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How Happy Are Your Kids?

Tweens and teens are overstretched and stressed. We polled nearly 2,500 tweens, teens, and moms about their coping methods.

By Gay Norton Edelman

Kids and Stress

Kids today are being bombarded with high-stakes school testing, after-school activities and jobs, parental demands for high grades and higher cooperation. And they're hyperstimulated by over-the-top technology and media access. It's a wonder they have time to breathe.

And parents? "Everyone is more stressed," says Edward M. Hallowell, MD, author of CrazyBusy (Ballantine Books). "Everything -- from world events to feeling on-call 24-7 -- eats away at our time, freedom, and energy."

There's not a lot you can do about world events. Or even the technology revolution. But you do have power over what goes on in your home. To help you keep your family strong and safe, Family Circle asked Harris Interactive to survey tweens (9 to 12), teens (13 to 17), and moms with kids those ages. We asked about everything from overall happiness to Internet use to what, exactly, they worry about. Here's what we found, along with smart advice so you can put the facts to use right now.

Let's Be Together

Worried that your family doesn't get enough of you? Don't be. Seventy percent of kids say they're pleased with how much attention you give them. But 9 percent of kids complain about spending too much time with you -- and a third of kids say their home life is iffy. "Don't be a hovercraft parent," advises Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads (Crown) and a Family Circle contributing editor. "Kids need to make mistakes and learn from them."

A quarter of kids want more time with parents. And 17 percent of moms say they feel the same way. Most kids just want to hang out, chat about school, share meals. But a third wish you'd find time to talk about what's important to them.

A third of tweens and nearly a quarter of teens wish their parents would spend less time working and more time with them.

Improving Time Together

The Pressure's On

Stressed? Yes, say 60 percent of teens and nearly half of tweens. Here's why:

No One to Turn To

Worried kids are less likely to talk with their parents. "Teens are more inclined to share feelings when they're doing something," says Borba. "Invite them to make the salad or stir the sauce during dinner prep. Or plant yourself in a spot where they're likely to be receptive -- in front of the refrigerator at 5 o'clock." Get in your kid's culture zone -- even if it bores you. Is she crazy about GameCube? Kelly Clarkson? Hilary Duff? Google them!

The Pressure's Off

Twenty-one percent of moms are concerned that their kids are being pushed by peers to do poorly in school. But in fact, that's true for only 2 percent of kids. And there's more evidence to calm parents of potential underachievers: 60 percent of kids actually are being encouraged by their peers to do well in school.

Risky Behavior

More teens report pressure to engage in risky behavior than tweens.

Girls vs. Boys: Who's Worried About What?

Big Exception

Despite the number of women now in the active military, boys are much more anxious about having to fight in a war -- nearly a quarter of them are concerned about being on the front lines, while less than a tenth of girls are.

Who's in Charge Here? Must-See TV

Seventy percent of tweens and teens have a television in their bedroom. Are you thinking it's okay because everyone's doing it? Don't give in! You won't know if they're studying or watching reruns of back-to-back Laguna Beach episodes. Pull the plug, advises Wiseman. Say, "I made a mistake allowing you to have a TV in your room so I've removed it. I know it seems unfair, but since we have one in the family room, I'm confident you will survive."

Internet Trouble

Ten percent of tweens and 48 percent of teens believe they can easily prevent you from knowing where they go online. "Be strategic," says Wiseman. "Check the navigation bar on the computer to see where they've been." Keep computers where you can casually look over your child's shoulder every hour or so. "I check my son's cookies every few days," says Becky West, 47, the Cleveland, Ohio, mother of Aaron, 17. "If he goes where he shouldn't, I unhook the Internet for two weeks. If it happens again, then the filters go on."

Supervision Slide

More than three-quarters of tweens and teens were online the day before the survey -- 11 percent without their parents knowing. "You don't need to feel guilty," says Steyer. "But the new world of media and technology does mean you have to be a more involved parent in a different way." Get info at commonsense.com.

 
Sneaky E-Mail

A small but substantial number of tweens and teens have an e-mail account that their parents don't know about. "Privacy is important to kids but participating in activities you're not aware of is dangerous," says Dr. Zodkevitch. "The basic rule is, parents need to know everywhere kids go online and who they're e-mailing."

The Blog Space

Tweens and teens who don't have a very good relationship with parents are twice as likely to have their own blog. "If you limit your child's Internet use," says Dr. Zodkevitch, "you'll find time to do something together."

Kid $$$$ Power!

Nearly half of tweens and teens wish their parents earned more money -- and most kids know how they want to spend it. Already they say they have megainfluence over:

No surprises here. Moms agree that their kids have this kind of pull. In a small number of homes moms say the child actually has total control over some purchases. "It's natural for kids to have buying power in the family," says Wiseman. "But it shouldn't be absolute." You still have the veto. Don't be afraid to use it! (They'll be mad, and they'll get over it.)

The Happiness Myth

Most tweens and teens are not miserable.

Seventy-three percent of kids say they're happy almost all or most of the time. Another myth busted: Kids in single-parent homes are doing just as well as kids in two-parent homes.

Twenty-seven percent of American teens say they are unhappy or just okay. That's about 10 million kids. But only 18 percent of moms believe that their child is doing this poorly.

Is Your Child Too Sad? Signs to Watch Out for...

"The most important thing to do is listen," says Dr. Zodkevitch. "Don't try to talk them out of their feelings or solve their problems. Don't ask why. Just acknowledge their feelings by saying, 'That must have been so hard for you' or 'What happened next?'" If the symptoms are severe and last for two weeks, take your child to a professional to be evaluated for depression.

More Facts, Figures, and Advice On Communicating...

Ninety-one percent of kids prefer talking to you face-to-face. Tech is fun, but real still rules.

What to do: Drop everything and talk with your child for at least a few minutes every single day.

Thirty-four percent wish their parents wouldn't get mad at them so much.

How to help: Be clear and specific about what's bothering you.

On Parent/Child Relationships...

Moms are far more satisfied with the parent-child connection than their kids -- 92 percent to 79 percent. Do you check in, then listen without lecturing?

Forty-four percent of moms say it's a good idea to treat your kids like friends. Of course you enjoy being with them. But it's not really the same -- friends don't discipline you or hold you accountable for bad behavior. Parents do.

Seventy-four percent of moms say that their teens feel comfortable coming to them about almost anything. But only a little more than half of kids agree.

On the Net...

Six percent of tweens -- which translates to more than 100,000 -- have their own blog. Too young, says Steyer. Not until high school "at the very earliest."

Thirty-eight percent of girls 13 to 17 have a blog, versus only 17 percent of boys. Girls still love to gossip, gab, and get the word out.

Thirteen percent of tweens and teens reported that the day before the poll they'd surfed the net for four or more hours. Only 20 percent of all the kids who went online were there for schoolwork.

On School...

More than three-quarters of tweens and teens think college is in their future. But more than half are also in no hurry to grow up, and two-thirds of moms are in no rush for their kids to leave home.

Seventy-nine percent of kids were happy at school last year. Their favorite thing? Seeing friends, of course! Most disliked? You got it -- homework, for half of tweens and a third of teens. Less than ten percent say their teachers are the best part of school.

Advice from Hannah Storm

Here are some things we tell our kids that we should take to heart.

This survey was conducted online on behalf of Family Circle by Harris Interactive, which polled 1,205 mothers of children ages 9 to 17 in the U.S. and 1,251 children ages 9 to 17 in the U.S. between March 21 and April 3, 2006. Results were weighted to be nationally representative.

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