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Join us! An ONLINE Q&A

It’s disappointing that all my book talks have been postponed until next fall. But I’m happy to announce that we are joining the ranks of online learners and teachers! We can do this thing.

If you have RSVP’ed or reserved a ticket to an event, you have likely already heard or will hear from the event organizers when we have new dates. (A huge THANK YOU to Marielle and all the event organizers who’ve worked so hard to put those events together!) In the meantime, let’s talk teens online! If you’ve purchased The New Adolescence or were planning to attend an event, I’d love for you to join a live online Q&A on April 2nd at 1:30pm pacific time.  RSVP to attend the live call here.

If your household is anything is like mine, your world has likely been up-ended. Stay safe and take care of yourselves. Take this time of reset and rest. Check on your elderly neighbors before you run to the store. Please stay safe; let’s take care of each other.

 

 

What to Do Instead of Nag

Nagging doesn’t feel good to the person doing the nagging, and it certainly doesn’t feel good to be nagged. Moreover, when kids know we are going to nag them, they don’t monitor themselves—they wait to be reminded. Sometimes many, many times. Ironically, this makes them feel dependent, and so most teens will then further resist the limit in order to regain a sense of control and autonomy.

Fortunately, instead of nagging, we can ask our kids questions. My all-time favorite question is this one: What’s your plan?

As in, “What’s your plan for getting to bed on time tonight?” or “What’s your plan for getting your homework done this weekend?” This makes it clear that they are still in control of their own behavior, and it helps put them in touch with their own motivations and intentions. Often kids simply need to make a plan, and sometimes if they aren’t asked to articulate that plan, they won’t do make it—especially kids who are used to being nagged, because they know their parents will eventually get frustrated and do their planning for them.

For more strategies to influence and motivate teenagers, check out The New Adolescence.

Grace Cathedral Forum

Booklaunch highlight: Participating in the Forum last weekend at Grace Cathedral. I love Dean Malcolm Young; it was so fun to be with him again. He asked GREAT questions, as did the audience. I hope you enjoy the interview!

Come See Me!

Let’s hang out in person! I would love to meet you!! ⁠



Join me at the Hillside Club in Berkeley tomorrow, Thursday, 2/20/20 (how’s that for an auspicious date?). Or see me being interviewed by the Rev. Dr. Malcolm Young at San Francisco’s majestic Grace Cathedral this Sunday.

Or how about Seattle at the Kirkland Auditorium? If you’re on the East Coast, I hope you’ll join me at this event just outside of Boston. Or perhaps you’d like to see me in conversation at Book Passage in Marin — I’m pretty excited to talk teens with my old friend Chris Mazzola, Head of the Branson School. ⁠

See my full speaking schedule here.

Launch Day!

The New Adolescence: Raising Happy and Successful Teens in an Age of Anxiety and Distraction launches today! Many of you have already pre-ordered it or are planning to attend a book event, and for that, I am profoundly grateful. 

100% of Profits Fight Poverty

Have you been meaning to get a ticket to a book talk or pre-order the book? If you do it now, you’ll be helping me AND many others. How? I am donating everything I earn on pre-orders to Tipping Point Community. Located here in the San Francisco Bay Area, Tipping Point identifies and invests in the most effective anti-poverty solutions by funding a portfolio of poverty-fighting organizations.

Pre-orders matter a lot.

Booksellers take note of a new title’s pre-orders as an indication of reader support and enthusiasm. Those who haven’t yet stocked The New Adolescence are likely to do so if pre-orders are strong. And booksellers are more likely to feature it in their stores or online during the launch week — which is exactly what we need. So I’m humbly asking you to pre-order the book, as an act of kindness and friendship (in addition to hopefully being a helpful book for you to read). I will do my best to return the favor by sending you free gifts.

Okay. I’m done asking for favors. 

In thanks for all that you do for me, we’ve put together a few bonus gifts for you. Click here to pre-order and then claim your gifts here!

Again, THANK YOU.

Without you readers, there’s no gig for me here. I’m so, so, so grateful for you!

Lots of love,

Dr. Christine Carter Signature

 

 

About The New Adolescence

I wrote this book because, like many parents, I was baffled by problems that didn’t exist when I was a teenager (like social media, sexting, and vaping). It’s a practical guide to:

  • Providing the support and structure teens need (while still giving them the autonomy they seek)
  • Influencing and motivating teenagers
  • Helping kids overcome distractions that hinder learning
  • Protecting them from anxiety, isolation, and depression
  • Having effective conversations about tough subjects–including sex, drugs, and money
A highly acclaimed sociologist and senior fellow at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, Dr. Christine Carter melds research–including the latest findings in neuroscience, sociology, and social psychology–with her own real-world experiences as the mother of four teenagers.

The New Adolescence is filled with road-tested, science-based solutions for raising happy, healthy, and successful teenagers in this age of distraction, anxiety, and accelerated change.

What Do Other People Have To Say?

“Mixing cutting-edge science with humor and personally earned wisdom, Christine Carter makes a convincing case that we need to step up our parenting with our teens. Fortunately, she also tells us how to do so in The New Adolescence in ways that seem not just possible in our busy lives, but deeply practical and empowering for both parents and adolescents.”

Daniel J. Siegel, MD
Bestselling author of Brainstorm

 

The New Adolescence is a sane, informative, and helpful book that I will be gifting over and over. It has already made me a better parent—and a happier one, too.”

Jessica Lahey
New York Times bestselling author of The Gift of Failure

 

“Dr. Carter brings her wonderful blend of solid science, practical suggestions, and warm encouragement to the biggest challenge most parents face: raising teenagers these days. The New Adolescence is both deep and accessible, comprehensive and fast-paced, and honoring of adolescents and respectful of parents’ needs for reasonable authority.”

Rick Hanson, Ph.D.
Author of Resilient, Hardwiring Happiness, and Buddha’s Brain

 

“Christine Carter has spent the last two decades honing the art and studying the science of effective parenting. This hands-on book is the guide every parent of teenagers needs.”

Susan Stiffelman, MFT
Author of Parenting Without Power Struggles

 

“With solid research, relatable storytelling and practical strategies and tactics, Christine Carter provides teens, parents and families with the lifelines they need to create meaning, fulfillment and the human connection that makes real life worth living.”

Brigid Schulte
Author of Overwhelmed and director of The Better Life Lab at New America

Three Ways to Change Your Parenting in the Teenage Years

“Wow. Ugh. That’s amazing!”

This is the usual wide-eyed response when people hear that I have four teenagers. Sometimes people grimace, like the mere thought of it is a bitter pill. They are thinking, I know, that teenagers are hard, which, of course, they can be. Everyone assumes I must be insanely busy, or maybe just a little insane, and that raising four teenagers must be nearly impossible.

These thoughts occur because many teenagers tend to be either terribly disorganized, requiring constant nagging, or tightly wound, perfectionistic, and in need of constant therapy. There’s also all that new neuroscience showing, unfortunately, that the brain regions that help humans make wise choices don’t mature until kids are in their mid 20s, and that many potentially life-threatening risks become more appealing during adolescence while the normal fear of danger is temporarily suppressed. Knowing these things can make it hard for us parents to relax.

Though teenagers can be hard to parent, the good news is that parenting teenagers is in many ways a hell of a lot easier than raising little kids. For this to be the case, however, our parenting needs to shift. Here are the three big shifts that parents of teenagers need to make to survive their kids’ adolescence.

1. We step down as primary decision-makers and step up our coaching

When our kids are little, we have to manage pretty much every aspect of their lives. We set bedtimes, plan meals, and make doctor’s appointments. We arrange carpools and make all major decisions: where they will go to school, if they will go to camp, and where we’ll go on vacation. And when our kids are little, for the most part, they appreciate having involved and loving parents. It’s great having someone else manage your calendar and get you to your activities (mostly) on time.

But once kids reach adolescence, they need to start managing their own lives, and they do tend to fire us as their managers. Parents who are too controlling—those who won’t step down from their manager roles—breed rebellion. Many kids with micromanaging parents will politely agree to the harsh limits their parents set with a “yes, sir” or a “yes, ma’am” attitude, but then will break those rules the first chance they get. They don’t do this because they are bad kids, but because they need to regain a sense of control over their own lives.

The answer, according to neuropsychologist William Stixrud and long-time educator Ned Johnson, authors of The Self-Driven Child, is to hand the decision-making reins over to our teens. You read that right: By adolescence, we parents need to (take a deep breath and) let them 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 start to involve teens more in creating the rules, and we let them make their own decisions—which they are going to do anyway.

Letting our kids become the primary decision makers does NOT mean that we become permissive, indulgent, or disengaged. It does mean that the quality—if not the quantity—of our support shifts. We give up our role as their chief of staff and become more like life coaches. We ask questions, and provide emotional support.

2. We influence them differently

It’d be great if we parents could just download information to our teens—say, about sex and drugs—and know that they were going to use that information to make good decisions.

But giving teenagers a lot of information isn’t an effective way to influence them anymore. Interesting research on this topic shows that what is effective for elementary school children—giving them information about their health or well-being that they can act on—tends to be mostly ineffective for teenagers.

This is because adolescents are much more sensitive to whether or not they are being treated with respect. The hormonal changes that come with puberty conspire with adolescent social dynamics to make teenagers much more attuned to social status. More specifically, they become super touchy about whether or not they are being treated as though they are high status.

In the teenage brain, the part of themselves that is an autonomous young adult is high status. The part of them that is still a kid who needs our support is low status. They might be half independent young adult, half little kid, but they are hugely motivated to become 100 percent autonomous…even if they do know, on some level, that they still need our support and guidance.

When we give our adolescents a lot of information, especially when it is information that they don’t really want or that they think they already have, it can feel infantilizing to them. Even if we deliver the information as we would to another adult, teenagers will often feel disrespected by the mere fact of our instruction.

So, when it’s time to bring up the topic you want to influence your teen about, speak as you would to someone with the highest possible social status—someone you really, really respect. (I have to literally imagine that person in my head, and then imagine both the tone and the words I would use with that person.) Remember, if your teen feels disrespected, nagged, spoken down to, pressed upon, or infantilized, all bets are off.

3. We have a lot of hard conversations

Remember what you used to talk about with your kids before they hit puberty? There are days when I’d give anything to just be able to talk again about favorite foods and favorite colors and the tooth fairy. It isn’t that every conversation was easy when they were young, but I rarely felt the kind of discomfort I now feel while talking to my kids about things like sex—or even their college applications. What starts as a casual conversation can quickly become an emotional minefield. It’s hard not to let our own agendas creep in. And it can be really hard to manage our own big feelings about things.

Talking with teenagers about their lives can be stressful. But teenagers today are dealing with some really hard stuff, and we parents need to create safe spaces for our teens to talk about the hard things.

This takes a lot of courage. The simplest way to increase our ability (and, frankly, willingness) to have uncomfortable conversations with our teens is to practice doing it in baby steps. Instead of thinking about having a “big talk,” broach a difficult topic in short observations and simple questions. Let teens lead; our real value comes when we listen rather than instruct. Even when we have a lot to say, it’s more important to give them a chance to speak, to work out what they are thinking in a low-risk environment. Practice staying calm despite the discomfort. Keep taking deep breaths. Keep relaxing your shoulders. Notice your discomfort, and welcome it. It’s nothing to be afraid of.

As hard as it might be for us to watch, our teenagers are going to make mistakes. When they do, our anxious over-involvement won’t help. What will help, though, is our calm presence. This is more good news, because it is far more enjoyable to practice calm presence than it is to freak out.

Above all, we’ll do well to remember that their lives are their lives. It’s their journey, not ours. Our role is not to steer them through life like we would marionettes, but rather to help them feel seen, and to help them feel safe. For that, we need only to coach instead of manage, listen instead of instruct, and breathe through our discomfort.

 

This essay is adapted from The New Adolescence: Raising Happy and Successful Teens in an Age of Anxiety and Distraction (BenBella Books, 2020, 230 pages).

If you’re in the Bay Area, we hope you’ll join us for the launch at the Hillside Club on February 20, 2020! Find more information about my book events here.

Dear Christine: How Do I Motivate My Teen?

Bossing them around won’t work forever; we need to help teens manage their own lives.

Dear Christine,

I have two teenagers, a boy who is in high school and a girl who is in college. My daughter has always been self-motivated and a great student. I’ve never needed to nag her to do her homework, and she has always gotten good grades and great teacher comments.

My son is another story. His study skills are lacking. He doesn’t like school, and he doesn’t work very hard. I have to constantly be “on him” about his school work. We’ve had him tested for learning disabilities and ADHD, and he does not have either, although the tests showed that he does have great difficulty paying attention to things that he is not interested in.

He’s now a sophomore. Still, I’m constantly “helping” him with his homework, figuring out what work he has due, what tests he has coming up, or what assignments he might have failed to turn in. I’m afraid he won’t do it otherwise.

Our son says he does not want me to back off and that he wants me to continue helping him. At the same time, he is not exactly welcoming of my help in the moment. He’s often a little surly when I remind him of assignments, and he usually makes excuses for why he doesn’t have to work on something. He lacks self-motivation, and without me pushing him (and keeping him organized), I fear (1) that he might actually get worse grades; (2) that he won’t get a college degree; and (3) that this will limit his job prospects. Ultimately, I’m afraid that he’s going to end up living at home into his early adulthood, stuck on the couch playing video games.

I can’t help wishing that our son was more like our daughter. I want him to be more independent and self-motivated. Above all, I want him to do well enough in high school to go to a decent college. What do you recommend I do? If I’m honest, I’m looking for permission to keep propping our son up.

Thanks,
Parental Crutch

Dear Crutch,

So, it’s good that you have college and work aspirations for your son. But I’m afraid that your current efforts on his behalf aren’t going to pay off. Unfortunately, trying to control our children is frequently futile and usually counterproductive. In some ways, you are right to be worried: About a quarter of young men in the United States in their 20s are unemployed. That statistic is mind-blowing to the economists who track these things, given that men in their 20s have historically been the most reliably employed of any demographic. While the trend toward unemployment encompasses young men of all education levels, low-skilled men—like those without a college degree or training in a trade—are particularly likely to end up living back at home. A staggering 51 percent now live with their parents or another close relative. And what are they doing instead of working? (Hint: They aren’t going to school.) You’ve already guessed it; many of them are playing video games three or more hours a day.

That’s the clear conclusion psychologist Wendy Grolnick has reached over two decades of watching parents talk to their children. Here’s the gist of her research: The children of controlling parents—those who tell their children exactly what to do, and when to do it—don’t do as well as kids whose parents are involved and supportive without being bossy. Children of “directive” parents tend to be less creative and resourceful, less persistent when faced with a challenge, less successful at solving problems. They don’t like school as much, and they don’t achieve as much academically.

And what’s true for children in terms of parental control is about a thousand times more true about teenagers. Once kids reach adolescence, they need to start managing their own lives, and they know this. Most kids with micromanaging parents resist what their parents want for them every chance they get. They do this not because they are lazy or short-sighted, but because they need to regain a sense of control.

This cannot be overstated: Healthy, self-disciplined, motivated teenagers have a strong sense of control over their lives. A mountain of research demonstrates that agency—having the power to affect your own life—is one of the most important factors for both success and happiness. Believing that we can influence our own lives through our own efforts predicts practically all of the positive outcomes that we want for our teens: better health and longevity, lower use of drugs and alcohol, lower stress, higher emotional well-being, greater intrinsic motivation and self-discipline, improved academic performance, and even career success.

You have an important choice, Crutch.

Choice A: Keep riding your son; keep him organized and on track. He’ll likely get a lot more homework turned in, he’ll study for tests he would have avoided or forgotten about, and he’ll apply to the colleges you put in front of him. The big question in my mind, though, is about what will happen when he’s off at college and he doesn’t have you there by his side to keep him on track.

Actually, in my mind, it’s not that big of a question.

The odds are he won’t make it. An astounding 56 percent of students who start at a four-year college drop out before they’ve earned a degree. Nearly a third drop out after just the first year. If your son doesn’t develop the study skills he needs to succeed (without you), he is not likely to develop them once he gets to college.

Which brings us to Choice B: Back off so that your son can build the skills he’ll need to survive without you. This does mean risking letting your son stumble, but at least he’ll be at home with you when he does.

Your son, of course, will not want you to back off. Why would he want to put in that kind of effort if you’ll do it for him? Plus, there is no risk for him right now; he can’t really fail if he doesn’t really try.

I’m not saying disengage from his life. It’s important for you to stay involved and supportive, but to do so without being directive or controlling. Set limits so that he knows you aren’t lowering your expectations. For example, if you expect him to maintain a B average, that’s great. What happens if he doesn’t do that? Decide as a family, and then be firm and consistent in enforcing your limits.

In fact, don’t dial back your effort at all, just shift your focus. Right now, you are propping your son up. Instead of putting all your energy into doing things that your son would be better off doing for himself, put your effort into supporting his self-motivation.

As I explained not long ago to another mom who was overhelping her husband, the way to foster self-motivation in others is to support their autonomy, their competence, and their relatedness. These are the three core psychological needs that, when filled, lead to self-motivation. You can choose to refocus your attention on promoting his self-motivation. Here’s how.

1. Give him more freedom.

He needs the freedom to fail on his own—and the freedom to succeed without having to give you credit. Your son can’t feel autonomous in his schoolwork if you are still the organizing force.

Instead of directing your son, ask him: “What’s your plan?” As in, “What’s your plan for getting your homework done this weekend?” Asking kids what their plan is makes it clear that they are still in control of their own behavior, and it helps put them in touch with their own motivations and intentions. Often kids simply need to make a plan—and sometimes if they aren’t asked to articulate their plan, they won’t make one. (Especially kids who are used to being nagged; those kids know that their parents will eventually get frustrated and do their planning for them.)

This not-making-a-plan thing is developmental, by the way—it is often more about their executive function than their motivation. Our frontal lobe, which enables us to make plans for the future, often doesn’t develop fully until our mid-20s. This doesn’t mean that teenagers can’t plan, or that we should do it for them; it just means that they need a little more support practicing planning than might be obvious given their other capabilities.

It’s also really important that we parents pay close attention to our tone of voice, especially if what we are saying could potentially limit our kids’ freedom in some way—if we are making a request that could be interpreted as pressure. Research suggests that moms who talk to their teens in a “controlling tone of voice” don’t tend to get a positive response, and they are more likely to start an argument.

It’s not enough to just stay neutral, unfortunately; although a neutral tone of voice is less likely to make teens defensive and argumentative, it was found to be equally ineffective in motivating kids.

What did work? The teens who were the most likely to carry out the request being made had parents who used a “supportive” and encouraging tone of voice.

2. Help him feel more competent.

If I were a betting woman, I’d bet that your son feels incompetent compared to his superstar sister. This likely leads to resignation. Why should he try if he’ll never be as good as her, anyway?

Help him see where he’s done really well in the past through his own effort (rather than your nagging). Don’t be afraid to ask him: Where do you feel most confident? And then help him see that it is his own effort that has led to that capability.

You can also support him in building new competencies. It sounds like he needs to build better study skills, for example. Who would be a good study skills coach for him? It’s important for him to develop his ability to learn and push himself outside of his comfort zone.

3. Finally, support his sense of belonging and connectedness with others, particularly at school.

Is there a teacher whom he feels connected to who can encourage him? Or a coach who is also willing to talk to him about his life as a student? Or a peer group who would encourage him to pay more attention to school work? Sometimes the best way we can help our kids is to help them find a community where they can thrive. One way to do this is to enlist the interest and attention of another adult.

Crutch, I’m very clear about this: The time to take the training wheels off is now. When he falls, let him pick himself up and try again. This will build autonomy and competence. You can celebrate his successes—this will build relatedness. Let him learn how to ask for the help he needs; when he gets it, it will expand his sense of belonging and connection to others.

Redirecting your energy towards promoting your son’s self-motivation will not likely be in your comfort zone. But once you get the hang of not nagging and not being so directive, your relationship with your son is sure to be far more rewarding—for you both.

Yours,
Christine

MORE ON RAISING HAPPY TEENS


If you like this post, I think you’ll love my new book, The New Adolescence: Raising Happy and Successful Teens in an Age of Anxiety and Distraction.

If you’re in the Bay Area, we hope you’ll join us for the launch at the Hillside Club on February 20, 20! Find more information about my book events here.

 


In Dear Christine, sociologist and coach Christine Carter responds to your questions about marriage, parenting, happiness, work, family, and, well, life. Want to submit a question? Email [email protected].

So You Gave Your Kid a Phone for Christmas…Now What?

Many lucky kids got new smartphones or tablets over this holiday season; these days more than two-thirds of kids own a smartphone by age 12. But owning one comes with serious responsibilities, both for us as parents and for our kids. 

Unfortunately, research shows that nearly a quarter of young people engage in what researchers consider “problematic smartphone usage.” This dysfunctional usage is associated with increased odds of depression, increased anxiety, higher perceived stress, and poorer sleep quality.

So, how can you help your child establish a healthy relationship with their new digital devices? Here are some ideas:

  • Create a technology contract (A sample contract can be found here). It helps to be super explicit with new device owners about your expectations—this is a part of the scaffolding discussed in chapter two of The New Adolescence. Creating a “technology contract” with your kids is a way to be really clear about your family rules and expectations. Key issues to address are: sleep, sexting, pornography, privacy. 
  • Help kids reorganize their phones so they are less distracting. For example, have them move the most addictive apps (like social media—and anything they check compulsively or on a whim when they see it) off their homepage.
  • Remember that you are the parent. Even with older teenagers, if you are paying for their device and cell phone plan, you are still in charge — and responsible. You get to set limits and guidelines. Because these devices are very addictive, even the most tech-savvy teenagers need their parents’ support.
  • Designate device-free times and spaces in your home. Just because our kids can physically take their computers into the bathroom these days does not mean that this is a sensible thing to do. Similarly, beds are for sleeping, not for checking Instagram. 
  • Teach them the art of “strategic slacking.” We all need stillness in order to function. The constant stream of external stimulation coming from our kids’ smartphones causes a state of chronic low-grade overwhelm that impairs their ability to plan, organize, solve problems, make decisions, resist temptations, learn, and control their emotions. 

The most important we parents can do is clearly state our expectations around our kids’ technology use. Even (maybe especially) teenagers need us to paint bright lines for healthy usage. We can do this without being too draconian about the dangers of problematic phone use; smartphones are amazing and fun and, actually, not dangerous when used properly. So enjoy!

Gearing up for The New Adolescence

Hi friends,

I am gearing up for the February 2020 release of The New Adolescence: Raising Happy and Successful Teens in an Age of Anxiety and Distraction. If you liked Raising Happiness, I think you’ll love this new book.

Bookselling is a word-of-mouth business, and The New Adolescence needs advocates to be successful. I am passionate about trying to get the word out about what we can do to help teenagers today, and I’m hoping you will help me. Here’s how:

Pre-order The New Adolescence

The most significant way you can help is to order the book now. Please order it for yourself, your friends, your adult children — anyone in your life that you know is interested in what is happening to adolescents today.

You’ve probably gotten these requests to pre-order from others before. We authors ask our readers to pre-order because your early vote for our work makes a huge difference. Your pre-order is a signal to booksellers that you believe in the importance of this book. And that is what will enable me to keep writing books that help make our world a better, happier place!

So I’m humbly asking you to pre-order The New Adolescence. I hope it will be enormously helpful, and interesting, for you to read. I believe in this work. I hope that together, we can get the word out.

Here’s another reason to order today

100% of my profits from The New Adolescence will fight poverty. I will donate everything I earn on these pre-orders to Tipping Point Community. Located here in the San Francisco Bay Area, Tipping Point is dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty in families. Tipping Point identifies and invests in the most effective anti-poverty solutions by funding a portfolio of poverty-fighting organizations.

If you’ve already purchased The New Adolescenceclaim your pre-order bonuses here. I’ll send you bookplates, you can join a free coaching call, I might even speak at your kids’ school!

I can’t thank you enough for your support.

May you be happy,

Christine

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