Parents often ask, “My teen comes home and goes straight to his bedroom, closes the door and isolates. Isn’t that bad?” Well…it depends. Researchers from the University of California and Wilmington College published a study showing not all solitude is the same. Some solitude was problematic. It was a red flag revealing a deeper issue. Other solitude was good, even helpful. It provided a refreshing, restorative time of self-reflection leading to personal growth and greater self-acceptance.
How can you tell the difference? By recognizing the reason your teen is choosing solitude. The motivation for choosing solitude differentiates problematic solitude from healthy solitude. If a teen chooses solitude in response to social anxiety, lack of friends, or rejection, they are at a greater risk of depression. They tend to have a lower level of autonomy and fewer positive relationships.
If solitude is imposed on a teen as punishment, they often feel like they are “missing out” on activities and opportunities. This can lead to feeling left out and lonely. It can contribute to depression and anger.
If a teen chooses solitude to help themselves “calm down” or for “peace and quiet,” it can prove helpful. In this case, solitude provides restorative time for self-reflection. These teens learn the skill of being alone and learn how solitude can enhance creativity and personal renewal.
Still, how can a parent know the difference? One way to determine if your teen is using solitude in a healthy or an unhealthy way is to ask them why they spend time alone. Allow them to explain what they are doing and why. This might be the start of a simple discussion about emotional self-care. You might also ask yourself some questions about your teen, questions you can begin to answer based on your own observations.
Does your teen have friends or are
they a loner? If they have no friends, their isolation may raise some concerns.
Why do they not have friends? Is it due to being bullied? Anxious? Fearful? Sad?
This observation may lead to a discussion with your teen about their mood,
their perspective on friendships, loneliness, and relationships in general.
Does your teen exhibit social
anxiety? It’s ok to be shy and introverted. As an introvert they will likely
still have a few good friends. However, if a person has social anxiety that
interferes with them going places or interacting with others it may be good to
seek outside help.
Does your teen seem energized after
spending time alone? Many teens just need time alone to “re-create” their inner
sense of peace after spending all day interacting in a somewhat chaotic and
over-stimulating school setting. They need to unwind and enjoy a moment of
“peace and quiet.” They need a time of personal restoration. If so,
they will often feel energized after a period of solitude.
How does your teen seem overall? Do
they sleep well? Do they enjoy times with friends? Do they become tearful
often? The answer to these questions can provide a great deal of information
about the health of their solitude.
Does your teen talk negatively about
themselves? Do they put themselves down? Are they excessively self-critical? If
so, their isolation may raise some concerns.
These observations may help you decide if your
teen’s desire to be alone is a problem or simply a healthy part of their
development. If your answers raise concerns seek out some counsel from friends
who have older children, a pastor, or a therapist.
Did you see the Alexa commercial? I usually don’t say anything about commercials that bother me…but did you see that Alexa commercial? A girl comes home from a soccer game and is apparently upset about her game. Her mother “pauses” Alexa (who was reading an audio book to her when her daughter came home) and follows her daughter as though she plans to talk with her about the game. All well and good. In the next scene we see the mother in bed when she is suddenly awoken by “a noise.” Once again, she speaks to Alexa, “What time is it?” “4:40 a.m.,” whispers Alexa. The mother looks out the bedroom window to see her daughter in the backyard “practicing” her soccer. What does she do when she sees her daughter playing soccer in the backyard at 4:40 a.m.? “Alexa, turn on the backyard light.” That’s it? She turns on the lights before giving a proud nod to her daughter’s early morning practice.
Somehow that commercial really bothers me. What is the message communicated by that commercial? That Alexa, the mother’s only companion and confidante in the commercial, will helps us parent our children? I don’t think so. Alexa has no input…it only offers an obedient response to whatever “parental wisdom” we offer. Not a great parenting partner. No emotional investment. No experiential knowledge. Yeah, not a great parenting partner.
Maybe the message is one proclaiming that persistence and hard work help us achieve our goals…with the help of Alexa of course. But we never see the success…so I don’t think that’s the message. Really, I think I’m bothered more by the missing messages. For instance, where is the message about “a time and a place for everything”…a time to practice and a time to sleep? What about the message of learning to lose a game with grace and dignity? The message that our self-worth is not based on our performance…especially our performance in a single game? What does this commercial teach us about the importance of sleep for our physical and mental well-being…and even for improving performance, especially for teens? Of course, the commercial is not trying to teach us anything. It only wants to sell us a product. But it does send a message…and I’m not sure I like the message. Do you? At any rate, I better quit my rambling. “Alexa, turn off my computer.”
Does your preschool or elementary school age child “throw a tantrum” every day after school? You find this tantrum even more frustrating because their teacher tells you how well they behave in school and then when you get them home…it’s another story. You are experiencing the “after-school meltdown.” As frustrating as they are, it is not unusual for our children to have after-school meltdowns. The first step in helping end the after-school meltdown is to take the time to understand what is happening. In reality, you already know what’s happening. You’ve had the same experience. You finish a long day of work and, feeling tired, you walk in the front door of your home. You are irritable and just want a little down time, but you’re immediately bombarded with questions about your day, explanations of what happened while you were away, requests to do this or that…. How do you feel? Want to throw a tantrum? You understand those feelings. Your children are experiencing the same thing. They have put in a full day of work. They had to follow the rules whether they liked them or not. They were forced to listen, focus, and complete work that challenges them. They may have experienced conflict with peers, witnessed other children doing things that caused them stress, or felt the pain of not doing as well as they wanted on an assignment. It is tiring. It’s stressful. They come home tired and irritable. But (here is where you are different) they do not understand those feelings. They do not know how to express those feelings yet. So, the first thing to do when your children experience the after-school meltdown is to remember. Remember they are communicating the same feelings of exhaustion and stress that you have often felt after a day of work.
Not only do you understand those feelings (you’ve “been there & done that”), you also know how to respond to them. You have learned how to soothe yourself and relax, to recover from stress. You know places you can go to relax and “re-create” your sense of calm. Your children have not learned how to do this yet. They need you to teach them…and you do. First, they learn by watching you take care of ourselves. Second, they learn when you teach them directly. You can teach them about activities that might help them relax and soothe, activities like reading a book, painting or drawing, listening to music, or taking a walk. You can help them identify places where they feel especially calm and relaxed, places like the backyard, their bedroom, the kitchen as they help cook dinner and talk, a “fort” in the back yard or the family room. I remember how much the walk home from school helped me relax from the day during middle school. Teach your children the skills. Help them practice the skills to “pull themselves together” and recoup after a stressful day.
As you teach them how to soothe themselves, you teach them a lifetime skill. You give them a gift they can use throughout their educational career and even in their work lives, family lives, and parenting lives. And, it all begins with the acceptance of the “after school meltdown.”
The adolescent years represent a critical time in brain development. With that in mind, a recent study from Loma Linda University Adventist Health Sciences Center explored how a diet high in saturated fat impacts brain development in adolescents. To do so, they fed a diet high in saturated fats to a group of adolescent rats. They discovered that eating a diet high in saturated fat during adolescent years impacted areas of the brain associated with fear, anxiety, and stress clear into adulthood. Specifically, the rats consuming the high-saturated fat diet had more anxiety, an impaired startle response, and incorrectly assessed levels of threat. All of this made them more susceptible to higher levels of anxiety, stress, and even PTSD-related symptoms…even into adulthood! Of course, your children are not rats (no matter how frustrating they can be!). However, it is very likely that a diet high in saturated fat will have a very similar effect in the human brain (which is why we study it in rats).
This mean that the diet you feed your children and adolescents today will have a long reaching impact on their ability to manage anxiety and respond to stress in adulthood. If they eat a diet high in saturated fats, their ability to manage stress and anxiety effectively may be hindered. In the United States, the biggest sources of saturated fat in our diet are:
Pizza and cheese
Dairy desserts (like ice cream and whipped cream)
Cookies and “other grain-based deserts” (like cakes)
So, if you want your children to develop a stronger ability to manage stress, anxiety, and fear, avoid the adolescent fat brain by making a few changes to your family diet. Eat less pizza and more vegetables. Eat fewer cookies and more apples. Eat less ice cream and more carrots. Eat less red meat and more chicken, fish, and turkey. Eat less fast food and more home-cooked meals. (Here are other benefits of eating as a family at home.) Get started today!
Every parent strives to keep their children safe and healthy. I know I do. We want to provide opportunities for our children to make friends, try new things, and grow. But, many well-intentioned parents cross the line from providing and encouraging to hovering and controlling. Parents often cross this line accidentally, unknowing even, and in response to fears, anxieties, or sensitivities. When that line is crossed, our children suffer. Nicole B. Perry, PhD, from the University of Minnesota, completed a study following 422 children over an 8-year period. Her team assessed the children at ages 2, 5, and 10. The assessments included observations of parent-child interactions, teacher-reported responses, and self-reports from the 10-year-olds. When parents were assessed as hovering (aka, “helicopter parents”), the children were more likely to develop emotional and behavioral regulation difficulties. The inability to self-regulate emotions and behaviors contributed to poorer social skills as well. What did a “hovering” parent do while interacting with their children? What made them “hovering” parents (3 Signs You Are A Helicopter Parent)? Well, rather than letting their children pick out a toy and play, “hovering” parents told their children what to play with and how to play with it. For instance, they might take over the controls for the video game to show their child how to complete a level, leaving their child to sit passively by and watch. Or, they might explain that tree leaves are green, not purple, and expect the child to color them green because that is more accurate. It’s all done to teach…but it interferes with their children’s opportunities to explore, learn from mistakes, and “think independently.” Hovering parents also told their children how to clean up rather than simply encouraging their children to clean up (or better yet clean up with them). They often exhibited strict or demanding behaviors during play interactions, such as demanding the play proceed in a certain order rather than following their children’s lead or negotiating. Compared to children of parents who did not hover, children of “hovering” parents exhibited difficulties self-regulating emotions and behaviors. So, what can a parent do to “not hover” and still teach? To encourage a growing ability to self-regulate emotions and behaviors? Good question. Try some of these tips.
Talk about feelings and what behaviors might flow from various feelings. Help your children develop a vocabulary for emotions and a behavioral repertoire for managing those emotions. (Read 6 Tips to Make Your Children’s Emotions Your Friend for ideas to help you do this.)
Follow child’s lead in play. Spend at least part of your time with children simply following their lead. Acknowledge their actions and report those actions. Doing so communicates as sense of value to your children. It also increases the likelihood that they will follow your lead as well. So, don’t take the controller to let them watch you beat the level on the video game. Instead, let them experiment and simply report back what they did along with the results. (Investing Time & Attention in Your Children describes a great way to do this!)
Negotiate the play. I know this sounds contradictory to the last bullet, but both are true. Sometimes we need to follow our children’s lead in play. Sometimes we need to negotiate the play with our children. Negotiating play teaches our children the skill of cooperation and compromise. It lets them learn that they don’t always get what they want…which in turn increases frustration tolerance. (Sometimes negotiation goes beyond playing. Check out 4 Benefits of Negotiating with Your Child to learn more.)
Give your children chores. Teach them what needs done but allow them the freedom to achieve it in their way. They may choose to do it the hard way. Let them. They may take twice as long to do it. That’s ok. As long as they get the job done well, be happy.
Send them out to play with friends. Let them engage in unstructured, unsupervised play. They will learn amazing self-regulation skills while negotiating, compromising, and enjoying play with other children. (Give them the tools right out of Your Child’s Toolbox for Play.)
Set good example. Let your children see you manage anger and frustration well. Let them see you express joy and sorrow in healthy, appropriate ways. After all, our children learn best by watching us. So, set a good example. And start that example with having fun!
Loving parents establish loving limits for their children. It’s true. We need to do it. We set limits for their safety and the safety of others. We develop limits to teach them polite behaviors and mature attitudes that will allow them to find success outside the home. We put limits in place to guide our children toward becoming the best versions of themselves. But, you know what our children do with those limits. They bump up against them. They push the limits. They try to sneak around the limits and undermine the limits. Sometimes they bump so hard against the limits we get angry and frustrated. Don’t get too frustrated though because children bumping up against limits is a great thing, especially when we respond in love. Children bumping up against limits provides great opportunities and benefits. Let me explain.
When children bump up against limits they learn how to manage their frustrations. Life will not give them everything they want. They will encounter roadblocks and limits outside the family. Best to learn how to manage the frustration around limits in the loving womb of family rather than the harsh desert of the world. Let them bump…and help them learn how to manage the frustration of bumping a limit in a healthy, mature manner.
When children bump up against limits they learn about our true values. They learn long-term character is more important than immediate gratification or temporary wishes. They learn which values we truly find important and will “stick to our guns” for and which we will “give in” on. They learn which values we truly hold dear and which values we are willing to forfeit to avoid the hassle. They learn which values they really need to internalize and which they leave behind as they leave home.
When children bump up against our limits we have an opportunity to show our them love by explaining the reasons for the limit. They learn we believe in their ability to understand the reason behind the limit. They learn we respect them enough to explain those reasons to them in a calm manner. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we argue with them about the reasons. We simply inform them of the reasons. Then we show our love by standing firm and not budging while they bump up against a good limit.
When children bump up against a limit we have an opportunity to show them our love by listening to their outpouring of emotion. We can hear their explanation and simply be with them in their frustration. They will learn we love them enough to understand their frustrations and remain present in their anger. They learn we love them enough to hear them and understand their concerns…which brings me to the next bullet…
When children bump up against a limit we learn about our children. As they explain their frustration and “everything wrong with the limit,” we gain insight into our children. We may even find their complaint makes sense. We may even discover a need to modify the limit to better support their safety and growth. We will encounter times when our children’s insight and wisdom will influence us to change the limit…and that shows the depth of our love as well.
When children bump up against limits we have established for their safety and healthy development we can become frustrated. But remember, children bumping up against the limits presents wonderful opportunities to teach and love. Let them bump and find a loving, gracious limit that holds them secure. Let them bump and learn. Let them bump and hold them close.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: “Words are powerful.” I’m not the first to say it. Many have said it before and many will say it again. Why? Because it’s true…words are powerful. Words shape our world. They shape our families. They shape our children and our children’s thought patterns. If we constantly call our children “lazy” or “selfish,” we will see them as such. On the other hand, if we call our children “funny” or “caring,” we will see them as “funny” and “caring.” In other words, the way we see our children is shaped by the words we use to describe them.
The words we use to describe our children also impact how they begin to see themselves. When we speak of our children as “lazy,” they begin to see themselves as “lazy.” When we speak of them as “caring”, they begin to see themselves as “caring.” As you can see, the way we talk to and about our children has a huge impact. That means we need to listen carefully to our words. We need to listen to hear what kind of message our words communicate to and about our children. Hear are some words to listen for…and change.
Name calling. Everyone knows name calling has a negative impact on children. But name calling can also be made in subtle statements. “Don’t be stupid” is a subtle way to call someone “stupid.” “Don’t you every think” is paramount to calling someone “stupid” or “careless.” “Do you ever do anything but sit around?” is really calling someone “lazy.” “Your room is a pigsty” sounds a lot like calling your child a “pig.” Not only are such statements disrespectful, they don’t create a desire to change. Instead, they can lead to resentment, self-deprecation, and hopelessness. Why not simply say what you mean in clear, respectful language? Instead of saying “Don’t be stupid” ask them what they are trying to accomplish and how their actions will accomplish it. Rather than accuse them of “always sitting around,” help them think about activities they can do. Don’t just label the “room a pigsty,” tell them to clean it up, give reasons you want them to have a clean room, and explain the consequence of not cleaning their room. You are more likely to get the results you want. You will also teach your children respect and communication at the same time. (Read The Power of Words for more the impact of words.)
“You’re such a smart girl (boy).” Global labels like smart, clever, or good hinder your children’s progress. They often lead to children becoming less persistent and even doubting themselves (Build Your Child’s Success Mindset). Instead, ask your children what they did to achieve that grade or how it felt to accomplish that task. Focusing on effort and the results of effort leads to children who are more persistent and adventurous.
“Because I said so.” Let’s face it…it’s just more respectful to offer a reason for a limit, request, or rule rather than simply expect blind obedience. We don’t want our children to respond with blind obedience to all demands and requests they receive. We want them to think for themselves. Learning the “why” behind rules will help them internalize healthy rules and learn to think for themselves. So, rather than simply say “because I said so,” offer an explanation that your children will understand. (Read Because I Said So to learn an excellent alternative to the statement “Because I said so.”)
“Calm down” or “quit crying before I give you something to cry about.” Both statements minimize and dismiss children’s emotions. It teaches them to deny their emotions. And, no one ever responds to “quit trying” with “You’re right. I really have nothing to cry about so I’ll just stop right now, smile, and be happy.” You can help your children learn to manage emotions by teaching them to label emotions rather than dismiss emotions. When children learn to “name it” they can “tame it” when it comes to emotions. Talking helps them calm down.
Listen to yourself over the next week. Do you say any of the four statements described above? If so, work at replacing them with better alternatives. You’ll be surprised at the difference it will make for your children and your relationship with your children!
I learned in the study of human developmental that men often become more willing to express emotions as they age. I guess this has happened to me…or, is happening as I move through my fifties. Actually, I would not say I have developed a greater willingness to express emotions but I have developed a more difficult time holding emotions back, especially tears. I find tears arising more and more often, not the tears of sorrow but the tears of overwhelming emotion.
The tears of seeing the magnificence of the mountains stretching out across the horizon along with the tears of gratitude that I have the opportunity to witness such majesty and beauty.
The tears of witnessing kindness shared between people who differ in so many ways, a glimpse of grace in this segregated world.
The tears of sorrow when a loved one passes combined with the tears of celebrating their life and the contribution of their life to the world in which I live.
The tears of intimacy that arise when sharing laughter with family.
The tears of sorrow as my children “leave the nest” combined with the tears of excited anticipation for what they will experience and accomplish.
The tears of longing as I pray both daughters find like-minded people with whom they can share their life’s dreams.
The tears of pure joy as I watch my children do what brings them joy and see the positive impact they have on their friends and the world around them.
The tears of gratitude and appreciation as I watch my daughter and her fiance admire one another, dreaming and loving together.
Like I said, tears just seem to surface more easily. Who would have thought that tears represent so much more than mere sorrow or pain? They represent love, beauty, anticipation, inspiration, and even overwhelming joy and laughter. Of course, I still hold them back. I make attempts to hide them. I’m not sure why. After all, tears seem to water the seeds of emotions that produce the fruit of intimate relationships. So, if you happen to see a tear roll down my cheek, don’t worry. It only means I care enough about you to share that tear with you. In the meantime, don’t tell anyone; it will ruin my reputation.
Cigna made a surprising discovery when they utilized questions from the UCLA Loneliness Scale to create a survey taken by 20,000 people 18-years-old and older. ( Read about the survey here.) The surprising discovery? Young people are lonelier than elderly people. Even more disturbing, those between 18- and 22-years-old (those tied into social media connections) noted more feelings of social isolation than older people. It seems that even though social media offers digital connections, people still long for face-to-face conversation and interactions. Without this face-to-face connection, people feel lonely.
“So what?” you ask. “I’m sorry young people feel lonelier than elderly but what does it matter?” Good question. Here’s the concern. Loneliness is deadly. Studies suggest that loneliness has the same effect on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or drinking more than 6 alcoholic drinks a day! (Social Relationships & Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review). Loneliness is comparable to obesity and physical inactivity in its impact on the longevity and quality of life. Lonely young people can translate into less quality of life, less joy, even shorter lives! Families can help prevent this type of deadly social isolation and loneliness. Here are five tips to help:
Engage in meaningful family activities like eating meals together, playing games together, going on vacations, making day trips. Enjoy time with your family every day. Build positive relationships with your children, spouse, parents, and siblings.
Get involved. Involve your children in various community activities. Whether you involve them in sporting activities, theatre and the arts, or debate clubs, find a way for your children to become involved in positive activities with other people in the community. Don’t just involve your children. Involve yourself in positive community activities as well. Join a reading club or the booster club. Become involved in a positive group of peers in your community.
Involve your family in a local church. Churches encourage us to worship as a family and as a community. They provide us opportunities to find our place in “something bigger than ourselves” and become part of a supportive, loving community and reducing loneliness.
Volunteer as a family. You might even make your volunteer efforts a weekly, monthly, or quarterly ritual. You will strengthen family bonds and provide the opportunity to meet other people outside the family, decreasing loneliness.
Turn off the technology and play some games face-to-face. Nothing beats loneliness like gathering with other people and engaging in some plain-old-fashioned fun. You can get together to play cards, a pick-up game of ball, a picnic, or a board game. Whatever it is, face-to-face interaction and fun beats loneliness every time!
If you follow these tips, you’ll discover great joy in relationship. Your supportive community will grow. Your family will become more close-knit. And, as Cigna found out, your health and the health of your children will improve. You will live longer…and that means you can enjoy one another’s company and love even longer!
I stole the title for this blog from the title of a research study exploring the impact of a non-residential father’s involvement in his children’s lives (If looks could heal: Child health and paternal investment). This study explored the relationship between non-resident fathers, their children, and their children’s health. It found, among other things, that “a typical visiting father” who invested one extra day of time per month in his children’s lives “enhanced their health by just over 10% of a standard deviation.” Although this study dealt only with fathers and children who did not live together, I believe it points to an important principle of father-child relationships. A father’s investment in his children promotes their overall health and development in a positive way. In fact, a father’s investment in his children’s lives promotes healthy children, healthy families, and healthy communities. This particular study suggests a father’s investment impacts physical health. Other studies have shown that a father’s involvement impacts other areas as well. For instance, a father’s involvement in his children’s lives will impact their:
Academic Life. School-age children with involved fathers become better academic achievers. They are more likely to have better quantitative skills, better verbal skills, and higher grade point averages.
Emotional Life. Father involvement is positively correlated with children experiencing more overall life satisfaction and less emotional stress or mental illness.
Social and Emotional Life. Children who have involved fathers are more likely to score high on self-acceptance as well as exhibiting greater personal and social adjustment as young adults.
Future Employment. Children who have involved fathers have a greater chance of becoming more successful in work as adults.
Social Life. Father involvement is positively correlated with children’s overall social competence and ability to relate to others.
Social and Community Involvement. Children with involved fathers are less likely exhibit conduct problems. They are less likely to engage in negative behaviors such as substance abuse or delinquent behaviors that might result in jail time.
A father’s presence in the family and investment in his children’s lives pays dividends for their children’s whole life. A father’s involvement benefits his children, his family, and his community. Get involved today!