Friday, 23 December 2016

Mothering a tween: Worse than post-partum depression?

Most moms think weathering childbirth and caring for a toddler will prepare them for the rest of their parenting days. While many, especially those who have struggled with post-partum depression, will find relief in having disposed of the challenges of such, new studies remind them of another parenting phase to face: rearing a tween, or a pre-teen.

The “mean tweens,” or the ages between 8 and 12, have come to be as dreaded as the terrible twos. Girls are typically more aware of this oncoming developmental stage two years earlier than boys are. Nevertheless, both sexes undergo physical changes, particularly in their secondary sex characteristics. They might feel awkward about their appearance. Hormones will drive their swinging moods. And what passes for their social life---negotiating the school hallways along with other insecure kids, knocking heads with bullies, earth-shattering crushes, identity crises---could make or break their attitudes about these years.

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Those could be too much to handle for the kids, but the parents (especially mothers, studies show) are equally steeped. Mothers report increasing frequencies of anxiety and panic attacks, driven by fears of not understanding their tweens and in many cases, not knowing what they’re up to. While infant care has less complicated guesswork but fussy methods, reaching out to tweens could sometimes feel like a shot in the dark, an emotional uncertainty that aggravates parental stress. The distancing of a secretive tween could strain relations with his or her parents, and even trigger depression among the latter.

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Psychologists prescribe parental behaviors that will be well-received on the part of tweens. Nagging and constant reprimanding might foster resentment. Parents are encouraged to be models of behaviors they want to see in their children and be open to hearing out and supporting their tweens’ healthy interests. The tween stage is a ripe time to fish out new skills, and parents could engage their children in sports or other outlets that distract from the often cruel induction to the teenage years.

Jonathan B. Lauter, M.D., is an accomplished psychiatrist, certified in both general and child and adolescent psychiatry, and an elected fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He is an alumnus of the University of California, San Francisco’s Langley Porter Institute. For more insights on child and adolescent psychology, visit this blog.

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