In this episode–recorded just as families began sheltering in place–Susan talks with Dr. Christine Carter about how to help teens be less vulnerable to anxiety and depression. Parents with young children will also hear great advice for cultivating confidence and a strong sense of self.

 

 

Christine Carter, Ph.D., is an author, speaker, and coach. Her books include The New Adolescence: Raising Happy and Successful Teens in an Age of Anxiety and Distraction (2020), The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing Less (2017) and Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents (2011). A sociologist and senior fellow at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, Carter draws on the latest scientific research in psychology, sociology, and neuroscience to help her clients lead their most meaningful, joyful, and productive lives.  She lives with her husband, four teenagers, and dog Buster in Marin County, California. https://www.christinecarter.com/

In this episode, you’ll learn:

• Some of the fantastic things about raising teens
• Ways to foster kids’ independence while sheltering in place
• Ideas for reducing risk of depression in adolescents

 

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Transcript here:

Speaker 1:

Hello and welcome to the Parenting Without Power Struggles. I’m your host, Susan Stiffelman. I’m a marriage and family therapist and the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles and Parenting with Presence. How are you all doing? I’m so glad we get to be together and come together, especially with my friend Christine Carter. Hi Christine. We’re going to have a great conversation about teens and many of the people listening will be having more actual face to face time with their teenagers because so many schools are out. So I think it will be a timely episode. But first everybody, I want to as always share some information with you. If you’re interested in more parenting support, especially right now, you can go to Susanstiffelman.com you’re going to find lots of things including a free newsletter that consistently offers articles and tips and support and inspiration.

 

Speaker 1:

And you can also find master classes there, whole list on topics like helping anxious children thrive, highly sensitive children and parents. And the class I did with you, Christine, The New Adolescence, which was super fun. And we’re going to pull from that class and give people a little bit of a taste today. For those of you who want more support, please check out the monthly Parenting Without Power Struggles membership program where I work with parents personally. You can go to Susanstiffelman.com/membership and if you use coupon code Podcast19 your first month will just be a dollar and we meet twice a month. We, I do coaching and answer questions and you know, we sort of have a virtual hug, handholding just to have a place to go for reliable guidance. So if that’s of interest to you, please check that out. There’s lots of resources susanstiffelman.com so now let’s get started with today’s episode with Dr. Christine Carter.

 

Speaker 1:

Christine is a sociologist and the author of a number of great books, including her most recent one, which I love, the new adolescents raising happy and successful teens in an age of anxiety and distraction. Christie and I’m not laughing, but the title is pretty great. For what everyone’s going through right now. I know the anxiety levels just skyrocketed with the whole Corona virus pandemic. Yeah. Dr Carter’s a contributor to us news and world report. She’s appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show, the dr Asha the today show, the daily show with Jon Stewart and lots of other programs and publications. And I’m so glad you’re here. I’m so glad we get to, you know, touch on this topic that I know we got to go into in greater depth, but which was a great opportunity for parents, even of younger children, to kind of look at the landscape of what we’re doing as we raise our kids, which ultimately is about raising them to become confident, resilient adults. So welcome again.

 

Speaker 2:

No, well thank you for having me. I’m so happy to be with you today. 

 

Speaker 1:

Christine is a wonderful human being, you guys, so I hope you check out her book and her website, Christine carter.com. There’s just a lot of solid, loving, mindful research based support. So I’m going to just throw the first question out at you. Okay. Little bit of a, maybe not the usual question, but it’s one that’s close to my heart because I think adolescence is such a great time. What is the best part of adolescence?

 

Speaker 2:

Oh my gosh, there’s so many things that are so great about adolescents and I think from the parent’s perspective as well as from the kids’ perspective. So it’s, it’s the time of the, of the brain’s greatest growth, right? So we always think of, of when our kids are little, as their brains growing, but actually the brain remodels and changes more dramatically during adolescents. I mean the greatest growth except for in utero. So that, that means that our teenagers and our adolescents can learn things so quickly and and they develop this sense of mastery. So it’s like watching them become the, become their best selves. It can be about watching them become their best selves. It’s wonderful. I think as a parent, the best thing about raising adolescents or watching it go through is in addition to watching them become these people, right? Like that have these wonderful strengths and everything is that it’s not so physically taxing, right?

 

Speaker 2:

It’s not, I, you know, having little kids is an altogether different thing. And I think that the emotional rewards of having teenagers can be just as wonderful as having little kids, but without having to brush their teeth and tie their shoes and, you know, do all the hard physical labor. So it’s just, it’s really a wonderful time. I have four teenagers myself and people will often say to me, Oh my gosh, that like, that, that must be horrible. We’d be like, people literally say to me, that sounds terrible like that you have four teenagers and it’s not at all. It’s not at all terrible. I think that yes, it’s, it can be awfully complex sometimes and it’s not without its anxiety and, and all the rest of it. But if this is a time of this is a lovely developmental phase, I think to be parenting through because you get these really rich conversations teenagers feel so deeply and their emotions tend to be so amplified and that, that can be hard sometimes, but it also can be really rewarding and lead to incredibly deep connection. Yeah, no, I, and you’re full on in it. I know.

 

Speaker 2:

I believe you. I know. Well, I do it. And like right now people are, are freaking out about the fact that all of our college kids are coming home and and, and you know, my high schoolers are now going to be at home all day online learning. And I’m very lucky because I’m already set up to work from home and because I have an office with a door, I recognize that this is like incredible privilege on so many levels. And I know that there’s a lot that we need to do to sort of get our homes retooled for what’s happening. But honestly, like I can really see the upside to these school closures for myself personally. Like I love having my kids home and and, and we’re going to do it right. Like, it’s going to be fine. We’re gonna, we’re going to make it work. So let’s go to the,

 

Speaker 1:

The other side because we also know that teens these days in particular, although it’s been true for decades, but in particular it seems like kids are struggling with elevated levels of stress, anxiety, depression. I saw one statistic, I think in your fantastic book that by the time they head off to college, 25% will have taken or be taking a medication or prescription medication to manage depression and anxiety. So what can we do to support our kids? And of course the volume is turned up right now with coronavirus, but how can we support our kids who are especially vulnerable to some mood challenges?

 

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I know. I think that it’s actually more than a quarter now. They’re saying we’ll be prescribed some sort of medication to help them manage their depression and anxiety. And in fact, it’s true. We are seeing skyrocketing levels of anxiety and depression and also suicidality. So this is very scary. We also know for the most part what’s behind it. And that means that there are things that we can do to solve for it, to prevent it or to reverse it if it’s already happening in our families. And I think one of the first things that we need to address as a society and also as parents is how exhausted these kids are. Right? We know when we look at the really scary and all the data around it, but we control for sleep, everything sort of shifts. The problem doesn’t, we don’t see this sort of massive spike or the tsunami of mental illness coming at us anymore because because the, the sleep piece of things is, is very foundational.

 

Speaker 2:

It, that’s not to say that there aren’t other things happening as well. I don’t want to minimize the problem and say it’s really just about sleep. And we also know that when human beings are exhausted not just adolescents, but adults and younger children as well. We start to have trouble with depression and that, that depression tends to snowball into other problems. So people who aren’t sleeping enough tend to have increased feelings of loneliness. These increased feelings of loneliness tend to lead to increased feelings of social isolation. And then behaviors related to that so that our kids get exhausted, they’re sleep deprived, and then they S it leads to loneliness, which leads them to isolate themselves even further to not go out. And and all of these things compound underlying depression. They actually are causal of depression. Of course social anxiety and other types of anxiety play in here.

 

Speaker 2:

So we just, we just know that across the board, that’s only one of the many ways that sleep deprivation affects our mental health. And and so one of the most important things that as parents we can do even with older teenagers, is find ways to help them get more sleep. This is the most sleep deprived generation we have ever seen. And so Mo, so most teenagers think that they need to, they need eight hours of sleep. 85% of them do not get eight hours of sleep on a daily basis. 85%. And actually what we know about adolescents is because of all the brain growth and changes, they, they need more than eight hours of sleep, nine hours and 20 minutes is the threshold at which there’s like no additional improvements in learning and wellbeing and you know, outcomes. So, so 99%, I don’t, I don’t actually know what percent is, is not getting nine hours and 20 minutes. But I would venture a guess to say that almost all of them aren’t. And you know, it was going to be interesting because we’re recording this for release soon, but the pandemic has now been announced and people are kind of

 

Speaker 1:

Running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to stock food and the kids are, schools are being closed just as we record. And so in the next few weeks there will potentially be some shifts in our kids’ schedules as well as their contact with their friends in person. What do you think about all that?

 

Speaker 2:

Well, I think it’s going to be really interesting for us to watch and I think it’s important for us to get out ahead of what some of the social distancing can do to us all, not just our kids. And there are things that we can do ourselves to counter balance the social distancing if we’ve got kids that are coming home, this is really good news for us as families. In terms of the, I mean I think that we need to expect a social recession as well as an economic one, but for the people who are living alone, right? Like social distancing is going to be very hard to counter for people who are living alone, who are already a little bit isolated. And, but for us, we need to just counter the social distancing by deepening our connections with our kids, our family members, right?

 

Speaker 2:

So, so our social connections can be both broad and deep and the social distancing is going to take out the broad aspect of things. We need to go deep again with our kids and with teenagers. This is going to be a little bit tricky because especially college students, so college students just by the way are still adolescents. Mine to happen to actually still literally be teenagers, but adolescence lasts until your earlier mid twenties. And so a lot of what applies, we usually think we’re just talking about middle schoolers, right? But actually are high schoolers, but it applies to the college students who are coming home. So, you know, we deepen our social connections by, you know, physical touch is going to be an important one. Just like, but for this generation, us as well as the kids, it’s also not spending so much time alone in our rooms, like watching shows on devices, right?

 

Speaker 2:

When I was a kid, if we wanted to watch a TV show, we watched it as a family and sort of going back to some of those practices, eating meals together, right? We’re all going to be home for all our meals. And this is a, this can be a real advantage. So it used to be that, you know, the, the mother got stuck in the kitchen cooking all day because everybody was eating at home and this led to, there was a great benefit to the family for that because people sat down together, they enjoyed each other. This is, this was a time of, of deepened connections. I don’t anticipate being stuck in the kitchen like in the 1950s again because all these teenagers are going to be home and perfectly able to help out. But I do think it’s going to be important for me and for us in our families to create a structure around what will it be like, right.

 

Speaker 2:

Because the default will be to just be trying to counter the boredom by spending like watching every single show on Netflix. You know what I mean? Like spending a lot of time alone. Like we’re, we’re going to, a lot of people will be trying to work from home and it will be awfully tempting to just work through lunch or whatever. But we have this opportunity now to sort of counterbalance the social distancing and the isolation to our homes. Basically with actually looking up and seeing the people who are in our homes and giving them a role now with the teenagers, I know that there’s going to be some resistance. I think that my strategy is really going to be that giving them a role in the whole thing. Like it’s not that they’re, we’re good, we’re reverting to them as little kids where I cook for them all the time.

 

Speaker 2:

It’s going to be like, you’re, you’re practically adults now. You need, I need your help in this, right? We are in this together. I need you. Here’s a list of things like ways to help out. I like where I, you know, my husband had the idea of like having signups last week for like, who’s doing what meals and how’s, how’s it all going to be and how are we going to sort of deal with the fact that we are really used to having like two of my kids almost always come with other kids at meals, which we love. But you know, we’re going to have to sort of work out how that all works. What’s the process for keeping our home clean? Let them come up with it. Let them be in charge of like where the hand washing station is and all the rest. Right. You know, I, as I’m listening to you, I’m thinking about

 

Speaker 1:

The mixed messages we sometimes get or think we’re getting from our kids when we do try to forge a deeper bond or spend time with them and they kind of look at us like, no, that’s not what I want to do. But these are such unusual circumstances where they can’t really just grab the car keys and head out till two in the morning. They’re home for now. And I remember a time when my son was maybe 15 or 16 and he was headed out to go hang out with some of his friends in the neighborhood and I kinda got myself all lined up to watch a movie and you know, totally happy with the arrangement. And then maybe 10 minutes later I hear the front door and he kind of slams the door and comes in and I said, Oh Hey. And he said, Hey, so-and-so wasn’t home. So and so wasn’t around. And I said something that I thought, this is the most ridiculous thing coming out of my mouth. I said,

 

Speaker 1:

If you’re going to be home, they want to play a board game.

 

Speaker 2:

And I’m kind of like scrunching

 

Speaker 1:

My face. Like this is so embarrassing. Of course he doesn’t want to play a board game with his mom on a Friday night. And do you know? He said, yeah, sure. And he went and got a few games and we sat on the bed for an hour or two and I was so surprised by that. But I think that we need to be open to the possibility that our kids, especially when they’re cut off more from the routines that kind of nurture them socially, that, that if we don’t come across as too desperate and needy and we kind of give them a lot of room and a lot of space, that they may actually welcome an invitation to do something, not just sit and have a heart to heart talk while you stare soulfully into each other’s eyes. But something fun, you know, that you can conjure up that might kind of, you know, break up the monotony of watching episodes.

 

Speaker 2:

Absolutely. Absolutely. And, and we know that social connection and feeling a sense of belonging and relatedness is, I mean, this is a core, deep human need. And so if we balance that with still giving them autonomy, right, and that’s going to be the real challenge, then they’re going to be more receptive to the connections, which will otherwise feel really good. Right? So maybe letting them teach us something or but I, but I think you’re absolutely right. Like most kids will go for it. Unless they’re feeling really controlled and and, and you know, they may feel like, I think everybody feels a real loss of a sense of control. So how, how helping them through this whole thing think about ways that they can regain a sense of control over their own lives. I’ve been thinking about what will help us all regain a sense of control in this whole thing.

 

Speaker 2:

And one of my daughter’s schools, before they decided to send everybody home, they did a deep cleaning and they, they involved all the students in the cleaning. Like they actually gave them power washers and hazmat suits and the whole thing, right. And there hadn’t been an exposure, so there was no real danger in this, but they were just like, this is what we’re doing as a community. And she said it was the best thing that they’ve done together. All it was the most fun she’d had all semester because they were all kind of in it together. So this is the time we’re going to be home. Like, let’s let’s, let’s do some cleaning. Let’s do some organizing because that can give us a regain, help us regain our sense of control over a situation, which, you know, is much more out of control than I think all of us are comfortable with. Yeah.

 

Speaker 1:

Thank you so much. So much good information. Let’s leave parents with a tip. I always like to part or finish the episode with something practical that they can try and do in the week ahead. So what would you suggest to the parents who are listening who want to act on some of the things you’ve talked about?

 

Speaker 2:

Well, I think the most important thing when we’re thinking about parenting teenagers is to manage your own anxiety first, right? So take care of your own stress. We actually know we have good empirical data that shows that one of the most positive things that we can do for our kids of any age really is to have stress management practices ourselves. Whether that’s practicing a relaxation technique meditation. Basically what we’re doing is modeling stress management and this is what our kids need. It also puts us in a better place to be, to be positive anchors for our kids when they’re stressed. So, so I think that that’s fine. Find the thing that you can do for yourself that helps you relax and don’t feel guilty about doing it.

Speaker 1:

 

Great. Great. You all have permission then?

 

Speaker 2:

Yes, I write a permission slip. You relax in the middle of a crisis. It will help everybody.

 

Speaker 1:

I mean it’s such a gift to families where there’s so much uncertainty and chaos and misinformation and anxiety to show them what it looks like to both honor and allow space for all of your feelings. Talk about your feelings and what you’re going through, but also to let them see that there that you can show up with a level of sturdiness that reminds them or teaches them that you know, we can manage the rough waters when life sort of gets a little bumpy and it’s the best message I think we can give our kids right now. Absolutely. Absolutely. So where can people find out more about your great book and your work and all the cool things you do?

 

Speaker 2:

Well, the book is The New Adolescence and it should be available wherever books are sold and my website is Christinecarter.com and I’ve got lots of resources there as well.

 

Speaker 1:

You sure do. Thank you, Christine Carter.

 

Speaker 2:

Well thank you. It’s been so fun.

 

Speaker 1:

And everyone listening. I hope that you’ve gotten something new and interesting to think about from our conversation. I know I have always learned when I talk to wonderful people like Christina and if you’re enjoying the podcast, please consider subscribing or leaving a review so that we can expand our reach. And if you want to watch the almost hour and a half class that Christine and I did on the new adolescents, you’ll find it under products at susanstiffelman.com you can also visit the website for the free newsletter or try out our Parenting Without Power Struggles membership program. If you want ongoing support, especially during this time, remember, use coupon code Podcast19 and your first month is just a dollar. All right, everybody thinking of you all sending you my best. We’re all in this together. Thank you again, Christine. 

 

Oh, it’s my pleasure. Thank you for having me and to everyone listening. 

 

I look forward to joining you on our next episode. Remember that no matter how busy life gets, look for those moments of sweetness and joy. I’ll see you next time.

 

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