We know all about it. Even the President couldn't part from his Blackberry. Is the term Crack-berry yet in the revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders?
We are addicted to our devices that keep us abreast of the news, and in touch with each other. Forget talking. Especially for teenagers. Texting, IMing, and Facebooking has replaced the old phone conversation. There are so many different ways our kids stay in touch with each other now, that it is impossible to keep up.
It is also hard at times, to disconnect. I have had to declare mealtime as a cell-free time zone. This, after catching my middle daughter surreptitiously texting under the table. She's good, that one!
As your teens move into more independence, you may give them more freedom with texting, time on their computers; (that is, if your cell phone plan allows it!) I am focusing here however, on the pre-teen stage when they are neither kid, nor teenager; a tween some call it. If they don't yet have their own cell phone or computer, you will likely be moving in that direction soon. With this, many parents worry not only about their kids' exposure to the internet and social networking sites, but simply, how to manage their kids' texting, while giving them some access to this new way of communicating with their friends.
A key part of this developmental stage is social connection. Feeling part of things, being in the loop is a vital part of feeling like you are fitting in, which is where 'staying in the know' becomes so important. Being connected in fact, is not just a social artifact of being female, but is biological. A fairly recent book on the female brain helps us understand why in fact, girls' need to connect is part of their brain biology, and that not connecting triggers anxiety. (The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine, M.D., Broadway Books).
As girls are entering puberty hormones are kicking in and identity questions are becoming ever more important. Who am I? Where do I fit in? These are the basic questions that preoccupy many tweens, and are completely normal.
When however, do our girls and their need to be part of what is going on, or at least connected to one friend to help them feel that they are doing okay, drive excessive texting, or IM'ing? When does connection for comfort, that need to 'talk', turn from reassurance, that you are okay, and connected, to an activity that creates more problems?
Currently researchers are proposing that because it is so easy for us to connect via texting, social networking, that young women, teenagers and now tweens, are spending much more time talking with their friends about any problems or issues they may be having. The concern is that this can go from being fun, sociable, and reassuring, to at times creating more anxiety. While your pre-teen may not yet be having this problem, it is good to understand the world they may be moving into, before you know it! As I see it with working with pre-teens and teens for 20 years now, the current concerns are emerging as follows::
1) Girls can 'over-talk' about things, which can actually create more worry, and an over preoccupation with an issue,
2) They can have trouble knowing when and how to say no to their friend, and take time for themselves and
3) They lose the ability to wait. This robs them of some of their own problem solving abilities that they would come to by themselves.
Waiting is one of the most important psychological tools we can give to our children. If they learn now to sit still and wait, they will 'sit with' some of their feelings. This gives them an opportunity to not only know themselves better, but to problem solve when the feeling dies down and they can think about it more rationally. (This is also a time when they might let you help them think through the situation with them out loud.) This increases their problem solving, and decision making skills; tools that are vital toward their psychological growth and well being.
But in this world of MySpace; YourSpace, how do we as parents, help our kids figure out how to take their Own space? Particulary during this stage where they are identifying more with their peer group than with us? Here are some tips to help you navigate their ever expanding world while trying to stay connected.
1) If you don't think your child needs a cell phone yet, don't be afraid to say no. No, you are not ruing their life! If they have one already, and rely on texting for communication, certainly set some ground rules around when they can't text. Meal times need to be 'no texting' time zones. Take their phone away if it is interfering with their ability to do homework. Take it away at bedtime so that they don't stay up the next hour, texting a friend. Create cell-free zones and times.
2) While bedtime rituals are changing from childhood, see if they will allow you to either comfort them, or problem solve through talking with you, when you are putting them to bed. I found this a time where after reading her own book, my daughter who is now a teenager, would want me around and would relax and be more open to telling me if she was struggling, if I gave her a backrub. It became something I could do to help her relax, and we ended up talking as she started to calm down.
3) Separate your own feelings from those of your child's. We all have our own triggers for feeling left out, and being back in junior high, not part of the group, or fear of that happening. Try to let your child have their feelings without solving them yourself, and getting over involved. This is a time when they need you to be there but to allow them the space to figure out how they are going to manage their feelings. Give them the feeling that you trust how they will handle things and if they feel bad, you can handle them feeling that way. Help them to think through the situation with you by asking them more questions about how they might want to handle it, vs. giving them the answers.
4) Let your kids 'save face' by setting the limits on the time they can be on the computer connecting, or texting. Being the bad guy and letting them blame it on you, helps them to take space, without offending their friends. They learn to say no. You are modeling that, and they learn about setting limits. It also helps them to learn that even when they might not want to say 'goodbye', or it feels too soon and they need to talk more, that they will 'reconnect' with their friends, and social groups the next day. This helps them deal with feelings of anxiety and they learn to trust the reconnect.
Our kids' needs for their social connections are only going to expand. As a parent, you can give them tools to help them navigate their expanding social world, with the ability to disconnect, take their own space, and remain connected to you.
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