One big psychological change of puberty is the sudden need for greater independence. It’s when young people start to establish their identity outside of their parents and the family unit. We often hear about the door slamming, the eye-rolling, the wanting to spend more time with friends and the embarrassing fashion choices (remember your own?). But one aspect of this development time that’s not so frequently spoken about is the interests, passions and obsessions.
These tween interests might be hobbies, or they might focus on a person, band, or even book. This is when young people often get their first crushes after all, so it’s common to find a celebrity crush plastered over your tween’s walls. And sometimes, this interest can reach the point of obsession. It might seem like it’s all they talk about! How do you handle this sort of obsession as a parent? And at what point does it become unhealthy?
Respect their interest
First of all, it’s vital to respect your tween’s interest. No matter how silly or trivial it seems to you, it feels deadly serious to your young person. Don’t laugh or make jokes about it. If you can, get involved in some way. Ask them about their interest. What do they like about it/them so much? Maybe you can go to a horse-riding tournament, a concert of the band, or the latest movie of theirs together.
When is it unhealthy?
Just because they’re won’t stop talking about their interest (and it’s really getting on your nerves!) doesn’t necessarily mean this new obsession is unhealthy. Most of the time it’s nothing to worry about and the obsession will pass. The key thing to watch out for is if it’s starting to impact their life or they’re withdrawing too much from other activities, particularly their social network. If they’ve lost interest in spending time with their friends in order to sit in their bedroom to focus on the obsession, that’s when gentle intervention might be needed.
What can you do?
Encourage your child to seek more balance. Talk about the importance of seeking joy from multiple aspects of life. Plan activities to keep them out of their bedroom or away from the computer. Help them to arrange catch ups with friends, or to organise other social activities that will have them spending time with other people. If these don’t work, you might like to organise for your tween to see a counsellor or psychologist. This is especially true if your child is withdrawing more and more socially, as this can be a symptom of deeper problems.
With the state in a stretching-out lockdown 4.0, we thought we’d dig up this post from our April 2020 newsletter. We know kids already know about the virus by now, but it’s good to check in and help ease their anxiety over another lockdown.
Give them the facts
As parents and caregivers, it can be tempting to try and hide our child away from bad news, to protect them from worry. But children pick up on the anxiety of their parents, and when they don’t know what’s going on, it only increases their level of stress.
Instead, have a conversation where you lay down the facts about what’s going on, including what you do and don’t know. This video offers a quick run down on what you need to know about COVID-19; you might want to watch it before you talk, or watch it together. Keep your regular tone of voice, so don’t try and be overly calm, but try not to let stress creep in either. Speaking normally will help reassure your child that you’re not having an end-of-the-world conversation.
Anxiety often stems from what we don’t know, so the more information we give children, the securer they’ll feel. It’s also important that you don’t wait for your child to ask you about the virus or this lockdown to talk. Some kids will be the kind to ask questions about everything, and others will keep their worries to themselves, but both types need to know.
While we want our children to be informed, of course we should reassure them as well. Yes, they need to know the bad with the good, but focusing more on the positives can help settle their nerves. Let them know that illness due to COVID-19 infection is generally mild, especially for children and young adults, and that many symptoms can be treated. Let them know that many older or at-risk people are vaccinated now, with more becoming vaccinated every day. Talk about our excellent health care and hospitals, and how we’ve learnt how to handle the pandemic better since the last lockdowns. Remind them of all the effective things they can do themselves, like washing their hands and not touching their face.
Talk to them about the good that people are doing in the face of this pandemic. Show them heartwarming videos of people in lockdown, such as these Italians singing together across balconies, these Sicilian kids performing Coldplay, and this Kent family’s adaption of Les Mis. Look up videos of people in Britain gathering outside their homes to applaud NHS health workers, and together find out about the ‘bear hunt’ and rainbow drawings in windows. Ask them to think about fun things they can do at home they might not have had time to do in a while. And keep reminding them that although a few weeks can feel like a long time, this is temporary; eventually it will pass and things will go back to normal. Remind them that humans are strong and adaptable and that we will get through this together.
Get them to talk
Allowing your child the space and time to express their feelings about what’s going on is possibly the most important thing you can do. And you have to be proactive. Start by asking them questions. What have they been hearing and seeing? How do they feel about it? How might big events like this make us feel? Giving them the opportunity to express their feelings will help to stop them from becoming overwhelmed.
It’s important they identify the names of their emotions and the sensations that come with them: what is grief, and what does it feel like? What about anxiety? Talking about ‘sadness’ is equally fine; the words don’t have to be high-level vocab. By being able to identify their feelings, they’ll be able to process them better.
Ensure they have breaks
As well as having these important chats, it’s equally important to make sure your children have plenty of time where they don’t have to think or talk about COVID-19 (and it’s important for us adults as well!) Change the conversation after you’ve talked for a while. Be mindful of when and how long the news is on for. If you live with another adult, watch how much the two of you speak about while the kids are in earshot.
There are many more helpful resources out there on helping caregivers and kids through the COVID-19 pandemic. We recommend this article from UNICEF, this article from Reach Out, and this video from HeySigmund. This website from Wide Open School provides a range of educational and play activities you can do at home to get your family through the pandemic. We also post other good resources we come across on our Facebook page so please join our community there by ‘liking’ our page if you haven’t already.
We get a lot of ideas about relationships that may not be healthy for us from movies, advertising, books and people. Romantic relationships in particular are often portrayed in ways that are outdated, harmful or just plain wrong. We need to be constantly talking about relationships with our children, especially as they reach adolescence and start developing crushes and begin dating.
Myth: There’s only one person out there for you (like a ‘soul mate’)
Fact: Ahhh, yeah, no. And thank goodness it’s ‘no’. Imagine the difficulty and pressure if we all had to find that ‘one’ person in a world of seven billion? Just like how most of us have more than one friend, there are also many, many people out there who we are likely to feel romantic and/or sexual attraction towards and who may make good partners.
Myth: Conflict is a sign of a bad relationship
Fact: Conflict is unavoidable; it will always arise in any close relationship, romantic or otherwise. The sign of a healthy relationship is not the amount of conflict, but how the conflict is handled. Clear, calm and non-accusatory communication is key here. Trying not to be defensive and communicating emotions without spite. If fights get heated, that can be okay – just so long as they’re resolved peacefully afterwards. That being said, it’s important to know the difference between regular bickering and unhealthy patterns or emotional abuse.
Myth: Partners should just ‘know’ each other’s needs and feelings
Fact: None of us are mind readers. We might see someone every day, but we still don’t know what’s really going on inside their heads. And we can’t expect our partners to know what’s going on in ours. Feelings and needs have to be communicated before they can be addressed. It’s not fair to expect someone to just ‘know’.
Myth: If you truly love someone, you won’t feel attraction to other people
Fact: Loving someone doesn’t cancel out all feelings for other people. Humans simply aren’t built this way. This is a particularly pervasive and often damaging myth, one that might lead people to throw away perfectly happy relationships just because of a crush or Instagram ‘likes’ for someone else. Even if you have thoughts about someone else, or your partner does, it doesn’t mean your or their love isn’t real or is diminished in some way.
Myth: Jealousy is a sign of love and caring
Fact: Jealously doesn’t stem from love, it stems from insecurity – and it can be very unhealthy. While almost everyone experiences jealously at some point, excessive jealously and controlling behaviour should not be tolerated. For minor jealousies, it’s fine to offer or ask for a little extra love and reassurance. But at the end of the day, jealousy isn’t something to be ‘solved’ by another person; we need to work on our own insecurities.
Myth: If they’re ‘the one’, the relationship should be easy
Fact: Okay, so we already debunked the idea of ‘the one’ above. But besides that, all relationships need work. It doesn’t matter how well suited the pair; all couples will experience bumpy patches. And communicating or caring for someone’s needs, compromising, and getting around conflict can be challenging and tiring. But for good, healthy relationships – the extra demands will be worth it.
Myth: You should only talk about your problems and feelings with your partner
Fact: No one person should be your entire support network. Talk with friends, talk with family, talk with professionals. Having a range of people to turn to for a sympathetic ear will help provide different perspectives. It also means that if things ever sour with your partner, there will be a number of others to fall back on for support.
Myth: You and your partner should share everything (including all your time)
Fact: Having interests, hobbies, friends and periods of time just for you is actually healthy in a relationship! While some couples will be more co-dependant than others, ensuring some time and space for yourself will help maintain healthy boundaries and make the both of you better partners. And no person you’re dating should ever pressure or force you to share a bedroom, a bank account, a hobby or anything else if you don’t want to.
Myth: If a relationship ends, it means it’s failed
Fact: If the both of you have learnt and grown from the relationship, and not left each other in significantly worse working order than when you met, then congratulations – you’ve been in a successful relationship! Why does this myth continue to plague us? Why is death the only acceptable end marker of a relationship? Some people might have rewarding relationships that last as little as a night! There are many factors for judging the success of a relationship, and time is just one of them.
Myth: Once you’re in a committed relationship, you no longer need to use protection
Fact: Okay, this might not be the case for every couple in history – but it is good practise to use protection. For heterosexual couples, pregnancy might be an issue and will need protection to prevent. But for couples of all genders, STIs (sexually transmissible infections) are a reality and you might want to still use protective barriers like condoms for either penises or vulvas. No matter how much you trust your partner – it’s better to be safe than sorry.
We receive a lot of ideas about relationships that may not be healthy for us. Movies, advertising, books and even other people give us messages about how relationships should be. Friendships in particular usually aren’t featured in nuanced conversation in the mainstream. And what is talked about is often outdated, harmful or just plain wrong. We need to be constantly talking about relationships with our children, especially as they reach adolescence and friendships become more complex. So, what are the myths around friendship that we need to challenge with our young people?
Myth: The more friends you have, the better
Fact: Friendship isn’t a numbers game. It also doesn’t mean you’re a better person or more likeable if you have lots of friends. Some people may be happier with a wide network of friends, while others will be happier with a small close circle or even just one or two. When it comes to friendship, for most people the rule for happiness is quality over quantity. Whatever works for you.
Myth: You should have a ‘best friend’
Fact: Friendship isn’t about weighing up some friendships against or over others. People will offer you different things and different kinds of friendship. And the closeness you share with different people will wax and wane over time. This is all normal. Plus, being or having a ‘best friend’ can come with a lot of pressure – and who wants that?
Myth: Men and women can’t be friends
Fact: Of course, men and women can be platonic friends. This myth often stems from another myth that all men want sex all the time (untrue, duh). Take a look around at the people you know, do any of them have platonic friends of the opposite sex? Besides, even if there is some level of attraction from one or both parties at some point, that doesn’t immediately cancel out the friendship and its importance. Surely, we don’t want to dismiss having friendships with roughly 50% of the population because of this outdated idea.
Myth: Friendship is forever
Fact: It’s not often that a friendship lasts a lifetime. Some people will only be in your life for a few years, or a summer, or even an afternoon. People change, lives change. People drift apart. On an odd occasion, a friendship may end with a falling out. It doesn’t mean these aren’t or weren’t real friendships or that they’re not valuable. They offered us what we needed at the time, including an opportunity to learn and grow.
Myth: Good friends talk to and see each other all the time
Fact: There’s no rule about how often friends should see or speak to each other. For some people, it might be every day. For others, it could be once every few months. Neither is a ‘better’ or ‘truer’ friendship. If you have a friend who is pressuring you to be in constant contact, gently let them know that this isn’t the friendship model that works for you – but it doesn’t mean you care about them any less.
Myth: True friends will never let you down
Fact: We don’t expect our romantic relationships to be perfect, so why do we so often expect this of our friendships? All humans are complex and flawed. We all have moments where we don’t behave as well as we should, and we need to have compassion for when others might not always meet our every expectation. That being said, if a friend is constantly letting you down – they may not be worth investing time into.
Myth: Real friendship is effortless
Fact: You know the saying, ‘relationships take work’? The same can be said of friendships. Keeping up a friendship shouldn’t be a chore, but it’s important to show friends that you value them. It doesn’t need to be a lot, just things like making an effort to organise plans, not flaking on plans once they’re made, offering extra support when they’re going through a tough time, and remembering birthdays.
As parents and carers, we all dread them. Those questions, the ones that make our faces flush and mouths stumble over the answers. Where did they hear that word? Are their friends talking about this? Gosh, that’s a big imagination.
You know what we mean: the jaw dropping questions. Ones to do with the things they don’t need to know about yet. Maybe they’ve asked what a ‘blow job’ or a ‘dildo’ is. Or maybe they saw something on the internet that wasn’t for their eyes and need it to be explained.
Either way, once the concept is in their head, they need some sort of answer. And if we don’t offer it, they’ll likely go to less-reliable sources. So, how do we answer these tricky questions?
Clarify what they’re really asking. You might even like to repeat the sentence back to them to make sure you know what specifically they’re wanting to know.
Stick to the facts. Don’t give them euphemisms or some made-up story. Kids have a right to accurate information, plus, they’ll probably work it out if you’re fobbing them off.
Keep it simple. Stick to the basics of what they need to know. Not too much detail. If they’re not satisfied, they’ll ask follow-up questions. That being said, if you do overexplain (those pesky nerves don’t help) – don’t worry. Kids generally only take on board what they’re ready to know and filter out the rest.
Stay neutral. By keeping a matter-of-fact tone, it lets them know that this topic isn’t a big deal, nor something they need to be embarrassed, ashamed or secretive about.
Remember they have a child’s mind. Most of the time, these questions are coming from a place of innocence and curiosity. It’s important to not project our adult understanding on to them.
Let them know this is a topic they don’t need to know all about now. Once you’ve answered their question, you can let them know this is something for grown-ups to think about and they don’t need to worry now.
Reassure them that they can always come to you with their questions. No matter what, you’ll always try to provide them with an answer.
If they ask you this question in public, like a doctor’s office or on the tram, then calmly let them know you’ll have a chat about it when you get home. Make sure you do get back to them when you’re in a private space, or they’ll think asking you isn’t okay.
You don’t have to explain everything on the spot. If you need a bit of time to think about how you’re going to answer, that’s fine, and you can tell them this. Just don’t forget to get back to them soon!