How to Parent in the Digital Age

In her new book, ‘The New Adolescence,’ Christine Carter zooms in on adolescent discomfort, anxiety, social media and video game fixation, drinking and drugs, exposure to pornography, money management, and more.


Published:

Blake Farrington

In her new book, The New Adolescence, Marin County author Christine Carter addresses the art and mystery of parenting preteens and teenagers in the digital world. The sociologist and senior fellow at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center pivots from the happiness goal that was central to her first two books (The Sweet Spot, Raising Happiness), to zoom in on adolescent discomfort, anxiety, social media and video game fixation, drinking and drugs, exposure to pornography, money management, and more. Rationality and scientific evidence prevail in the 280-page, fact- and study-supported book. Astonishingly frank anecdotes Carter includes from personal experience as the parent of four teenagers currently in her home bring an essential, human touch. That combination of sturdy, most current research and results on a topic and bracingly honest confessions, aspirations, and awareness are signature features of Carter’s books and popular Raising Happiness blog.

Raising a teen is inherently messy, but Carter’s book divides the chaos neatly into three sections: “The Foundation,” an encouraging Part One with guidelines for parents; “Three Core Skills for the Digital Age” follows, laying preservation of face-to-face connection, sustained focus, and adequate sleep and rest as the groundwork for adolescent stability. Part Three’s “Talking Points for a New Era” is a roadmap for navigating difficult-to-have parent-child conversations about sex, drinking, drugs, and money. A key component throughout is Carter’s conviction that teens, famous for pushing parents away as they seek individuation, need parents to keep reaching out to them — even in the face of rejection or a parent’s self-doubt. “All of the parenting strategies in this book are tactics for reconnection,” she writes.

Reconnection isn’t easy, especially in an era that fails to teach kids healthy ways to deal with discomfort. Social media is a distraction. Leaning on it for reinforcement provides distraction for teens, but interrupts their natural sleep cycles, doesn’t provide meaningful real-time touch and interactions, and reduces teens’ sense of belonging to family and community.

Which is why the practical tips, examples of real conversations Carter has had with her kids — including the funny or touchingly awkward or excruciating self-shaming revelations she has had while speaking to her children — remind parents of their value and authority. Sample “Teen Contracts” in an addendum and more available online at Carter’s website provide crystal clear templates for describing family expectations for driving, technology and other potentially high stress topics.

The New Adolescence: Raising Happy and Successful Teens in an Age of Anxiety and Distraction by Christine Carter (BenBella Books, Feb. 18, 2020, 280 pp., $16.95)  

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