Not even veteran parenting expert Christine Carter has it all figured out when it comes to navigating adolescence in the face of pinging, chattering mobile devices, dystopian news bulletins and oversharing on smartphones and social media channels.
A mom and stepmom to four teenagers — three girls and a boy — Carter recalls how helpless she felt as students in her daughter’s middle school posted on Instagram their struggles with depression and self-mutilation and as her high-schooler collapsed under academic pressure and sleep deprivation.
“That’s when I realized I needed a better set of best parenting practices,” says Carter, a senior fellow at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and author of The New Adolescence: Raising Happy and Successful Teens in an Age of Anxiety and Distraction.
Released this week, the book combines anecdotes, science and advice to help parents survive and even appreciate their children’s teenage years.
A sought-after keynote speaker who earned her Ph.D. in sociology at Berkeley, Carter will discuss The New Adolescence tonight, Thursday, Feb. 20, at 7 p.m. at the Hillside Club in Berkeley. The event is co-sponsored by Berkeley Arts & Letters and the Greater Good Science Center.
In addition to helping parents help their kids overcome myriad distractions, the book offers tips on how to give teens structure as well as the autonomy they need to launch, protect them from anxiety, isolation and depression, engage socially and teach them the art of “strategic slacking.”
The book comes a decade after Carter launched “Raising Happiness,” a parenting blog and book that emphasized gratitude as a way to combat infantile entitlement.
Five years later, she published The Sweet Spot, which offered tips on how to balance home and work life in a world that prizes overachievement over self-care. It was inspired by her exhaustion, brought on from trying to do too much, and she sees a similar trend in today’s teens.
“Kids today are really exhausted and overstimulated and coping with so much more than their parents were when they were teenagers,” says Carter. “It’s really imperative these days to have parenting strategies to help them cope.”
- Model the behavior and skills you’d like your teens to develop. (Don’t eat dinner while scrolling through your mobile devices). Few things are more irritating to a teen than adults who don’t practice what they preach.
- Take a deep breath, and let teens make their own decisions about their lives. It’s not that we never say no anymore; nor do we stop enforcing our family rules. It’s that we involve teens more in creating the rules, and we let them make their own decisions — which they are going to do anyway.
- As parents, we are most influential when we are able to work with teens’ existing motivations, rather than trying to get them to feel motivated by our goals. Hint: Teens are very motivated by their desire for greater freedom, by social status and by their need to feel a strong sense of belonging with their peers.
- Touch and eye contact are fundamental for human bonding at any age. Even an extremely brief touch (like a fist bump or a half hug) can soothe their anxious nervous systems.
- Teens need help resisting the unrelenting siren song of their smartphones. We can help them configure both their devices and screen time so that they are less tempted to check their phones and social media compulsively.