Tweens & Teens: When they get emotionally distant

tweens teensNote from Gwen & Shannon: We’ve revamped the Tweens & Teens category and it now features real-life answers from real-life moms who have tweens and/or teenagers. We’ve asked the moms to write anonymously so they can be as brutally honest as possible. One of the moms featured here is also a licensed professional counselor so she is tackling these questions both personally and professionally.

Whether you have teenagers or babies, this topic is one that will impact all of us at one time or another. Hope these insights from fellow local moms help you navigate this important time in your teenager’s life. Here’s the first question and answers from three smart mamas.

I know teenagers are supposed to separate from parents, but the emotional distance between me and my teenage daughter is killing me lately. How do I “let her go” and keep her close at the same time?

mama JBoy do I remember this stage! It feels terrible, but intellectually you know that it’s a normal part of growing up. One thing that helped me and my daughter was that we had a conversation one day where we “named it and claimed it.” We talked about how we both recognized what was happening and admitted that even though it is a normal stage (emotional separation), it still causes some heartache on both sides.

keep out signThe ironic thing is the way teenagers seem to vacillate between seeming SO INDEPENDENT one moment, then utterly helpless, hapless and CLUELESS the next! Giving my daughter distance when she needed (or demanded!) it, but remaining available when she did seem to need or want me around (which wasn’t often!) was my strategy. I’m happy to report that we both survived the emotional separation and are slowly but surely drawing closer together — now that she lives five hours away!

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mama KThis is one of the toughest aspects of parenting, in my opinion. I think you have to look for the victory in the situation. If your child is starting to distance herself, it’s likely because you’ve consistently given her the tools and support she needed to gain enough confidence to start finding her own way.

I’ve always said I didn’t raise my child with the intent for her to always cling to me–but instead raised her to find out and celebrate who she is independent of me. I firmly believe that giving our kids enough room to develop themselves, but with a clear message that we’re always there for them, is what will ultimately bring them back to us.

I believe the best thing I did for my daughter was to fully engage in and support the things she was passionate about–so she knew I was in her corner and incredibly proud of her–while giving her room to have some privacy and down time that didn’t have to involve me. What resulted was the development of shared passions, which formed a foundation for us that sustained our relationship during some of the more tumultuous times.

If you give your daughter the space she needs, she will better appreciate the time you’re spending together. We all know (and avoid) people who try to hold on too tight and smother those around them. Giving her space doesn’t mean you’re losing her…it means you’re respecting the person she’s growing into.

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mama MAs a parent, we’re still “coaching” our kids… no matter how old they are. One of the ways we coach is helping our kids manage their relationships. And relationships need investment. Teaching teens to have a balance between friends and family is a valuable lesson.

I’d suggest adding “functional predictability” into your family. This means you’ll have certain rituals that help people in the family invest in each other — things like “We Eat Together Wednesdays,” “Log Cabin Night (with no electronics),” “Game Nights,” etc.

Most of all, make sure that being at home with you is FUN.

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Tweens & Teens: The back-to-school clothes dilemma

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Note from the mamas: It’s the first week of school, which means your tween or teen might be asking for more new clothes, if he or she hasn’t bagged them already. To help you navigate those tricky waters, here’s a great post written by child psychologist Dr. Billy Jones of Mercy Health.

Did you know clothing is the No. 1 item purchased by both male and female teenagers? It’s true. The money.jpgsecond is shoes for girls and video games for boys. I’ve read that teens spend approximately $150 billion dollars per year on clothing alone…yeah, billion.

I’ve heard several theories about the financial aspects of dressing your adolescent with everything ranging from doing extra chores to help pay for the clothes to giving them an unlimited amount on the credit card. If the latter is you, then we need to talk…quickly. No tween or teen needs to be given an unlimited amount of money for clothing. I do like the idea of extra chores around the house, though there are certainly times when I will get something for my 11-year-old for no reason other than he asks.

When you’re buying back-to-school clothing, you need to have a budget and your tween and teen can be included in helping with that budget. Adolescents are not typically realistic with money, and this is an excellent opportunity to help give them some perspective on life.

I’m afraid I can’t give you an exact amount you should spend on back-to-school shopping, as it will depend on your financial situation and personal preference. If I had to guess (please no letters about the guess), it would be $200-$400. This is only back-to-school clothing costs and does not include school supplies. Also, this only refers to back-to-school time rather than the entire year. And, yes, I understand that some tennis shoes cost that much alone; however, they are not worn by my children. If tennis shoes cost more than my electric bill, they are too expensive.

To help understand what clothing is popular, and what is not, you can consult various fashion magazines and their websites. Magazines such as Seventeen, Teen Vogue, and GQ are good places to start. Or, you could ask my wife since she’s always up to date on the latest trends. I never thought I would compliment someone on their shoes and/or purse, but alas, I do. Living with my wife has taught me more than I ever wanted to know about clothing.

After consulting fashion magazines to see what the latest styles may be, you can search the internet for designer clothes at bargain prices. You can also shop around by going to outlets, thrift stores, and ugh…the mall.

bare-midriff.jpgDressing modestly is a must, and I won’t budge on this one. I’ve seen WAY too much flesh on tweens and teens who come through my office, or just out in public. I will say this…If a girl advertises her goods, someone will answer her ad. Guys are on the prowl and their eyes, hands, and hormones are running wild at this age. If your daughter raises her arms and her tummy is showing, then you need to consider whether this outfit is too short for her.

I have also seen parents who try to dress like their teenager, which is just embarrassing.

From a developmental and emotional standpoint, clothing is an important way for adolescents to express themselves and give a glimpse of who they are. Simply buying the most expensive, or popular, clothing does not automatically give you style. Manners, charm, and confidence (and a few other things) are required. This is the time for adolescents to learn who they are, who they want to be, and who they do not want to be.

So, let’s all be realistic when buying clothing, especially with finances…we must also be sensitive to the fact that your tween and teen wants to be accepted and, as mentioned in a previous article, wants to avoid embarrassment. Having clothing that’s similar to others at school is one way they feel they can avoid embarrassment, which may give them some sense that they’re going to be automatically accepted. Though we know this is not true, they may not have yet learned this simple fact. At the same time, they want to establish their individual needs and style, and this is the time they will do so.

Whew…good luck.

billy

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Dr. Jones is a child psychologist with Mercy Health System of Northwest Arkansas. Click here to read previous articles on Tweens & Teens. Got a question for Dr. Jones? Send it to us (we won’t use your name) and we may feature it in an upcoming installment of Tweens & Teens.

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Tweens & Teens: Decode your kids’ text messages

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By Dr. Billy Jones, father and child psychologist with Mercy Health

According to a 2007 research study, 82% of Americans own a cell phone. This amounts to about 250 million people. Of those 250 million, guess how many are children and teenagers. …Okay, I’ll tell you: Ages 6-9 years = 22%; ages 10-14 years = 60%; and ages 15-18 years = 84%. I have no idea why a 6-year-old needs a cell phone, but that’s what the study tells us.

Additionally, Yankee Research company indicated that 54% of 8 to 12-year-olds will own a cell phone within the next 3 years. Since this survey was completed in 2007, that means VERY soon…as in 2010…as in NOW! My son, who is 11-years-old, has a cell phone and texts nonstop. He is texting friends, neighbors, and family. Constantly.

In fact, 84 million Americans admit to texting on a daily basis. Teens and tweens will not only text basic messages but also sexual ones (called “sexting”) as well as sending out messages to bully other students (called cyber-bullying). In a 2008 survey of teenagers (13 to 19 years-old) and young adults (20 to 26 years-old), 20% of the teenagers (33% for young adults) had sent photos of themselves either nude or semi-nude. Also, 39% of teenagers (59% of young adults) had sent sexually explicit messages.

I’ve been asked by nwaMotherlode.com, a GREAT website (there’s a little plug for Gwen and Shannon), to talk about texting terms. Obviously, I don’t know all of them because I’m over the age of 30 (but not by much.) :-)

So… I asked my son, his friends, teenage patients who come through my office, and various middle school and junior high school classrooms in Northwest Arkansas to provide a list of texting terms, and then I compiled my own little database.

texting.jpgBefore giving you the list, I need to clarify. ALL of these come from teens and tweens ranging in age from 10 to 16 years-old.  IF an obscene text was used, I asked them to use a “*” in place of the word, and I was easily able to figure it out. You should be able to figure them out as well. I asked them to put down all terms they frequently used and to not hold back with the obscene ones. As a parent, I want to know them all…the good, the bad, and the ugly.

My son, by the way (or “btw” in text language) came up with the second most popular term, which is “wtf”.  This stands for “What the *?” Yes, it is the “F” word you’re thinking it might be. I knew he knew the term, but for him to actually use it…YIKES!!! Needless to say, we had a little talk.

Okay, enough talk and now to the top 10 terms in order of their popularity. FYI…lowercase letters are used as casual conversation while capital letters would be used if you wish to “shout” your message. That’s not considered good “netiquette.” (Yes, this is actually a real term).

  1.  lol = Laughing out loud
  2. wtf = What the *
  3. gtg = Got to go (or sometimes may mean Good to go)
  4. ttyl = Talk to you later
  5. brb = Be right back
  6. k (or) kk = Okay (kk is considered more thoughtful and is derived from “Okay cool”)
  7. omg = Oh my God
  8. u = You
  9. r = Are
  10. bff = Best friends forever

What was most interesting are some of the other terms I received. For example, POS means “Parent over my shoulder”, which is very helpful as I know my child is texting something he should not.

Here are some more I got either from this survey (just not in the top 10) or from websites that list additional texting terms:

  • jk = Just kidding
  • c = See
  • ty = Thank-you
  • np = No problem…can also mean “nude pictures”, depending on the context
  • texting2.jpga/s/l/p = Age/Sex/Location/Picture
  • gf or bf = Girlfriend or Boyfriend
  • bamf = Bad *ss mother *
  • adih = Another day in Hell
  • bac = Bad *ss chick
  • btfo = Back the * out
  • btw = By the way
  • rofl = Rolling on floor laughing
  • roflmao = Rolling on floor laughing my *ss off
  • g/l/b/t = Gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender
  • idk = I don’t know
  • pron = Pornography
  • ru/18 = Are you over 18 years old
  • tdtm or td2m = Talk dirty to me

The list goes on… and on… and on…

As you can see, lots of teens and tweens are talking in code. Even my son, who does know how to spell btw, will write “was” as “wuz”. I casually remarked that it contained the same number of letters and would be just as easy to spell correctly. His response was, “Dad, that’s not the cool way to text it.” I am officially old.

If you want me to be honest, I think most of these so-called “cool” misspellings are initially made because many of our children don’t know how to spell. They say, “It’s cool” instead of “I don’t know how to spell that word.” But that is imho (in my humble opinion). I guess with spell check, you don’t need to know how to spel (rofl at myself on that one).

Click here to read previous articles on Tweens & Teens. Got a question for Dr. Jones? Send it to us (we won’t use your name) and we may feature it in an upcoming installment of Tweens & Teens.

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Tweens & Teens: Top four reasons why teens misbehave

By Dr. Billy Jones, psychologist with Mercy Health 

A few weeks ago, this website asked a question in an online quiz that went like this: “Which of the following behaviors would bother you most if you noticed it in your child?” The possible answers were “bad grades, bad hygiene, bad friends, or bad manners.” The winner was “bad friends” by a pretty wide margin, which confirms that most parents worry about their kid falling in with the “wrong crowd.”

I believe that, in order for us to understand people, we must enter their world. We need to be able to think like them, though not necessarily act like them. We’ve already acted like them, so let’s not do that again!  We’ve got to think about hanging out with the wrong crowd from a teenager’s point of view.

Teenagers (and really all children) will misbehave for 4 primary reasons: 

  • Power
  • Attention
  • Inadequacy
  • Revenge

I remember this by the acronym P.A.I.R.  For now, let’s talk about “Attention.”  Everybody wants it, and some are willing to go to great lengths to get it.  If teenagers don’t get the attention they need, then they WILL misbehave in order to get it.  After all, negative attention is better than no attention at all. (Yes, I know you have heard this before, but it IS true).

The teenage years are awkward for everyone — puberty, pimples, dating, and wanting freedom from your parents but deep inside being scared to death of it. We’re also trying to find out who we are and social interaction is how we begin this process. We do this by comparing ourselves to others. This is why teenagers can be so superficial and want the most expensive thing they see, especially clothing. We want to get attention from others, and clothing is the first thing people see.

As parents, we’ve got to teach our children how to get attention without going through such superficial measures. But, not all parents are up to the job. (Not all of them bother to read articles like this designed to help them understand teenagers.)  So if teenagers can’t get positive attention from their parents, they turn to their friends. If they can’t get it from friends, they turn to whoever is left over. This is how many gangs are formed.

Teenagers have somehow learned how to use “the Force” or some sort of “Old Jedi Mind Trick” (Star Wars analogy in case you’re wondering) to find someone who will give them the attention they feel can meet their needs. And there you have it…the “wrong crowd” shows up, and usually it’s at the worst time.

So, what can we do?  First and foremost, we’ve got to talk to our teenagers. Research shows that lack of communication is one of the top reasons teenagers display defiant types of behaviors. Talking to them about their day, and listening, — not lecturing — is the first thing to do. Treating them with respect regardless of whether you agree with them is essential. Remember, it doesn’t matter how you think things should be, it only matters what your teenager believes. They will act on their perception of reality, not yours.

So, LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN to what they’re telling you, both verbally and nonverbally. If you do this consistently, they’ll begin to understand how much you love them and how much you’re willing to give them your time AND attention.

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Got a question or a tween/teen issue you’d like to get Dr. Jones’ thoughts on? Send it to mamas@nwaMotherlode.com and we may feature it in an upcoming installment of Tweens & Teens. The post published above is part of our “Summer Remix” series made up of posts previously published on nwaMotherlode and designated as a “reader favorite.” If you missed the original publication date, we hope you enjoyed this encore performance. Happy summer!

 



Tweens & Teens: Weight Issues

“You can never, ever, use weight loss to solve problems that are not related to your weight. At your goal weight or not, you still have to live with yourself and deal with your problems. You will still have the same husband, the same job, the same kids, and the same life. Losing weight is not a cure for life.”  ~Phillip McGraw (we know him as Dr. Phil)

Welcome to the April edition of Teens and Tweens. Spring weather is here, though honestly, I don’t feel like we really got any winter weather. Here’s a question sent to Gwen and Shannon from you, the readers of this column. By the way, thank-you to all who read this column and especially to those who make comments.  It’s very much appreciated.  :-)

“I’m really worried about my 14-year-old daughter. She isn’t built like a Barbie doll and has always struggled with weight issues. She is certainly not obese and is only about 15 to 20 pounds higher than her target weight, but she acts as if she looks hideous because she is not a size 6. She puts so much pressure on herself to lose weight. I watch closely for signs of an eating disorder and I don’t see any at this time. But I don’t want her growing up hating herself or her body. What can I do to help her see that “beautiful” is about more than skinny thighs and toned abs?”

This is, unfortunately, an issue facing so many tweens and teens these days. From the pressure put on them by their peers, to the media glamorizing beauty, the need to look “perfect” is quite prevalent.

When considering the enormous pressure of having the Barbie figure (or Ken figure, for that matter), there are several areas of concern. What causes kids to want the Barbie or Ken look?  What are kids up against? There are many reasons, but if you take them all together, these are the main four:

  • Pressure from society – Seeing movie stars on television and magazine covers can oftentimes drive teens to obsess over having the perfect body. This may also lead to eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia.  Just a side note…I once dated a girl with bulimia.  She thought she had to have the perfect body, and I never knew (until after we broke up) that she was bulimic. She would eat and then excuse herself to the bathroom to purge.
  • Low self-esteem – Teens with low self-esteem are certainly at a higher risk for developing eating disorders and being obsessed with weight. They believe they can become accepted if they’re skinnier. Many, however, become emotional eaters, which only makes things more difficult for them. Remember, stressed spelled backwards is desserts.
  • Family pressure – Many times, families are striving for perfection and will do almost anything to keep the appearance that everything is fine and dandy at their house. No problems at all.  As such, parents may inadvertently put pressure on their children to dress and look a certain way to maintain this appearance. Reality check…we all have imperfect families.
  • Genetics – If we take an honest look at our children, we see that they resemble…well…us.  They may have our eyes, hair color (or previous hair color before ours went gray), and yes…body type. If we have a larger frame, we can expect our children to genetically have the same build. This is not a guarantee, but it does happen more times than not.

Poor eating habits can lead to serious health issues including cardiovascular disease, Type II diabetes, and obesity. In fact, the rate of obesity in Arkansas has tripled over the past 20 years and is at a staggering 30.6%.

But at the other end of the spectrum, extreme dieting also has serious health issues including poor muscle tone, cardiovascular concerns, seizures, digestive problems, absence of menstrual cycles, and bone loss.

When you talk to your teen about the dangers of extreme dieting, remember to emphasize healthy eating choices and talk honestly about the media pressure of television and magazine ads. Make sure she knows the dangers associated with what essentially amounts to starving yourself.

On average, you can lose about 2 pounds per week and still maintain a healthy diet. A pound is 3,500 calories so you would need to decrease your food intake by 1,000 calories per day to lose 2 pounds a week. If you do the math, that equals 8 pounds per month and 48 pounds over a 6 month period. Exercising helps to burn extra calories and develops stronger, healthier muscles. In real people talk, your body looks firmer if you exercise. Exercise also helps burn calories faster even when you’re resting.

It’s fine for a tween or teen to work toward a healthy weight. Just make sure she understands that her weight does not define who she is, her potential in life and — as the quote at the top illustrates — it’s not the ultimate predictor of happiness.

See you next month,

billy

Click here to read previous articles on Tweens & Teens. Got a question for Dr. Jones, a child psychologist for Mercy Health? Send it to us (we won’t use your name) and we may feature it in an upcoming installment of Tweens & Teens.