What You Can Do to Stay Connected with the Teenagers in Your Life

Work & Family Life, July/August 1999 | Go to article overview

What You Can Do to Stay Connected with the Teenagers in Your Life


There's been a lot of soulsearching as a result of what happened in Colorado. If only certain clues had been picked up, could the tragedy at Columbine High School have been avoided? If only TV and movies weren't so violent, guns weren't so available, teens weren't left unsupervised so much, kids were kinder to each other, bullies weren't tolerated in schools, parents spent more time with their kids-this and other terrible incidents in schools wouldn't have happened.

As parents, grandparents and concerned citizens, we can be advocates for change in the larger society. But what can we do in our own families to raise children who are secure, well-balanced, caring, responsible, able to communicate and who have a positive view of the world?

Our expectations matter

The thought of having an adolescent child fills many parents with dread. We talk about "surviving the teenage years" as if we're going into combat. We need to rethink these attitudes because they can easily become self-fulfilling prophecies. Despite the many physical and emotional changes teenagers go through, they do not become unpleasant, heartless creatures. In fact, as adolescent specialist Dr. Lawrence Steinberg says, even though there are some inevitable family tensions, children from many different kinds of homes report a high degree of respect for their parents and most kids turn out just fine.

Negative attitudes toward teenagers can also lead parents to pull away from their own children, assuming that they can't influence them anymore. This, in turn, allows kids to withdraw-a pattern that has been shown to end up with troubled adolescents.

Do you know about teens?

One of the most frequently asked questions these days is: "How well do you know your teens?" To answer that, it's important first to know about teens. For example:

Teenagers face many pressures that adults tend not to take seriously. Their bodies are changing, they worry about their personal safety, about divorce and death. They ask themselves: "Who am I" and "What am I going to do with my life?"

To some degree, you can expect teens to be moody and self-centered, to question your values and your authority. That's because they're trying to establish an identify of their own.

Self-doubt is constant. Teens feel pressure to conform and fear ridicule if they don't. This can be bewildering, frightening and even depressing.

While teens want to be treated like adults, it's important for parents to provide structure and limits. Teens need help sorting out their lives as well as large doses of tender loving care.

Communicating with your teen

To know what your teenager is doing and provide appropriate guidance, you may need some new ways of interacting. …

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