What do parents need to understand about what their teen child is going through psychologically and physically?
Puberty absolutely sucks! This wreaks havoc in a teen’s life; too tall, too short, big boobs, no boobs, acne. From the second a teen wakes up in the morning and looks in that mirror, and sees live and in person their perceived inadequacies, the mood for their day is set. One pimple can ruin a day. Because of new brain growth, teens are now hyper-aware of what other people think about them. This self-consciousness can be paralyzing. Unfortunately parents get the worst of it. When teens are with their friends they have to be “all good,” but at home the stress of this new body and brain shows in sullenness, and attitude. The most difficult part of this puberty business is there really is no way of making it better; you just have to wait it out. Parents can’t “make it all better.” For the fix-it parent this is a tough slog.
What are four typical mistakes or assumptions parents make about their teen children?
1. Parents think that their teens do not want to spend time with them. WRONG. In a survey I did with teens 9-12th grade, almost all the kids said they wish they could spend more time with their parents. Just don’t do it on a weekend night!
2. Labeling their teen. Many parents see their teens doing bad things, and label them as bad. Not true!! There is a huge learning curve during the teen years. Part of the process of leaning is making mistakes, and making bad choices. Making these learning opportunities rather than just punishing “bad behavior” is what changes behavior.
3. Over thinking and over problem solving. Many times teens come to their parents to just vent about a situation they are having trouble with. They aren’t looking for a fix, just a shoulder to lean on. Parents like fixing, and go right to the “here’s what I think you should do…” Teens then react with anger, and “you just don’t understand.” And the lovely moment has gone ugly.
4. Unrealistic expectation. Not all teens are meant to be honor roll students. Some have strengths in other area that as life goes on will be equally if not more important in the long run of adulthood.
For blended families or single parents, how much harder is it for the parents to raise teenagers?
Blended families can be extremely stressful during the teen years. It’s hard enough to do the job of “separation/individuation” from your own parents, but then to have to deal with another set of people you don’t know, may not care about, and did not choose to join your life can be unbelievably stressful. For single parents, there is of course the stress of having to do it all, but also the reality of not having another person to share the physical supervision that teens need. Also the relationship between parent and teen can be intense without another adult as a buffer zone.
What inspired you – or rather, what events necessitated you to pen A Survival Guide to Parenting Teens?
I can’t tell you how many parents come up to me after one of my parenting seminars or email me with a “can you just tell me what to do about….? So much of parenting a teen is going from crisis to crisis, and a tomb on the psychology of adolescence is useless in that minute. I wanted to give parents their own “parenting coach” for those moments when they just need a game plan. I think the 80 tips in the book cover most situations parents of teens face daily and need a quick go-to.
What do parents of teen boys need to watch out for vs. parenting teen girls?
Boys are much better at masking emotions than girls. They tend to be more closed-up, especially if the men in their life do not provide a model for using emotional language. Boys face the same issues of body image, social standing, crushes, etc as girls. Girls feel permission to rant and rave about this stuff where boys often keep those feelings of insecurity hidden and may be prone to depression because of them. I am extremely worried about boys and pornography. Because most kids get smartphones in middle school, boys now have easy access to porn away from any prying adult supervision. Research has shown that this early introduction to sometimes violent and misogynistic sex has given boys unbridled permission to sexually harass girls they know. Parents need to be extremely proactive in discussing this issue with their sons.
How do parents manage a teen’s amount of screen time, not to mention the specific activities or type of content accessed by their children?
First, parents have to stop being afraid that their kids will get mad when they start to set limits on this. Teens will get mad, very mad, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t need help. Iphones, Ipads, Itouch, laptops without supervision equal addiction. Most smartphone companies now offer plans that put parents in the driver seat. Parents should be the only person allowed to download apps, no devices at bedtime and phones should be shutdown during school. There are many social networking apps that are just time sucks. Teens spend hours posting on multiple sites, and responding to other peoples posts. There are too many sites that encourage bullying, and sexting. Teens DO NOT have the controls to be smart and disciplined….yet. It is a set up to expect teens to shut off and shut down on their own.
Let’s face it. Parents cannot monitor everything and don’t have the time or energy to get involved in every aspect of their child’s life. Should parents just trust their child and give them independence and be free to make mistakes?
Making mistakes is a good thing, when it comes to natural consequences. Not getting up on time for school and getting detention; waiting till the last minute and failing to get a paper or project in on time and getting a bad grade; staying out past curfew and missing out on going out the next weekend; forgetting homework and leaving it at home and getting a zero; these are all things kids should and can be responsible for, and yet these are the things that most parents rescue their kids from, worrying that it will affect their grades or chances to get into honor classes. Monitoring technology until a teen brain has matured enough to manage dangerous impulses is worth that energy. Serious mental heath issues, and legal consequences, these risks are just too steep,
How has parenting a teen, circa 1984, changed from raising one today?
As teens, this generation of parents experienced much of what their teens are experiencing; teen angst, puberty, alcohol, drugs, sex, so at least that gives them some perspective. But technology was not a part of their teen years. Unfortunately we have all jumped in the pool together and parents and teens are sharing in the excitement of all this new technology simultaneously. But teenage use and adult use are not the same, and no one was prepared for how all this technology could and does impact a teen’s life. Who knew teens would be sending naked pictures and using language fit for 1-900-SEXY as just part of the normal teenage experience, or that the family TV would become a dusty relic as teens hunker down in their caves watching movies, playing games and getting naked away from the prying eyes of mom and dad.
With the recent spate of school shootings by disgruntled teens, are there preventative measures parents can take so as not to raise someone who one day just explodes?
First it is important for every parent to step back and take a long, hard, honest look at their teen. What is the nature/temperament their child was born with and how does his/her nature interact with the parent’s inherent nature. Is there a disconnect there that has made parenting this child a challenge from day one? Is there anger and resentment within the family, and if so, it needs to be addressed. “I get we are family where there is a lot of anger, that must be hard sometimes, what can we do differently?” Does your teen isolate themselves from both family and friends? This can be a red flag. Sometimes there are obvious signs, but they can get chalked up to normal teen angst. When a parent sees a pattern emerging, they should pay attention to it!
How do parents teach kids about money management when they are in debt or living paycheck to paycheck?
Parents rarely share the nuts and bolts of the family financial situation with their kids. With teenagers, this can be a really useful life lesson. Teens do a lot of magical thinking, and nuts and bolts bring them back to earth. I would sit down monthly with teens and set out the family budget; money in money out. This is a good reality check for teens who think they are entitled to what everyone else has. Where there is a shortfall for things the teen may want or need, than it can become a team problem-solving event. Also equally as important is for a parent to understand that their financial situation is hard for the teen. Teens are very self-conscious and may be embarrassed about their family’s financial situation. Parents should acknowledge, and understand their teen’s perspective, but never apologize for the family circumstances, life is what it is.
What are the rewards to investing time and attention to your child’s well being during their tumultuous teen years?
The most exciting part of raising teen is watching this new person develop, like seeing your baby walk for the first time. They are now capable of seeing all that the world has to offer. They are at the buffet of life, and they will need to try out different offerings to see what is right for them. Everything a parent has taught, and nurtured up till this point is all in the mix, and parents need to trust that. A parent’s greatest gift to this emerging adult is to let go of their own expectations of what they want their teen to become, and let their teen become who he/she is meant to become.