Parenting a Teen. ...Is a Tough Job. the First Lady Tells What She Learned, and How a White House Conference Can Help Others

Article excerpt

A few months ago, Bill and I graduated from being the parents of a teenager to being the parents of a young adult. Chelsea turned 20 in February. We look at this life passage with mixed emotions--pride at our daughter's accomplishments; wistfulness about how quickly it has all happened; and most of all, gratitude for Chelsea's safe transition to adulthood. We know we are very fortunate.

This week, the President and I will be holding a White House Conference on Teenagers. We'll be joining other parents, teenagers and experts to talk about how we can all work together to help families navigate this critical period in their lives.

Why a Conference, and why now? Well, ask any teen: growing up today feels tougher than ever. While the cases may be extreme, the tragedies at Columbine High School last spring, and just recently at the National Zoo, are chilling reminders of the stress, alienation and violence that can overwhelm a troubled teen. And if it's tough to be a teen these days, it's even tougher to be a parent. More and more parents are working outside the home, and struggling every day to meet their responsibilities. Parents tell me they worry that all their best efforts to create a world of love and support at home might be useless, when our popular culture continues to depict a world of gratuitous sex and violence. They're worried about their teens' choices, how the bright future they envisioned for them can disappear with a single bad decision to drink, to try drugs, to trust the wrong person.

One theme we will be discussing at the Conference is the critical role parents can--and should--play in their teenagers' lives. What parent of a teenager hasn't felt that pang when a child who once couldn't be pried out of his mother's lap is now embarrassed to be in the same room with her? But studies are showing that for all their protest and swagger, teenagers need--and want--the everyday love, involvement and discipline of their parents.

Sometimes, even modest efforts to reach out to your teenager can make a tremendous difference. When Chelsea had to stay up all night adding footnotes to a research paper in high school, she appreciated our willingness to stay up with her, even though we were useless when her computer became temperamental. When she became a vegetarian, the three of us bought vegetarian cookbooks. When she was getting ready for college, we went shopping for extra-long sheets, shower caddies and all those other necessities of dorm life.

I believe that one of the biggest casualties of modern life--of fast food, TV and more stressful days at work for parents--has been family time, the time during meals, for instance, when parents and children can check in with each other. …