A Survival Guide to Parenting Teens

Talking to Your Kids About Sexting, Drinking, Drugs, and Other Things That Freak You Out

A Survival Guide to Parenting Teens

Author: Joani Geltman
Pub Date: May 2014
Print Edition: $16.00
Print ISBN: 9780814433669
Page Count: 288
Format: Paper or Softback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814433676

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Q&A Joani Geltman

What is the most challenging part to parenting a teenager? For most parents, trying to understand why their teen does so many “stupid” things, makes so many “stupid” decisions, and doesn’t want to listen to their advice gained from so many years of experience is crazy making! Without understanding what drives their teen’s behavior, parents just go from one crisis to the next, throwing around consequences and punishments hoping that something they do will stick and change their teen’s terrifying ways. But alas, just saying don’t do it or you better not, and then grounding them when they do, does not change behavior. Many parents of teens feel an enormous loss of control. “Because I said so” is no longer an effective parenting tool. You cannot parent a teenager the same way you parent a younger child. It is this redefining of parenting style that most parents of teens are unprepared for.

Which subjects freak parents out the most – discussing sex, alcohol and drugs, social media, school, or issues like depression? I think the issues like drugs/sex/social media are front and center because parents are forced to deal with them on a daily basis. They are “in your face” kind of issues. Many, many teens are dealing with depression and anxiety these days, but they are good at masking them with…. drugs/alcohol/sex and social networking. Parents then are dealing with symptoms of possible depression and anxiety, doing too much of all those other things which are avoidance behaviors. Also parents worry that drugs/alcohol/sex and social networking will negatively impact their kid’s success in school. PS, it will!

Doesn’t every stage of parenting present hurdles and roadblocks? What’s so different about the teen years? Teen brains are experiencing enormous growth. This means that they are literally seeing the world through a new lens. Additionally in adolescence, the emotional part of the teen brain is in higher activation than their thinking brain, which is completely opposite from the way an adult brain functions. This means teen behavior is driven by emotion and impulse rather than by the rational and the thoughtful. Except for the first 18 months of life, there is no other time in life when there is such extreme brain change. It’s biology baby! For parents this is scary because just as their teen’s brain sees the “awesomeness” of it all, they are exposed to experiences that carry tremendous risk.

Your daughter went on to star in a network television show. Does this mean you did something right as a parent? Ari’s success is totally a reflection of her hard work and talent; we take no credit for that. What we did do as parents was to know and understand who she was and what turned her on. We supported her passion which she exhibited at a very early age and found her opportunities to participate to her little heart’s content. As she got older that definitely meant some job-juggling for my husband and I. Because Ari was an only child, we were able to do that and she was able to take advantage of acting opportunities that required some significant chauffeuring and time management. But I think our real gift to her was staying out of her way. We were all very clear about boundaries; we were her chauffeurs, catering service and supporters, not her directors, managers and agents.

How do you advise parents of teenagers who are being bullied online? The first issue is availability. Teens can be gluttons for punishment. Get them off the sites and apps where bulling occurs and block the kids who are taunting them from those sites. If a bully doesn’t have access to his/her victim than that can take all the fun out of bullying. But in order for that to happen parents have got to be on top of what apps and sites their kids are on in the first place. Many parents stay way to hands-off with their kids phones and computers. Monitoring a teen’s phone and computer use is a necessary evil. There may always be some trash taking between teens, but when the line is crossed by threats and serious emotional abuse, transcripts should be presented to school administrators.

How should a parent talk to their child about sex, sexting, and dating? With understanding and honesty. Parents should really try to stay off the lecture circuit. Telling teens how they should behave will fall mostly on deaf ears. Saying: “ I get you are going to be interested in sex. I know I’ll have to get used to thinking about you in this new way. I know you will be in situations that you have never been in before with boys/girls. I also know kids talk to each other in very sexy language, and I’m guessing that can be pretty fun, but it can also get you into real trouble. Here are some of the things I do not want to see on your phone or computer.” Parents should say all those “dirty” words they do not want on their kid's phone. Saying “inappropriate language” just won’t cut it. Kids need to hear what it sounds like out loud!.

What can a parent do to keep the lines of communication flowing with their teenager, to ensure honesty, openness, and forthrightness? The biggest barriers to open communication are words that criticize and judge. For example when parents see their teen wasting time online and texting when they are supposed to be doing their homework, they are more likely to say: “Stop being so lazy, and get off that damn phone.” Rather than: “I get how important your friends are to you, and how important it is for you to check in with them, but homework is important too, and we need to find a strategy that gives you time for both.” Now, instead of teens feeling like they have a character flaw, which pushes them into arguing and defense mode, they can work on solving a problem.

How can parents keep their kids focused on excelling in school and preparing for college? Contrary to what most parents think, it is not to focus on the grades. Sometimes parents set up unrealistic expectations about the grades they expect from their teens. Starting in middle school parents start saying: “if you want to get into a good college, you better start working hard now.” Talk about getting on the worry train too early. Anxiety inhibits learning. Instead parents should focus on the learning part of school, not the report card. When parents engage with their teen about what they are learning, by reading the same books, and sharing insights; or engage in discussions about subjects their kids are studying; the message given is that being a curious learner is what is valued not the grade. Good grades will happen naturally when the process of learning is valued. And of course provide structure and get them off their phones for two hours every night, even if they have no homework!

Some teens just give off a lousy attitude – defiance, laziness, entitlement – what can a parent do to combat this? Teens give off that attitude because they could care less about the things that most parents think are important. Teenagers are by nature narcissistic…just temporarily, thank God! Friends are #1, chores, cleaning their room, laundry, those don’t even make the list. Every request from a parent to a teen then becomes a power struggle. My best advice is to stop yelling and badgering. When there is a demand from a teen a parent can say: “Is there a question in there?” Or if a teen needs a ride and a chore isn’t done: “I’d be happy to drive you to X’s house, let me know when you’ve emptied the dishwasher and we will be on our way. Attitude should not beget attitude.

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