Dr. Sarah (00:02):
Ever wonder what psychologists moms talk about when we get together, whether we’re consulting one another about a challenging case or one of our own kids, or just leaning on each other when parenting feels hard, because trust me, even when we do this for a living, it’s still hard. Joining me each week in these special Thursday shows are two of my closest friends, both moms, both psychologists, they’re the people I call when I need a sounding board. These are our unfiltered answers to your parenting questions. We’re letting you in on the conversations the three of us usually have behind closed doors. This is Securely Attached: Beyond the Sessions.
Dr. Emily (00:54):
Dr. Rebecca (00:54):
Dr. Sarah (00:54):
Okay, so this week’s question is, this is an interesting one. This is a little different. This is from a parent of an older child than we tend to kind of get into on the podcast. So I’m really excited to talk about this because realistically I know that we have parents who listen to this podcast who have much younger kids, but also a lot of parents with young kids, also have teenagers and also a lot of parents know parents who have teenagers. And maybe this will be an episode that you’ll forward to a close friend who’s struggling with a teen or maybe you yourself have a teen. So, okay, Adriana wrote in and said, hi, Dr. Bren. I was wondering if you have any advice on how I can help my daughter who moved into college for her freshman year this fall. She says she’s fine, but I’ve noticed that she seems to be having a tough time making friends and adjusting.
I want to let her figure things out on her own and not be too much of a helicopter mom, but I also want to be there to support her and worry. She may start to become depressed. Any thoughts on how you’d walk this line if it was your daughter would be so appreciative of any advice you can give me? Thanks, Adriana. So this is a great question. I think about a struggle that’s really logistically challenging to navigate, and I think one of the reasons it’s really hard to navigate is because, and it’s interesting, I feel like this is going to come up how teenagers and toddlers are actually really similar in some ways because of this need for autonomy and also this vulnerability and this part of them that’s not fully developed and they depend on us very, very deeply. And so I feel like there’s a parallel of that part of life with a teen and with a toddler. But here’s this mom who’s like, I want to let them be independent, but I fear that they can’t do this by themselves. And that pull of not knowing which part of them to support, I think is a really relatable experience no matter what age your kid is.
Rebecca, what are your thoughts?
Dr. Rebecca (02:57):
What I hear most in that question is a mom’s completely understandable and completely relatable. Anxiety. It’s a what if question. My kid says they’re doing fine. I don’t know that because I’m not there and I don’t see, and she’s not calling me and telling me about the super fun party she went to or her new best friend. I might be picking up on something and I’m going to a what if place, what if she gets depressed? And we all read these awful things about not knowing that someone’s depressed and then they’re in college and we know the rates of suicide are going up. And just to bring it there. I could see this mother or any mother just their head spinning off in that direction. And I think the first thing I would tell this mom if we were meeting privately is just, let’s just notice that anxiety. It’s so easy as if we lived all the time present with how terrifying it is to be a parent. We couldn’t do anything.
I mean, we just couldn’t live. And yet sometimes we do have to stop and just in a really simple way, acknowledge this is scary. This is a new stage. There’s a lot. I don’t know. My child is having their experience and I have to sort of let go now. So I think that would be my first thing is let’s tune into your own anxiety. Let’s maybe do some coping strategies for you. Let’s do some grounding exercises. Let’s do some mindfulness and let’s just name what’s happening, which is that there is a risk that your child might get depressed. There’s a risk. Every child might get depressed. There’s a risk your child might get hit by a car. All this stuff. Then I might go to weighing the evidence, what is actually happening that you’re worried about your kid? Does your kid do they sound really different than they used to sound in high school?
Just really trying to hone in on what is actually happening, which I don’t think as a parent we can always do. I think we get really clouded of course, and only then I think do you look at the action steps and the possible action steps, and one is you give it time and you say to yourself, okay, I’m going to give this another month and then I’m going to potentially do something. One is you have a really direct conversation with your daughter. I know you’re telling me everything’s fine and I’m still, my spidey sense is going off, and so let’s talk about that. You can reach out to the school, to the ra. There’s different things you can do, but I think the first step is to find a trusted person. If it’s not a therapist, it’s a friend, it’s your partner, whatever, to help you manage your own anxiety. Get clear on that, then get clear on really thinking through what is the evidence for what your fear is, and then think about what are the action steps that make sense at this point. I think you nailed it.
Dr. Sarah (06:15):
Dr. Emily (06:16):
I think you said it all.
Dr. Sarah (06:16):
It’s a wrap.
Dr. Emily (06:19):
I totally love what you just said, Rebecca. I think you touched on really a lot the exact sort of chain of events I would’ve touched upon, and I call that last step a process comment saying to your kid, you keep telling me you’re okay, but I keep having this nagging feeling.
I’m not sure if that’s me or if it’s real, but can we collaborate on this a little and put this out there in the room so it’s not so much of a guessing game. I think that it takes it out of the onus of, and this is a parenting, like you were saying, Rebecca, this is such a parenting struggle, is I’m responsible to fix this right now. I am responsible to make this go away. And I think shifting that narrative to, I’m responsible to paying attention to bringing this up and to maybe collaborating with my merging young adult about both tolerating this uncomfortable time and maybe things that we can do to make it a little bit more palatable.
Dr. Sarah (07:26):
Yeah, I think, I mean, not to be so redundant that I just echo everything you’re saying, but I really, really profoundly agree that the work first is with the parent in both doing the work of figuring out what they are feeling and what might they be projecting onto the child and what they’re not right. Because the reality is it may not just be parental anxiety in the sense of that this is an unfounded worry. It may be parental anxiety because something is genuinely happening that they are responding to and need to address, but it’s critical that the difference as the parent, you got to do the work to figure out how to parse those two things out. And they might both be happening at the same time too. I might have catastrophic projecting anxiety onto my child while at the same time my child really does need some support, but it’s not as maybe perhaps catastrophic as my anxious mind is going to, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t want to do anything about it just is going to inform the degree to which I intervene.
I think yes, officially in agreement with both of you, but also I’m thinking in my head, resources at schools are sometimes really mysterious to parents because if you’re a parent and you’ve gone through elementary and middle school and high school, yes, it gets increasingly more separate from you, but you have so much say in what’s going on the school district, what’s going on as far as what resources are available. You are nearby oftentimes when your kids go to college, even if they’re going to a close college, but especially if they’re going far away, you could feel this profound sense of disconnect not just from your kid, but from the environment that they are now living and existing inside of. And that is really difficult. And so I think there’s also this piece of, as a parent, how do I figure out how to advocate for my kid from afar? Let’s just say it’s appropriate to do so. Let’s say we’ve done that work. We’ve realized, okay, my kid is really having a hard time and there’s probably a range of level of intervention that I’m going to be considering. But that might in and of itself be very confusing or overwhelming to a parent to be like, I don’t even know where to begin. What resources are available to my kid at college?
Dr. Emily (10:01):
I think that’s a really important point. It’s something actually we bump up against a lot, especially if they’re 18, which is that a parent can’t legally make decisions anymore for their child, which is a really weird place that we are in our society because these children are still so dependent on us as parents and for support in a lot of different ways in many different aspects of that fiscal, emotional, logistical. So I think to your point, I think I still circle back to my original gut, which is, if you don’t have a collaborative relationship with your child, it makes it really hard for you to support them because sometimes you need their consent. If they’re over 18, you need their consent for you to help initiate treatment or participate in care without going that dramatic. I mean, I think your point is well taken that familiarizing yourself with some of the resources out there is also an important part of this.
Dr. Rebecca (11:01):
Yeah, I mean, I think on the one hand I completely get, it can feel like a black box. On the other hand, most universities or colleges, you go to their website, there’s a pretty prominent student services, student mental health. A lot of schools are really, there’s been such a sort of increase in some of the really tough things that have happened at schools that finding the resources and then perhaps sharing them with your child or so many parents I know get the phone numbers again of the RA or of the dean of their little building or whatever. I think again, the work is to figure out has it risen to that level? And ideally it’s in collaboration with your kid. Ideally you’re not sneaking a phone call to one of these people because a kid can feel really betrayed that way.
Dr. Sarah (11:49):
And just so parents have an idea too of the types of that are maybe warning signs or things that we as therapists are kind of paying attention to determine, ooh, this is worth paying attention to. Or, okay, this is pretty typical. But if a child’s really noticeable, changes in a kid’s personality, if they’re not enjoying things that they used to really enjoy doing, if they’re isolating a lot, if they’re sleeping all day long, if they’re missing classes, and if you’re seeing a lot of these things in the aggregate, if you’re checking a lot of these boxes where your kid is checking a lot of these boxes, then it’s maybe worth flagging that as worth getting somebody to have eyes on them. And also, you don’t have to know all these things yourself as a parent. You’re not there with your kid every day. You don’t know if they’re skipping classes and sleeping all day.
You don’t know if they’re not enjoying things they used to enjoy if they’re not sharing that with you. And it’s okay if you don’t have the answers to this. You’re allowed to not hold all of the responsibility of knowing whether something’s really wrong. That is kind of where therapists can come in and help. So I think it’s worth saying like, yes, it’s good as a parent, your kid, and if you see these things, definitely pay attention to them. But also if you’re suspecting them, but you’re not really sure if you can’t get all the access to your child to kind of suss all this out, having a third party can be really beneficial, right? For your own worries and anxieties and also to take the pressure off of you to know exactly what to look for.
Some kids also, they can be more comfortable talking to someone outside of their parents. They might not want you mom and dad to know how much they’re struggling with something. So it might feel easier for them to check in with a doctor or somebody that feels a little bit less personal and a little bit more objective and remove from all the mounting expectations of being a success at college. They can sort of let a doctor kind of do that assessment sometimes where they’re not maybe going to share that with their parents as readily at up. Sure. Brand psychology group at Emily and my group practice, we do this a lot. We will can do virtual appointments with a kid who’s at college somewhere in New York state, and we can do a quick diagnostic check-in on that with them and sort of just do kind of an intake or a diagnostic session where we can get a read on them. We know what to be looking for, we know questions to be asking. So that’s definitely something you can ask a therapist to support you with, for sure.
Dr. Rebecca (14:52):
Yeah. The other thing I want to highlight is that in the email, if I’m remembering it correctly or the question however it came to you, it actually, it said she’s worried that she might become depressed. And the question was actually, how do I help her? Or I’m finding a pull to help her make friends. And that’s a really different question because I don’t know that there’s a lot you can do as a parent. You can say, Hey, is there a party on your floor? Or like, Hey, I noticed that there’s a bunch of clubs where have you thought about acapella singing? Have you thought about intramural soccer? But your kid’s social journey is your kid’s social journey? And if there’s not a mental health concern at present, it’s a different conversation.
It also, again, it just may be that your child has one or two best friends and that’s all they need right now. I mean that, I’ve seen that so much. Parents have their own vision of what it’s like to go to college based on what it was like for them. And their kid is different and their kid likes going to the library a lot and their kid. So again, I don’t mean to keep coming back to the same point over and over again, but there’s just so many scenarios here and so much is about a parent coming to terms with their own feelings. And then as Emily keeps saying, rightfully, ideally, having laid the foundation, having listened to this podcast for 10 years or whatever, to have a nice relationship with their kid and really be able to talk about what’s going on. Not that an 18 year old kid is going to necessarily bear their soul to you, but just so that you can say, what are you doing on the weekends? Just those sorts of things that conversations are what’s going to get you the most information.
Dr. Emily (16:33):
And I think the other piece that Sarah mentioned in the beginning is that full circle ness, this sort of toddler adolescent thing. I think that thing that occurred to me when you were saying that Rebecca is like, I think it’s also okay to put out something into the air to your adolescent, and it might not land. You might not get the reward that it’s landed, but it might land. And we think about this more naturally with toddlers all the time. We want to say something and we hope that they’ll pick it up over time. And it seems okay, we can just say things to them all the time, they’re little, but it also might be worth to plant a seed or to express something to your adolescent like, Hey, it might be nice to go out on the weekends. If you’re feeling a little isolated, you might not get them. They might never say to you, that’s a great idea, mom, thanks so much for that. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t sink in. So I think that there’s that piece of that toggle between toddlerhood and adolescence where we can also put some things out into the air and they might be helpful and we might not ever know that’s sort of that whole thing because…
Dr. Rebecca (17:37):
And we might actually hear the opposite from them. Not only might they not say it’s helpful, but they might say, oh, thanks mom, welcome captain. Obvious, but you feel like you’re never going to open your mouth again. But actually later that night, when they get invited to a gathering down the hall, they actually do hear your voice. So I think just with teens you kind of take that, it’s sort of like the risk of saying something maybe that in the moment your kid lashes out. And that’s part of the developmental process, which we talk so often about when it comes to young kids, kind of that push pull, that holding on and letting go. That may be what it looks like for you and your college student. You put something out there, they have to retort in a way that’s distancing to save face or whatever it is, and you just kind of take it and you’re unconditionally there and they do what they want with your wisdom, and that’s the developmental stage which continues throughout the lifespan. It’s not like a kid stops developing at six.
Dr. Sarah (18:39):
Yeah, I think it’s such a good point. I think we spend a lot of time as this podcast kind of orienting parents to certain developmental facts about where kids are on different points in the timeline that aren’t necessarily publicly discussed all, but I don’t know that you don’t get a textbook when you become a parent that says, here’s a developmental psychology textbook and welcome to motherhood. Please read this. Most parents don’t know all the details of what kids look like at different stages of what’s appropriate and what’s kind of their developmental task at times. You might get it intuitively, but a lot of parents are really surprised. I think when I tell them, your teen is actually kind of hardwired right now at this stage in their life to kind of flip you the bird, this is something that is actually, this isn’t like, oh, my kid has a rage problem or they hate me, or I’m really ineffective as a parent, but they really need to reject you a little bit in order to feel access to that autonomy that’s driving their biology right now.
And that feels so terrible as parents, it’s so hard to receive that. But I think sometimes we misread that as like, oh, man, I totally must have messed this up. If this is the outcome of me having raised this kid for 16, 17, 18 years, and this is what I have right now, wow, I really must’ve done something wrong for this to be what I’m experiencing. And then I’ll check in with those parents when their kid’s 23 and they’re like, oh, yeah, no, we have a great relationship. It’s really getting so much better now. But it’s like, yeah, this is that time, and it’s obviously, if it’s feeling really, really terrible, it’s definitely worth paying attention to and trying to figure out why that is. But there’s also some normative yuckiness that comes with this age range, and it’s not a sign that something’s necessarily wrong. Just feel like that’s important to…
Dr. Rebecca (20:53):
Yeah, but it can be a sign that you could use some support. I mean, the same way we talk about with toddlers all the time, just because normative and developmentally typical or expected doesn’t mean it’s not brutal. So by all means seek support, whether it’s just social support or more professional support, but to help find your way through.
Dr. Sarah (21:14):
Right, but I think what we’re saying is that support for the parent having to cope with this part of life.
Dr. Rebecca (21:21):
Right, Versus fixing.
Dr. Sarah (21:22):
Versus this child, something’s wrong with this child and they need to have their sort of treatment to fix it.
Dr. Rebecca (21:31):
Which is a great parallel between, as we talked about, where we started between teens and toddlers. More often than not, when you tell me your toddler is hitting or whatever else, I’m going to talk about how best to understand and parent through that, which is what I’m going to do when your 18 year old is flipping you the bird, literally or figuratively.
Dr. Sarah (21:55):
Dr. Emily (21:56):
So the next episode is really just about how we can all become rubber and your glue and things just bounce off us as parents.
Dr. Sarah (22:05):
I think that is the most important thing you can have as a parent, is that thought in your head every single day. I definitely need to tell myself that a lot. Oh, you are exploding right now. Okay. I’m not going to touch that lava because I’m not touching that lava. It’s just lava. I always tell parents, don’t dissect lava. There’s nothing in there for you.
Dr. Emily (22:34):
I love that.
Dr. Sarah (22:35):
Dr. Emily (22:36):
You don’t have to talk about the lava.
Dr. Sarah (22:39):
We could talk about the fact that there is an explosion and lava is coming out, but we don’t need to get into the nitty gritty of the lava. You’re just going to get burned. There’s no value there.
Dr. Rebecca (22:49):
Right. Well, it’s the naming it versus getting into getting sucked into the content of it.
Dr. Sarah (22:55):
Yeah. We should definitely do an episode on lava.
Dr. Emily (22:57):
Oh, I love that. I think it’s really reassuring for a lot of parents.
Dr. Rebecca (23:00):
And then we could all sign up to do an episode of Floor is Lava.
Dr. Sarah (23:07):
Ooh. They should make a show where they combine…
Dr. Emily (23:12):
Emotion regulation and lava.
Dr. Rebecca (23:14):
3 clinical psychologists navigate…
Dr. Sarah (23:17):
Dr. Rebecca (23:18):
…the metaphorical Obstacle course. I’m going to that one. Okay. Lava. Oh my God. Thank you guys. I love talking with you about this. I hope this is helpful, and I hope that if you have a parent in your life who has a teen, that you share this with them, and if you have a teen that you know that we love you even when all of our episodes are about younger kids. Because if you’re listening and you have teens, you must be getting something valuable, even though we don’t cover teen stuff all that often. And I think it’s because, I hope it’s because it’s really, really a sign that this podcast talks about global developmental stuff, stuff that’s just true about being a human and true about being a parent, and true about being a child, no matter what point in you are on that timeline because it’s all connected.
Dr. Emily (24:12):
Dr. Rebecca (24:13):
Dr. Sarah (24:16):
Well, thanks for being here. We’ll see you soon.
Dr. Rebecca (24:19):
Dr. Emily (24:19):
Dr. Sarah (24:22):
Thank you so much for listening. As you can hear, parenting is not one size fits all. It’s nuanced and it’s complicated. So I really hope that this series where we’re answering your questions really helps you to cut through some of the noise and find out what works best for you and your unique child. If you have a burning parenting question, something you’re struggling to navigate or a topic you really want us to shed light on or share research about, we want to know, go to drsarahbren.com/question to send in anything that you want, Rebecca, Emily, and me to answer in this new series Securely Attached: Beyond the Sessions. That’s drsarahbren.com/question. And check back for a brand new securely attached next Tuesday. And until then, don’t be a stranger.
✨We want to hear from you! Go to https://drsarahbren.com/question to send us a question or a topic you want to hear us answer on Securely Attached – Beyond the Sessions! ✨