parental help: A therapist weighs in
Your kids seem busy with their friends in person and online, but from what I hear outright, there’s an epidemic of loneliness among tweens and teenagers. Some of them go out alone to avoid parental radar. Some claim to snap chat or text friends when they are actually watching Netflix or listening to music in solitude.
Our teens and tweens need us to review them often. Make sure they connect with their peers through groups, clubs, or sports. I’ve been told that relying on casual meetings and online connections doesn’t meet their social needs.
QUICK TIP: Sit down with your child and watch their show or video with them, grab an earbud and listen to their music or play their video game. Talk to them about their interests. Then, consider how they can pursue these interests with their peers.
If your child is still struggling to make meaningful connections, try reading psychologist Kyler Shumway’s “Formula of Friendship” together.
You don’t know what’s on my mind
Too often, teenagers and tweens are not particularly forthcoming, leaving parents to guess what their children are thinking. And the assumptions are often wrong. The inner workings of our children are complex. Young people navigate through many identities at the same time: their identities at home, at school, with friends, with teachers, online and with themselves. The inner life of children is complicated and because they compare themselves to others they are often sad too.
Our children also have emotional problems. Suffering from depression and anxiety more than ever before, they judge themselves in the negative light by which they assume others will judge them. Scrolling through digitally altered pictures of their peers having fun online increases their insecurity. The combination of these factors makes our children often feel overwhelmed.
Instead of being dismissive, trust that managing this “identity traffic” can be emotionally draining. I find that parents learn a lot from lending an ear. You will experience bullying, social issues, feeling left out or ignored, and even drug use and abuse. Then, when the lines of communication are open, parents can start solving problems with their children.
Parents need to put their own fears, judgments, and egos aside for these conversations so that their children can freely share with them. It is also crucial that you find a positive light to see them and that they reflect their intelligence, strength, humor, beauty, disrespect, or other qualities that you admire.
QUICK TIP: Check out Eighth Grade on Amazon Prime for a real feel for what kids are doing today. Better yet, watch it with your teen or tween and pause to talk about relevant scenes.
The school is actually close to my heart
Their children seem ambivalent about school and avoid discussing the coming year. You may be hesitant to sign up for extracurricular activities. Many are also nervous about the upcoming school year unknowns arriving amid a possible Covid-19 resurgence and renewed masking duties. The combination of these factors can be read as laziness, an omen for grades and homework battles.
It is clear to all of my young customers that the school is very important to them. Some are overinvested and disappointed when their grades are not perfect. Others seem to sign off entirely, skipping assignments and blowing off studying for exams. The children in this group often fear that they may not do as well as their peers. They all want to achieve good performance, but cannot combine all the requirements for academic success under one roof.
We parents can start helping before the first bell rings. First, let your children know that you have every belief that they can be successful. Encourage your Type A kids to relax a bit, and they may find that the stress relief can improve their grades. For your children who unsubscribe, a sincere vote of confidence from you will get them far.
Then get them to sit down briefly to organize their school days. How much time will you save for homework? To practise? To sleep? Children usually have more energy to engage in these habits at the beginning of the school year, so join these discussions now.
Finally, give a hint of hope. Those last couple of years have been strange to say the least. The start of this school year offers them an empty slate and a clean start for the future.
QUICK TIP: Read one of the following books, depending on where your student is on the motivational bar:
If your child seems unmotivated, try “The Myth of Laziness” by the late pediatrician Dr. Mel Levine, Stress and Worries “by the psychologist Sheila Achar Josephs.
I’m not always good to you, but I need you
The world our children live in can be pretty tough. Your uncertainties about the present and your fears about the future can be overwhelming. And parents tell me that all too often children bring home this inconvenience from a bad attitude towards family. Try not to take this personally, but as an indication of the stress they are under. Children often target their parents with their negative emotions because they know they can trust that their parents love them unconditionally and have nowhere to go.
Instead, realize that most teenagers and tweens need some time to regress and be taken care of, often right before bed. To compensate for their hard day, treat your children to the softness of a hug or a cuddle. This will provide you with energy again for the days to come.
QUICK TIP: Listen to this episode of the Zen Parenting Radio podcast for a glimpse into your child’s state of mind.