By ALISON BURMEISTER
Two years ago, Dr. Dolly Klock, a family physician and mother to a teen and a tween, spoke to a group of parents in the library at Palisades Elementary School. She answered questions around healthy screen time, sleep habits and puberty.
Looking back, parents had no clue about the challenges they would soon face. As if raising a hormonal tween or teen wasn’t complicated enough, add in lockdowns and on-line schooling – and imagine the fun.
Many parents are still feeling the challenges and stresses, so when Dolly spoke on “Teen Partying, Parenting and Puberty” this past week at Paul Revere Middle School, the zoom event immediately filled up.
The doctor assured parents that teens’ bodies and minds were in the process of a little “remodeling.” She said, parents might feel a bit like an emotional dumping ground, and the adorable kids they once knew may now seem void of any rational reaction, but that this is part of the developmental process
Children’s brains at this point are in a state of selective processing or “synaptic pruning.” The limbic system that is responsible for the emotional center of the brain, basic needs, hormones, fight or flight and feelings…BIG feelings…is maturing.
Meanwhile the prefrontal cortex which allows for organization, planning-ahead, foreseeing consequences and impulse control is not yet fully developed.
Therefore, what would seem like a rational way to process an emotion may result in a much bigger response from a youth than a parent would anticipate. This does not give anyone the right to be a jerk, but this is a time for parents and kids to address and affirm their family values and not take the small stuff too personally.
Tweens and teens are in the process of forming an identity and emotions are high. As parents it is good to recognize that at this time our kids may seek outside approval over family. For this reason, it is important to know who and what your kids are into.
The pandemic opened the door to technology and kids turned to technology not only for school, but also for entertainment and socialization.
Screen time for adolescents is up from five and half hours a day to eight and half hours. How does the heightened use of technology affect our children’s mental health?
Dolly points out it is not the technology itself but rather the healthy activities that technology replaces, such as in person relationships, exercise and sleep that are causing the mental health issues.
With the internet and social media, children are being exposed to pornography, “sexting” (sending lude videos, messages and photos online) and sex more than ever.
Drugs are being sold to underaged users over snapchat and mental health issues are on the rise. Kids ideas of privacy is confused: they may not want parents to know what is going on in their room, but they are perfectly fine sharing photos with virtual strangers.
The doctor is quick to say, “communication is key.” If you are looking for a way to start up an uncomfortable conversation about sex, puberty or teenage partying, sometimes the best way to start this conversation is by asking them what they know.
If they clam up, maybe relate to them by finding out what they are interested in. Watch a YouTube show or movie with them, find out who they follow on Tik Tok, play a game or sport with them, read with them, encourage them to invite a friend over.
Rather than pulling our kids into the living room for a serious sit-down conversation, parents can create “teachable moments” by relating to our kids through characters in a show or book, discovering a new app, playing a game, or practicing an instrument.
Dolly suggests trying to normalize conversations around uncomfortable situations like sex, drugs, and mental health. The more open you are to talking about them with your child, the less likely they will seek answers somewhere else.
The doctor offers 15 years of clinical medical work and is the founder of “Adolessons.” She provides parent-child puberty classes, group workshops and private parenting consultations. She works to help parents and teens start the important conversations about tricky subjects like puberty and sex, drugs and alcohol, body image and technology use.
In the past couple of years, where conversations on the sideline of a game, before pick-up or after a performance were convenient encounters for parents to check in with one another, the pandemic also placed a pause on many opportunities for parents to connect.
Dolly encourages you to create a community to share your thoughts with other parents and their kids and she is here to help you do just that. Visit: www.adolessonsla.com/