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.
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
- Set up a routine. They are never too old to be tucked in! "Teens and tweens tell me that the most comforting bonding moment is at night when they're in bed, the lights are out and their parents sit on the edge of the bed to talk for a few moments," says Wiseman.
- Take back your day. "Eliminate one activity to make room for family," says Michele Borba, EdD, author of 12 Simple Secrets Real Moms Know (Jossey-Bass). Or combine activities. To have more together-time with her three daughters, 14, 11, and 8, Brenda White, 40, of Louisville, Kentucky, says, "I'm now leading all three of their girl scout troops." That means a meeting a week and a field trip once a month on top of a demanding full-time job, but, says White, it's worth every minute.
- Make a plan. Arrange a one-on-one date with your child every other week. Take each child on an overnight once a year. Have family movie nights.
- Gather regularly. "Everyone meets in the kitchen at 8:30 every night to go over the events of the day or just hang out for a half hour," says Borba.
- Lower expectations. "Don't overwhelm yourself by always striving for 'quality time,'" says Wiseman. "Go to the diner or coffee shop and have a conversation that's not about schedules and responsibilities. Even if your child is silent, just sitting together is time well spent."
The Pressure's On
Stressed? Yes, say 60 percent of teens and nearly half of tweens. Here's why:
- Fear of other kids. Half of tweens — both boys and girls — worry about being made fun of. Worse, a full 19 percent fear they'll be beaten or attacked. Kids with these concerns may stop calling and hanging out with friends, spend most of their time at home, act clingy, and become sullen and withdrawn or angry and irritable, says Ron Zodkevitch, MD, a psychiatrist and member of Family Circle's advisory board. "Talk about what's going on. If you suspect bullying, insist that the school take action."
- Body image. Nearly half of teens are concerned about their looks; 38 percent fret about weight. The antidote? Praise kids for their efforts, not their appearance. And be careful about criticizing your own or other people's looks — your kids are listening. Remind them that models and actors are professionals whose career is all about working hard at looking good — they don't represent the rest of us.
- Cyberintrusions. Kids to parents: It's not sex and violence on TV you should worry about, it's what we see online. Your kids are right, says James P. Steyer of Common Sense Media, a kids' media organization. "TV is passive. With new technology, kids reveal themselves to millions, often without understanding what the consequences could be."
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.
More teens report pressure to engage in risky behavior than tweens.
- Pressure to drink alcohol
Tweens: 4 percent
Teens: 23 percent
- Pressure to do drugs
Tweens: 5 percent
Teens: 19 percent
- Pressure to smoke cigarettes
Tweens: 6 percent
Teens: 17 percent
Girls vs. Boys: Who's Worried About What?
- Getting good grades
Girls: 54 percent
Boys: 44 percent
- How they look
Girls: 49 percent
Boys: 30 percent
- Their weight
Girls: 48 percent
Boys: 22 percent
- Problems with friends
Girls: 42 percent
Boys: 24 percent
- College being too expensive
Girls: 36 percent
Boys: 24 percent
- Problems with parents
Girls: 29 percent
Boys: 21 percent
- Not finding a boyfriend/girlfriend
Girls: 31 percent
Boys: 16 percent
- Getting a disease
Girls: 24 percent
Boys: 18 percent
- Being pressured to have sex
Girls: 11 percent
Boys: 3 percent
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?
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."
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."
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.
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:
- Restaurant choice: 92 percent
- Food bought: 89 percent
- Family vacations: 74 percent
- Home entertainment equipment: 54 percent
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...
- Apathy and boredom
- Sleep problems (up all night, sleeping all day); extreme fatigue
- Restlessness, irritability, no sense of humor
- Physical complaints like headaches, stomachaches, light-headedness
- Need for constant reassurance
- Aggressiveness and troublemaking
"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
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.
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.
- Limit screen use. Check e-mail once a day instead of constantly so when your kids speak, you're sure to listen with your full attention.
- Go outside and play. I know when I'm in the house with my girls, I'm always tempted to do another load of laundry or start dinner. Throw around a ball, walk the dog, have a picnic.
- Just say no. We all know moms who volunteer so much at school that they're not actually spending time with their own kids! Before you say yes to a new activity decide whether it's going to take too much time away from your family.
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.