Dr. Lauren Cook
Specialty in Anxiety; generalized, phobias, social anxiety, OCD, panic attacks,
Anywhere from teens 13+ and college students and do couple’s therapy.
Why is raising a Tween/ Teenager so difficult?
I think it’s especially hard right now given everything going on, in both a personal level and everything going on in the world as well. There’s so much unpredictability right now as teens look at what is going on in Ukraine and everything that’s happened with the pandemic.
When we’re growing up it can feel like there’s sometimes more of a sense of certainty or our world still little bit more contained. As you grow up you start to see how there can be a lot of unexpected changes and so teens are navigating that for the first time.
I think pretty much everyone probably will comment on this, that social media does play a big role in teens mental health maybe even more than I would say for adults honestly.
- They see how other people their age are acting on social media and they’re using that for their social cues and it can really be used as a device to exclude people sometimes.
- That can impact teens mental health and sometimes I think parents can struggle with how to regulate and monitor it.
We forget that the teen brain is still developing and is different than an adult brain.
- The self-control factor and the ability to think through consciousness is just not as developed you know in a teen brain.
- The frontal lobe of the brain doesn’t finish till age 25. They are experiencing social media and other things in a neurologically different way.
How do you talk to a Tween/ Teenager that doesn’t want to talk?
I think it’s important to model vulnerability sometimes as a parent. For example, saying:
“When you do this, it makes me feel some type of way” and starting to show our own feelings in the process.
In some cases, when we want to be strong as parents, we don’t always show the emotions that are coming up for us. Yet kids need that emotional outlet to get in touch with how they’re feeling. So, I always encourage parents to show some of that.
I think it can be helpful too sometimes to work with a professional and another adult. For a teen to have an experience to see “Oh yeah I can open up, I can talk about this”. So sometimes that opportunity to talk to somebody outside of the home or even a mentor can be helpful for teens.
What is the hardest Tween Teenage year?
Honestly it is so different for every teen. They all have different experiences so I can’t pinpoint an exact age.
For some, their hardest times are in those middle school years because they are adjusting to new peer groups. Another big year that I think parents should be aware of is freshman year of high school because that’s when their world really changes from that middle school bubble. This is sometimes when you can start to see kids acting in totally different ways than they are used to.
- They are showing their expression of self, but I think it’s also important to keep an eye out with kids and give feedback. For Example, saying:
- “Hey, we’re noticing you’re acting a little bit different, and we want to check in. what’s going on?
- Really keeping the ears perked up for that freshman year I would say.
What should you not say to your Tween/Teenager?
Expressing empathy is important. Empathy doesn’t mean we condone bad behavior or that there aren’t still consequences, but it’s that loving parent where they’re able to still give love and compassion and at the same time put values down at the same time.
I think it’s important that we approach them in this way and not show that it’s pure love all the time, but also, we don’t want to come down so hard that our children start to fear or trying to hide from their parents either.
- So that both end of showing “Yes, we can have love and compassion and empathy for the teen and at the same time show that there are consequences that may be uncomfortable to sit with but it’s all part of the learning process.
What are 4 techniques to improve Parent-Tween/Teen relationship?
Biggest one is to just spend time together and better yet if that time is one on one.
A lot of teens are not going to admit it, but they tell me behind closed doors in therapy that they just want their parents to ask them to hang out. Things like:
- grabbing a coffee, getting our nails done, going to the driving range. Invite your teen out!
I think it’s another big tip is to not forecast or name when it’s like parenting your teen. We hear all these tropes that the teen years are the worst and that it is so hard and just wait till you turn 16. That is not helpful for teens to hear.
I have a lot of parents who tell me that the teen years are some of the best. This is when they were really starting to see their teen become more like an adult. So, I think stepping away from those tropes is important.
The other thing is to model and show your own humanity as a parent.
- Allow yourself to cry in front of your child, show healthy expressions of anger or disappointment or when things don’t go well at work for you.
- Show and model that humanness so that your teen can see that.
I think a lot of parents sometimes feel like that’s being weak, but that vulnerability is so good for them to see, so that they can learn how to cope when things don’t go well for them.
I have so many parents who unknowingly will make comments about their own body or their teens body like:
- “Were you going to eat that, or you know do you really want to put that in your body” That is not helpful for any age, but especially for teens.
- It’s important for parents to practice body acceptance work for their own bodies because their teens are looking to see how their parents are in their own skin. That has a very powerful effect on them.
How do you navigate the topic of sex and when is the right age to do so?
It really depends on the teen and where they are at. They can start to feel like they can ask questions, tell them that they are always welcome to ask any questions that they have. that really makes it safe for the teen.
I think the key is really taking a respectful approach to it and all things respectful of our own bodies respectful of other people’s bodies. Really come from it as not a secret or shameful place.
A lot of people have a secrecy or a shame aspect to sex and really showing that it can be something that it is a way to connect and can feel good. Talking about it in that healthy way can help teens learn that when done safely, it really can be a great way to connect with people. It is important for parents to just approach it with that sense of honesty and as little shame and secrecy about it as possible.
What is the age range for Tweens and Teens to begin dating and what is the best approach to discuss with your child?
Once again it just depends on where the teen is at. There is fascinating research right now with dating. It shows that compared previous generations, teens today are dating at lower rates and are having less sex. I think social media does play a big part in that.
Starting to make conversations like:
- “Hey what’s going on in school? who are you hanging out with?
- Then they can start talking and share about what is going on in their life.
If parents are suspecting that their kid is engaging in dating, that could be where you might push a little bit and say like:
- “Hey like let’s talk about this. We want to make sure that you know you’re staying safe and it’s because we love and care about you”.
I think that’s important for teens to hear.
A good time to talk about this is in middle school age, so even if they are 5th graders and are getting ready to engage in dating is a great time.
Sometimes as parents we can take this situation in a heterosexual way. It is important to not make assumptions about our teen’s sexuality and gender identification. All these different things that can help open the doors too because sometimes if the teen senses that their parent is making assumptions about them, then they may be less inclined to open up more. Instead go into with the mindset of curiosity to get to know them better.
Should Tweens and Teens have curfews and collect allowance?
It is different for every family, I think it’s important that parents feel that there’s there is a sense of safety, but I will say I think it really depends on the age and really having some collaboration is important because I have some teen clients becoming young adults and the parent is still wanting to monitor with the track me feature on iPhone.
It really becomes a point of tension and so really having that collaboration of the teen saying like:
- “I haven’t violated your trust, we’re able to talk about this openly and I’d like to not be tracked”. Can we have some collaboration on that rather than it just feeling like it is not even a topic for discussion because it’s a healthy sign when your teen feels like they can advocate for themselves.
- You want to have that sense of collaboration in the relationship.
In terms of the chores piece, if you’re feeling like your teen is not wanting to be a member of the family in terms of holding up their end and contributing to the family, then that can be a good opportunity to kind of set some expectations and to get that mindset of:
- “We all contribute here it’s not just one person that does more than another”.
- That can really give teens good work ethic for when they go to college and have roommates and beyond.
For allowances, see what is motivating for the teen. You can teach them distress tolerance skills where they get comfortable being uncomfortable and they start learning:
- “I have to work to get a reward, it’s just it’s not just an automatic given”
So I think that could be really helpful too.