Tweens & Teens: This may be the most challenging period of motherhood

Emojigirls 2015

Mothers of middle-schoolers are the most depressed?

Hmm. In a recent article on the website Aeon, researchers claimed that the most challenging period of mothering (and highest levels of depression can be found) during their kid’s middle-school years.

That actually makes sense to us. Yes, you’re exhausted and stressed when the kids are babies, but research shows that moms feel satisfied and fulfilled in caring for their younger children. But then puberty hits and things get a little more complex, to say the least. We have fewer positive interactions — and more challenging situations to help our t(w)eens navigate.

In the article, researchers studied more than 2,200 mothers with children ranging from infants to adults, and examined multiple aspects of mothers’ personal wellbeing, parenting and perceptions of their children.

“Our findings show an inverted-V shape in feelings of stress and depression, with mothers of middle-school children (‘tweens’ aged 11 or 12) consistently faring the most poorly, and mothers of infants and adult children doing the best.”

The article pointed out that mothers are essentially the “first responders” to their child’s distress, and now they must figure out new ways to offer comfort and reassurance. The old ways – hugs, snuggles at bedtime – don’t always work anymore.

Women who saw their children as rude and rejecting were among those who felt most distressed, according to the study.

“A central take-home message from our findings is that the big ‘separation’ from offspring, the one that really hurts, comes not when children leave the nest literally, but when they do this psychologically – in their complex strivings to become grown-ups, in their tweens.”

Also, all this comes at a time when many mothers first see the signs of middle age. Ugh.

Advice? They offer some here (and we agree!):

“… middle-school mothers must also refuel themselves through close, reliable, authentic friendships. In an earlier study, we showed the strong protective potential of these relationships in buffering women through the challenges of motherhood. So mothers should treat it as an imperative, and not an option, to connect with supportive friends, and stick with this resolve especially during the middle-school years. They should use each other as sounding boards. Reach out when feeling frail or exhausted, or just plain fed up. And have fun together.”

The article reminds us that it does get easier: middle-schoolers become high-schoolers, and then adults.

Of course, Gwen and I don’t want to paint too nasty a picture. There are SO MANY good times with tweens and young teenagers, too.

You just have to hold on to the afterglow of those a little longer and do what I (Shannon) do: put pictures of your kids as babies up on the walls so you’ll feel all soft and gooey inside when the teen version is snarling at you. It really does help. {CLICK HERE for more advice about how to keep yourself from back-handing your t(w)ween.}

Thanks to Jennifer Adair for sharing the Aeon article with us!

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Tweens & Teens: Social media’s impact on girls

Shannon and I both have 14-year-olds now, so we’re reading everything we can get our hands on about teens and how to navigate those tricky waters. If you have a teen girl, you may want to find this book at the library, American Girls bookbookstore or download the e-book version. It’s called American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers.

I recently saw an interview with the book’s author on a talk show, and some of the information she shared is downright disturbing. It made me want to try to convince my daughter to skip social media completely when she gets her own phone one day.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the book’s description: “What does it mean to be a girl in America in 2016? It means coming of age online in a hypersexualized culture that has normalized extreme behavior, from pornography to the casual exchange of nude photographs; a culture rife with a virulent new strain of sexism and a sometimes self-undermining notion of feminist empowerment; a culture in which teenagers are spending so much time on technology and social media that they are not developing basic communication skills.”

Yikes! Written by an award-winning journalist who is also a mother to a daughter, the book has earned a 4 1/2 star rating on Amazon and was called “an ice-cold, important wake-up call” by Kirkus Reviews.

If you’ve read other books on the teen years that you think would be helpful to moms, let us know about them! We’d love to swap tips on the best research and insights about how to guide kids through the tween and teen years.


Tweens & Teens: My teenager vented about me on Instagram

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Dear t(w)een moms,

My teenager recently vented about me on Instagram and I happened to see it. When I looked the next day (I was still trying to figure out how to handle it) she had deleted it. So what to do if your kid says something negative about you on social media? I’m open to your ideas! Thanks :)

mama JYou know that old saying, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”?

Well, that goes for social media too. But it’s not just about me (mom), that goes for anybody. It’s much easier to insist your kids don’t bash you on social media if you don’t condone them bashing others.

Oh, and like everything else in parenting….kids take their lead from YOU.

mama M

I try not to get bent out of shape about things like this. They are teens, and by definition are very ‘in the moment’. Try getting your point across while having a bit of fun.

Post a comment yourself. Maybe embarrass them a tad bit by venting about something yourself.

For example, if it was my teen son I’d take a picture of his dirty underwear on the bathroom floor and post ‘so gross! Doesn’t he know he has to pass the hamper on the way back to his room?!’ And then I’d tag him in it.

mama KGreat question! My thought is to approach it as “help me understand this” rather than reprimanding.

Acknowledge that you saw the post and let her know you’re glad she deleted it, but also seek to understand your daughter. Ask her to be open with you about how she’s feeling rather than making her anger public.

Tweens & Teens: Diving into social media

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We hope you’re enjoying our new feature! This month we asked our mamas of t(w)eens about how to handle social media, which is one of the biggest differences between when we were teenagers and today’s teenagers.

We asked: What advice would you give moms with have kids who are getting interested in social media. What kinds of things should we watch out for, and how much is too much?

mama KMama K: I’m a believer that social media is a reflection of our culture as a whole, so there are places we find that will uplift us and offer meaningful companionship or interaction—and there are places that could do us harm.

As we raise our children, we recognize there are some places they don’t need to be, and we make that known to them…hopefully not by paralyzing them with fear, but by having rational, intelligent conversations about what they need to avoid or where they should exercise caution. Social media is no different.

I am of the opinion that good parenting of tweens involves a steady flow of engagement in what they’re doing, but (within reason) we should allow them to guide where their interests take them. As we see what they find appealing, it’s our job to find common ground with those interests ourselves so they’re willing to share.

Social media has evolved into so many new forms, it’s not enough to just be familiar with Facebook (so old school, anyway…your child may not even be using it.) It’s likely they or their friends are on Tumblr, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter…or even (sigh) Tinder, just to name a few. If you’re not up to speed on these, PLEASE start now.

The reality is, kids with Smartphones that aren’t totally locked down with parental controls are very likely interacting with these sites. Parents can’t hide their heads in the sand and assume their children are careful online—we have to ENGAGE in a way that respects that our child is a unique individual, while offering rational dialogue (two-way conversation…not a lecture) that assures them you know a thing or two, you are looking out for their best interests, and if something becomes concerning they should trust you will be there to help and not overreact or go straight into punishment mode.

Social media should be an enhancement to real life—but not be allowed to take over. I think it’s appropriate that EVERY member of the family put aside phones during meals and conversations, while homework is being completed and at bedtime. Parents have a responsibility to teach (and model) etiquette relating to screen time, not just when kids should say please and thank you.

When social media becomes all-consuming and interrupts what needs to happen in the course of a day, or it’s causing stress for the child or other members of the family, it’s time for a courageous, well-reasoned and calm conversation that sets out some acceptable alternatives.

I think most of us want to teach our children to think for themselves, which means we have to demonstrate that their opinions matter…and we’re willing to hear them out while still enforcing and explaining boundaries.

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mama MMama M: Social media is new territory to navigate from when us parents were kids. Educate yourself about each social media site your child is interested in joining. Some sites, like Facebook, have a minimum age (13) requirement.

As parents, decide what social media site you’re comfortable introducing to your child. Create boundaries, rules and restrictions for the social media site you choose. Focus on the Family and other websites have contracts you can review for Internet safety ideas. Discuss these with your child before they’re allowed to use the site.

Use the site together to model appropriate behavior for social media. Follow your child on the site you choose with your own account. As your child gains trust in knowing proper social media usage, give them more autonomy with periodic checks.

Consider constructing “no screen zones”: at the dinner table, 1 hour before bedtime, and family time.

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mama JSocial media is one of many privileges that the kids in our house have to earn, you don’t just automatically get it.

If someone’s grades, behavior, or attitude is not meeting expectations, then privileges are removed. Because of the nature of social media, access goes hand in hand with maturity and responsibility.

Our social media rules are simple. You MUST let Mom (Dad is far from being a social media guru) be your “friend” on every platform you’re on and Mom can edit anything, anytime, no ifs ands or buts. The things we watch out for are: inappropriate language, name calling of any sort, and cyber bullying.

More than once, I’ve had to tell my kids to “take it down.” Their posts weren’t offensive or straight up in violation of our rules, but as mom I didn’t feel that they were “putting their best foot forward.” We ask our kids to run everything by this simple test (similar to the WWJD). Would this make my PARENTS proud? Would it make my GRANDMA proud? Would I say it/post it in church. So far, we’ve avoided any social media pitfalls.

Best of luck to everyone! These are uncharted waters!

Have a question for our anonymous panel of mamas? Send it to and we’ll be sure they get it!