Category Archives: Teen

Ending The Argument

“Dad can I go to Dan’s house tonight?” “No, you know we’re  going to your sister’s concert tonight.” “Oh come on dad. You  know I hate those things. All my friends are going to Dan’s  house. Let me go, too?” “No, we think you should show support  for your sister. The whole family is going. And we already  decided this. You can go to Dan’s house anytime!” “This is  not fair! All my friends are going to Dan’s house and you  are making me go to this stupid concert. Can’t I go to Dan’s  instead?” “No, I said.” “You stink! You are the worst dad.  You are the only one not letting me go. You never let me do  what I want. You are so unfair.” “I let you go with your  friends all the time but this concert is important to your  sister.” “Well, it isn’t important to me. I want to go to  Dan’s house!” “Now you are sounding spoiled.” “I’m not spoiled  and I wouldn’t sound this way if you let me go this once.”  “This once – you are always over at Dan’s house.” “I haven’t  been there in three days. Besides, you are the only parent who  isn’t allowing their son to go. All my friends will be there.  Don’t be so unfair.” “No, you can’t go. I am not being unfair.  I give you a lot. I just think you are too spoiled.” “I’m not  spoiled. I just think you are the worst dad. You stink! I  hate you.” . . ..

How do arguments degenerate into name-calling? How can we,  parents, learn to get out of arguments quickly? How can we win?

  1.  Be sure of your decision. Before getting into an argument  with your child make sure you are willing to make your  “NO” answer stand. Children argue with us when we  are saying “no” to something they want. The time for  discussion is before your decision. But once you say “no”  it must stand. Get all the input and information you need  before you make your decision.
  2. In order to end an argument with your child, you must  recognize that you, the parent must end it. Your child  will never stop the argument. They will go on forever and  throw any name or any fault of yours into it. You must  plan on ending the argument. They will not.
  3. It is important to stay focused on the first subject of  the argument. (In this case, whether he can go to a  friend’s house.) Kids will confuse you by changing the  subject. Your child will have you arguing whether you are  fair or not, whether you stink or not, or whether you ever  let them do anything or not! If you keep replying to each  new accusation you will be arguing forever. Just keep  repeating your first answer “NO”.
  4. Don’t correct their rudeness or name-calling during your  argument. It only perpetuates the argument. “Don’t call  me names.” “Well, I wouldn’t be calling names if you let  me go to a friends house.”
  5. Don’t correct bad behavior during an argument or  immediately after or else you will get the same response  as above. “I wouldn’t go stomping around slamming doors  if you let me go to a friends house.”
  6. If they want to mope around after an argument, let them  mope. If you try to fix their mood, you will pay for it.  Let their mood fizzle away over time. By following these rules you will be called names and hear  slamming doors and see moods fizzle. But most importantly  you will see arguments ending with you on the winning side.  You can do it! Here’s to victorious parents now and in the  future.

Empowering Our Kids To Succeed

Our children naturally express uncertainty in  themselves at various times during their childhood. We see  this when a kindergarten child appears worried in the first  few days of school or when a child is hesitant in their  first swim class. We may even see it in our “A” students  who come up with bellyaches. The immediate response from  most parents is to express sincere concern. Naturally, we  don’t want our children to be unhappy at school or afraid  to swim or fear failure. This can set up an interesting  dynamic between parent and child. By expressing  uncertainty, a child actually is asking a question to their  parents. Their uncertainty is natural and as parents we  should expect our children to express uncertainty in  themselves in new and old experiences. What they are  really doing is asking the parent, “Should I be worried?”  In a majority of cases there isn’t a cause for concern.  Kindergartens are safe and nurturing. Swim programs know  how to bring kids along at their pace; and “A” students  usually don’t flunk. It is interesting that in the dynamic  between child and parent, our reaction to our children’s  concern may actually decrease their success. If our child  is asking, “Should I be concerned?” and a parent expresses  undue worry, then the child may see the parent giving  credit to their uncertainty. The child may then become  more concerned instead of more relaxed. If we don’t  respond to their uncertainty by giving it too much  credence, we can actually empower our children to succeed  over their natural uncertainty. So how can parents face  these normal, natural, and common expressions of  uncertainty that come from our children?

First, you should always express confidence in your  children’s ability to face typical childhood challenges  such as new school years, camps and basic lessons. They  need to meet these challenges and few are hurt in the  trying.

Over time parents need to make a realistic assessment  of their child’s skills. It is not helpful for a father to  be pushing a child through baseball even though the child  keeps getting hit in the head trying to catch a ball.  There is an activity for everyone but finding one that  truly fits your child’s skills is the real trick of  parenting.

Expect them to succeed in their skilled areas. Have  faith in them once they have demonstrated skill and  interest.

Be clear on your expectations. Uphold the value in  always trying your best and always reward good efforts!

We should expect uncertainty from our children even in  areas that they are skilled in. Remember, even straight  “A” students experience uncertainty in their ability to  maintain good grades.

Don’t be overly sympathetic to feelings of  uncertainty, but express confidence and encourage their  effort.

Have faith that other adults who act as surrogates for  you will tell you if your child’s concerns are valid.  Engage them in dialogue on the side and get an objective  look at the situation. If they do not have any concerns,  both adults can work together to encourage your child to  succeed.

We have opportunities to empower our kids to succeed  when they, as children, naturally question their own  abilities. In fact, they are looking to simply see whether  we have faith in them. When they feel our faith, they  succeed.

Discussions Over Sex (Parenting Your Teen Part IV)

Perhaps the hardest part of parenting teens is discussing sexuality issues. Traditionally it is thought that parents  should have one “birds and bees” discussion with their teenager.

Forget “the talk”. There are many opportunities today to  discuss sex and your ethics about sexual issues. We have a  plethora of sexual exposures. We have news about sex and its results – pregnancy. Do I need to mention any stars who are or  were pregnant? Every movie portrays sex. Do you discuss this  with your kids? Many movies portray sex scenes without thought  of protection or safety. Do you mention your opinions on that?

Many media outlets portray sex too casually. Do you talk  about sex with intimacy to your kids?

There really is no excuse. We actually have a bombardment  of sex on TV, movies, and magazines. We must take opportunities  to tell kids quickly and freely how we feel about what we are  seeing. This is how kids learn about our sexual morals.

Sexuality is a personal choice that kids hide for a long  time. They need to develop their own feelings about sex and we,  as parents, need to respect their process of sexuality  development. Parents also should respect the options each  person has for sexual decisions and preferences. However,  discussions about safety, waiting, consequences and dangers of  sex should be open game from early adolescence on.

Our media, TV and movies provide us ample opportunity for  short bursts of discussions about consequences and safety. Take  those opportunities. Feel comfortable. Relax. You know the  issues. They do not. Throw out thoughts and opinions matter of  factly. This openness will serve you well over time. Imagine  if all kids heard messages from their parents consistently  through teen years about waiting as long as possible, being safe  when you start having sex, using protection, being respectful to  your partner, and being aware of the consequences and dangers.  The result of these messages heard from home is a population of  teens who initiate sex later, have fewer partners, and have  fewer pregnancies. What group of parents wouldn’t want that?

Confidentiality is Essential for Teen Health Care

Teen years are certainly uncomfortable times for parents. One  very uncomfortable time in parenting your teen is when you  are asked to leave the exam room so that the doctor or nurse  practitioner can talk to your child “privately”. What will your  child and the clinician talk about? Will they talk about you?  Will they tell you afterwards? Is this really necessary? After  all, your daughter and you have a very “open” relationship!!

Step back for a minute and think about your teen for a moment.  As hard as it is to be a parent of a teen, think how hard it  is to be a teenager today. Does TV and the news media give  teens good models to follow? Do movies provide good morals to  follow? Of course your parenting and your modeling of behavior  may be stellar. But can you trust that your child has not been  influenced otherwise? Could there be an advantage for your teen  to have a confidential relationship with a trusted adult? The  answer is yes!

Having a professional clinician have private time with your  child provides a moment for your teen to be free to express  their concerns. I have had hundreds of experiences in the office where a mother tells me how “good” her daughter is  and then her daughter tells me privately about her sexual  activity. No, mothers do not always know! In these experiences  I am able to help the teen confidentially get protection from  STD’s and pregnancy. (Few people realize that all methods of  contraception – birth control pills, Depo-Provera shots, nova  rings, diaphragms, IUD’s etc. are safer medically for teens than  pregnancy. Teen pregnancy has many health risks.)

Without confidential care, teens are on their own. Condoms and  other over the counter birth control may be used, if they buy them! STD’s go uncared for and give greater health problems over time. And the risk of pregnancy grows higher than when teens have access to a confidential visit with a clinician.

Parents should encourage their teens to have a private time  with their doctor or nurse practitioner. If your doctor doesn’t offer a confidential time – ask for it. If you have a  doctor that won’t offer confidential care for your teen, change  doctors. If your town has a school clinic, encourage your child  to go there to have a relationship with the clinician for when  his or her need arises.

Communities need to be open to having Department of Public  Health clinics and other health clinics provide teenagers access  to confidential care. Clinicians who are afraid to see teens  privately, shouldn’t see teenagers. Clinicians also need to  be educated in the Mature Minor laws that allow them to treat  teenagers without parental consent.

Nationally, teen pregnancy rates are on the decline. However,  there are communities north of Boston such as Gloucester  and Lawrence that have an increasing rate of teen pregnancy.  Parents and clinicians and clinics need to be aware of this  problem in these areas. School committees should be open to  their school clinics providing the full breadth of confidential  health care and treatment that teens need. Open access to  confidential health care for teens is perhaps the only way that  these local epidemics will disappear.

Teenage years are scary times for parents. Having a trusted  health care provider look out for your teen is one way to make  the pressures of teen years a little bit easier for you. After  all, you won’t have to be the only adult to worry and care for  your teen. Your clinician will too!

Calming The Morning Chaos

Every school day is the same. Getting your kids off to school is torture. You dread it. You get up, put out a  breakfast and start waking the kids. As usual they won’t  get out of bed. You turn on the lights. They finally sit  on the edge of their beds in a groggy state and complain  about the clothes you picked out. They resist getting  dressed. You fight and yell to get them dressed. Running  behind schedule, breakfast is served late. Milk gets  spilled because one of the kids needed “to do it  themselves”. You clean up despite their tears and yours.  A mad dash to the car follows with a piece of toast in your  teeth and coffee thermos in your hand. The kids grumpily  get out of the car at school and inform you that they left  their homework at home. There has to be a better way.

Why are mornings so hard? What can make them easier?  Children by nature resist activities that put demands on  them. School by necessity fits this billing. To top off  the demands schools place on kids, we put demands on  children immediately upon awakening. It is one thing for  us to spend a morning facing down our child’s resistance to  chores but a whole different thing to face down their  resistance in the short time we have before school.  Parents have a consciousness for time. Children do not.  So as we face their resistance to our demands (getting  dressed, having breakfast, getting school lunch ready) and  their resistance to school, we get progressively stressed  over the time. Meanwhile they don’t care so much about the  time and seem to revel in the battles with us. No wonder  you have stress!

To fix your morning routine you can take some easy  steps – and one hard one. First, prepare what you can the  night before – put out choices of clothes, set the  breakfast table, make school lunches, get backpacks ready.  In the morning break the routine into stages – (1. get up  and dressed; 2 have breakfast; 3. gather things; and 4.  move to car). Give limited choices in each of the stages.  (You can wear the blue shirt or the green shirt; you can  have oatmeal or cheerios). No matter what happens you keep  moving into the next stage. (“You can keep working on  getting dressed but I’m moving onto breakfast.”) You may  have to set a timer for each stage. Once the timer goes  off you are moving on – whether they are ready or not. For  a couple of days they may be playing catch up but then they  will start keeping up.

The major step parents need to take is not engaging in  the battles they want to wage. Remember it is through  these battles that they control the mornings. If you don’t  engage they must move along – after all, the timer says so.

In the evenings, discuss the morning and what went  well and what went wrong. Don’t argue but make  suggestions. Remind them about your commitment to the  timer. Reassert that you are going to move along with or  without them fulfilling each stage of the morning. The  next morning do it again. Stay with it. Repeat this  mantra – “Don’t engage in battles in the morning. Don’t  engage in battles in the morning. Keep moving along.”  Surprisingly over a short time your mornings, though never  perfect, will be better.

Becoming Real (Teen Parenting I)

Children’s stories talk about characters “becoming real” like in the Velveteen Rabbit or the Indian and the Cupboard. We  use the vernacular phrase “get real will you?” We shun people  who we deem to be “fake”. But what is “becoming real” in the  human sense?

Look at any adolescent and you can see the struggle of  “becoming real”. They live in a world of uncertainty. They  have so much confusion over their identities, confusion over  expectations, and confusion over sexuality. Parents have  expectations for them. “You can be a great pianist.” Society  has expectations for them. “Your generation will have to figure  out the global warming dilemma.” And the sexual expectations –  you have to be blind not to see those. How does any adolescent  today manage through this confusing morass and “become real”.

Let’s try to tease out all the confusion. Expectations and  identities go hand in hand. Children learn a “basic child self”  through the early years with their parents. Through praise and  their accomplishments children realize they have some skills  that perhaps they can build on.  By setting expectations and setting ideals for the future,  parents form for their child what I call an “expected self”.  This is an identify the parents expect their child to conform to  or become in the future.

Children naturally develop over time some deep-seated  expectations for themselves. This forms their “essential self”  that can often be in conflict with the parents “expected self”.  This sets up the dynamic often played up in movies. Have you  seen the one where the parent expects their child to be a  baseball or soccer star and the child wants to star in the  musical?

Wait. I am not finished yet! We have our teens pressured  by society’s expectations as well. Society expects success from  our kids in the long run. Yet in the short run there is  enormous pressure “to fit in”. These two things in society are  in conflict and each teen has to deal with this conflict. The  most common way is to conform. This is why teens dress the same  and act the same. The less common reaction is to openly rebel.  If a teen is “counter culture” they “confirm” to a different  group. It is an open rebellion to the expectations thrown at  our kids.

No. I am not done yet. Finally, quietly inside our kids a  sexual being emerges. It is likewise under social pressure.  And this is so unfair since ultimately this sexual being should  be a truly personal choice. Yet society weighs into this  struggle for teens in big ways. How many sexual messages do you  see everyday? How do these messages effect teens? Have you  watched a PG 13 movie lately? Have you looked at the magazines  in the checkout aisle?

Wow, what a mess. How can anyone “become real” out of this  mess! Becoming real for teenagers is about resolving these  conflicts. Kids need to become secure in themselves by fusing  together their “basic child self”, the parents’ “expected self”,  their own “essential self”, their “sexual self” and societies  expectations. Only then does a teen become a mature and stable  individual. I feel for them. I firmly believe that it has  never been harder. But we can support them through this time.

Teens need a “chaperoned freedom”. They need responsible  adults around but need their space at the same time. They need  to be respected for the least this horrible process that they  need to go through. They also need to be respected for their  skills. They need rules and guidance. They need really good  examples both in society and at home. They need adults who are  true to their adult selves so they can be inspired to be true to  their teen selves. With this, teens may ultimately achieve the  security, confidence and ability to meld all these expectations  and identities into one solid true self – they will have become

When we see problems with teens in society – violence,  drugs, and teen pregnancy – there are problems for these teens  in this process of becoming real. Some blame parents. Some  blame society. Some blame teens yet, in this complex process,  many factors affect teen development. It is up to all facets of  society, parents, schools, coaches, health providers, churches,  & leaders to take their responsibility in their contribution to  teen development seriously. I have said for years, if all  adults looked at what they were doing in their lives and  honestly assessed what impact it had on teenagers and kids we  would form a world of support for them that would empower them  (the teens) to change the world. I wish it to happen soon. We  need to support our next generation in “becoming real”. In the next few weeks, I will be writing a series of parenting  articles about parenting teens. Most of the articles will be  based on the theories I outlined above and that I have presented  in parenting workshops in the Northshore. I hope they help  parents during these troubling times.

Back To School Again

For many families the yearly ritual of preparing the return to school consists of buying new clothes, a backpack,  lunch bag, shoes, pencils and rulers. But for kids it can  be something more than the shopping spree handles. For  children, “back to school” means starting a new job. You  know that feeling you have when you start a new job? What  is my boss like? Can I meet the expectations? Will this  be harder than my old job? What are my colleagues like?  Will I fit in? These questions are not unlike the unspoken  questions that linger below the surface for most children  entering a new grade. How do we help our kids with these  questions?

The first thing we need to understand is that this is an  anxious time for children. That is the primary reason why  their behavior may be worse at the end of the summer (and  why we want them back in school). As kids try to stretch  out their fun, push our limits, and deny the inevitable  first day of school, our frustration rises. But we can  respond better to our kids if we understand their actions  in context with their anxiety. It may be appropriate for  kids to have a last hurrah of summer fun. But it is also  appropriate for them to prepare for the school year. Here  are some tips for getting your kids ready for success in  their new job.

  1.  Address their fears with confidence and  encouragement. All kids exhibit fears and doubts.  These are often an indirect way for children to ask  their parents “Should I be worried? How do you  think I will do in school, mom?” Viewing their  fears in this light makes our jobs as parents  easier. Even though we may be emotional about  our child’s next step in the progress of life (1st day of Kindergarten, to packing up for college)  these questions tell us what our job is. We must  reflect back to our children the confidence we have  in them. Clearly expressing confidence in their  ability in meeting your expectations is what our  children need when they express signs of fear about  a new year in school Of course, what you expect  needs to be appropriate for your child.
  2. Discuss your expectations for their school  year. What kind of grades do you realistically  expect your child to achieve? Express faith in  their ability to achieve. Then discuss other  expectations such as homework time, bedtime and  other house rules. The right structure at home  can help your child succeed. By setting the  expectations and ground rules at the beginning of  the year, we can help our kids succeed right from  the start.
  3. Ease your kids back to a school sleep schedule. It  is hard to start the first week of school too tired  to face the work. Towards the last week of summer  and Labor Day weekend, set bedtimes so that by the  first day of school your kids are “on schedule.”
  4. Plan on getting to know the expectations the school  has for your child. Talk to her teacher at the  beginning of the year. How much homework will  there by? How challenging will each subject be  for your child? Based on last year, what are  your child’s strengths? Weaknesses? How can you  support him best in those subjects?
  5. Set up an area for successful homework completion.  Find an area at home where your child is  comfortable working. It should be an area where  you can be close to help out when he needs it. All  the necessary supplies (pens, paper, glue, and  scissors) should be available at your homework area  just like at school or a home office. Discuss with  your child expectations for homework. It depends  on your child whether homework should be done right  after school or after some play time. Just make  it clear from the start that school doesn’t end  at the final bell. It must continue at home. By  setting some standards for homework with the right  supplies, space, and time frame, you give the  message that you value this part of their school  work.
  6. Check in with your child about his/her friends.  Children feel more comfortable in school if they  have a good group of friends. Conversely, children  have a harder time with school if they are lonely  or picked on. Bullying happens frequently in  schools. If you are worried about this with  your child, check in with their teacher and if  necessary, school officials. These issues need to  be addressed at every school and parents shouldn’t  handle it themselves.

We cannot take away the dread of the first day back to  school for our kids. But what we can do is be open about  realistic expectations and set up a structure for them  to achieve. Focusing on this can help our children feel  confident and ready for the new year’s challenges.

A True Drug Prevention Program Begins At Home

The perils of drug use are taught in schools across the  country. DARE programs continue to be well funded in school.  Most kids I talk to at age 12 say alcohol & drugs are stupid and  that they will never use them. Yet our kids are still using  alcohol and drugs by 18 in numbers that distress families,  police, teachers and pediatricians. Experimentation is even  more common then chronic drug use. As our kids grow, alcohol  and drug use becomes the biggest fear for parents. The key  question is what is the common denominator for those who stay  off drugs.

There are many factors that contribute to drug prevention  in our teenagers. Knowledge of drugs and the toll they take is  only one factor, perhaps the smallest one. Kids are getting  that kind of education. But it is certainly not enough.

Knowledge of family history is another factor that families  tend not to talk about. Addictive behaviors to drugs and  alcohol are strongly inherited. Even though kids may not need  to know their parents experimentation history, (what we did in  college is irrelevant to today’s alcohol and drug environment  for many reasons), kids do need to know how many family members  are afflicted with alcohol and drug problems. If you have  breast cancer in the family, your daughter needs to know that.  If you have alcoholism in the family, all your kids need to know  that.

How we provide examples for partying is another factor. A  cavalier attitude to your own alcohol or drug use is a direct  permission slip to teens to try it out themselves. If you are  responsible to yourself, your body and to others who drink at  your house, your kids are more likely to mimic that behavior  over time. This is why there is less alcoholism in Italy where  the family dinner with a glass of wine is the norm for drinking  versus the U.S., England, and Australia where partying during  sport events are the norm.

Stress and pressure is another factor. This cannot always  be controlled especially in our society. It is just important  to note that stressful family times may result in greater  experimentation. Healthy outlets for stress are important to  cultivate so that kids learn that a good workout is better then  tying one on.

Even after covering all that, parents need to recognize  that the greatest factor in teens drug and alcohol use is their  perceived value of themselves. I am not talking just about ego  or pride. There are plenty of football stars, class presidents,  and cheerleader captains who crash and burn over drugs. Many  big drinkers have big egos. I am talking more of a sense of  true value. How is your teen valued by others? How much does  your teen feel valued and loved by you? I feel this is the key  factor in drug prevention.

Remember when your kids were two and you saved their lives  several times a day. You kept them from running in the street  or falling off the slide. You didn’t allow them to bike ride  around the block or separate too far from you in the  supermarket. You did this because you valued them. Well, teen  years are not the time to stop. Parents often say, “I love you”  in negative ways – by limiting freedom to keep our kids safe.  As we parent teens, we need to continue to set limits to keep  them safe. Supervision is important to prevent alcohol and drug  use. We must say “no” to underage drinking and unsupervised  parties. The key factor however, is to let them know why we  limit their freedom. We value and love them. We care about  their safety. Because we care and always will, it is the nature  of being a parent.

Yes, we need to educate our kids about drugs. Tell them  our family history. Be a good example. But we also need to  stay involved. We shouldn’t be overly reactive. We need to  respect their need for more freedom. Value them for who they  are and what they do. Respect their interests and acknowledge  their accomplishments. Be there to supervise and prevent their  experimentation as long as you can because you love them and you  care.