The week's best parenting advice: May 3, 2022
Body image issues aren't just a girl problem, the scientific reason your teen ignores you, and more
Boys struggle with body image, too
Body image issues aren't just a girl problem, writes Amy Joyce in The Washington Post. "Eating disorders are increasing in boys and men but can present differently," says Stuart Murray, who treats and studies eating disorders. Body image aspirations in boys tend to be "muscularity oriented," leading them to work out obsessively while restricting their diets to lean protein. Concerned parents should look out for intensive caloric restriction and rigid dietary rules, such as your son taking his own food to a party, or canceling plans out of commitment to his body image goals. And talking about body image issues with your son from an early age is important: Ask whether they are concerned about bulking up; focus on the body's functionality, rather than appearance; and encourage them to question their "appearance ideals," emphasizing that the images they see on social media are unrealistic.
Teens are wired to ignore their moms
If you've ever wondered why your teen never listens to you, science has finally provided an answer, writes Sarah Cottrell in Parents. In a recent study, researchers used MRI scanning to observe how the brains of kids between 7 and 16 respond to female voices. In contrast to babies and young children, whose brains respond most favorably to their mother's voice, the reward centers of brains in kids over the age of 13 lit up when they heard unfamiliar female voices. The teenage brain, in other words, is making a shift toward independence. "Just as an infant knows to tune into her mother's voice, an adolescent knows to tune into novel voices," said lead study author Dr. Daniel Abrams. So while it may be frustrating when your teen tunes you out, try not to take it personally.
Kids can handle dangerous ideas
Parents on the left and right are up in arms about the ideas their children are exposed to in movies, books, and school. But these battles have little to do with the content involved, writes Matt Gross in The New York Times. "What's at play here are two fundamentally different conceptions of parents' responsibility to their children, with the same ultimate goal: Do you offer your kids broad exposure to the world, in all its beauty and foulness, and hope they make good decisions? Or do you try to protect them from ideas and activities that you see as dangerous or immoral — and also hope they make good decisions?" To Gross, the former is more realistic; children are "not precious innocents to be culturally cocooned, but thinking, feeling, increasingly independent human beings." And the hands-off approach isn't new — the obsessive curation of modern helicopter parenting is.
The healing power of junk food
"Junk food is how I love my kids and it is how they love me and never ever will I apologize," writes Jen McGuire in Romper. She treasures the nights she spent as a teenager, eating subs and playing Trivial Pursuit after her mom's bar shift. "That 2 a.m. sub was how I knew she liked me. And it was how I learned to show my kids I liked them." Now the question "do you want to get food?" serves many purposes in McGuire's household. It can mean I love you, or I'm sorry, or I hear you. And without fail, it raises spirits. "It means no one is leaving the group for a minute to cook. No one will have to clean. No one will have to compromise on the kind of potatoes they wanted to eat or whatever. We all get what we want."
The importance of monitoring (your own) screen time
Keeping screen time in check is important, for parents as well as kids, writes Jennie Yabroff in The Washington Post. "Not only are we less likely to pay attention to our kids' physical safety when we're tapping and scrolling, we can also miss their emotional cues and the kinds of quality interactions especially important for younger kids' development," Yabroff writes. But not all screen time is created equal. It's fine to reach out to a friend for moral support, or use Google to get useful information; the trouble begins when parents use their phones "as an escape from the unpleasant feelings like stress, boredom, and loneliness that are all integral to being a parent," which often backfires. Not only can distracted parenting exacerbate children's poor behavior, it can also make parents feel worse about themselves.