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Parenting Teens - The Ten Most Commonly Asked Questions and Concerns

By Tammy Daniele

1) "How do I get my teen to apologize when they have done something wrong? It drives me crazy that they never say, 'I'm sorry.'" The bigger question is do YOU say you're sorry? This is where you need to lead by example. It is hard to get a teen to recognize an apology when there isn't a parent who does so when necessary. As hard as it is to admit wrongs, it is also a very good teaching experience. When necessary, try saying, "I'm sorry. Sometimes that is hard to admit and say, but it is the right thing to do." Bottom line: practice what you preach.

2) "My teen is questioning faith and doesn't want to go to church. We think church is important. What do we do?" Remember that adolescence is a period of constant change and growth. This phenomenon is happening physically, mentally and emotionally. Your teen will go through continual phases of trying to figure out who they are, the morals they will live by and what the faith they will believe in. They are struggling for independence and a sense of what they stand for. Sometimes, teens feel like faith and church is "imposed" on them, which is interpreted as a threat to their independence. Sit down with your teen. Let them know that you understand they are trying to figure out who they are and be independent. Have them explain to you why they are struggling with their faith and/or church. Explain what church and faith means to you and why you think it is important for them. Let them know that you are willing to help them on their faith journey by answering questions or discussing the issue with them. Let them know there are people at church they can talk to. Know where you stand on the issue of attending church. If church attendance is important to you as a parent, it is okay for it to be non-negotiable.

3) "I think my teen is drinking/smoking/using drugs. What do we do about this?" Many parents feel that if their teen is drinking in their home, it is better than being out somewhere else drinking. If you buy your teen alcohol or cigarettes, that is the same as condoning their use. In addition, if your teen has friends at your home and they are drinking YOU ARE LIABLE for anything that happens outside of your home. This being said, if you have suspicions that your teen is using, ask them. They may or may not be upfront with you. However, by being direct and asking them the question, you send your teen a message that you are aware of certain behaviors. Adolescents only think they are smarter than adults. If they are drinking, smoking or using drugs, they will leave traces either in their room, book bag, or pockets or they will be caught in the act.

4) "I don't like my teen's friends." How well do you know your teen's friends? Have you taken the time to get to know them. If not, do so immediately. Then make an informed decision. Keep in mind there is a difference between liking your teen's friends and thinking they are a bad influence. If your teen's friends are harmless and not a bad influence, do you have to like them? If this is the case, pick your battles. If you do think a friend is a bad influence, you as a parent have the right to dictate who your teen spends time with. Remember that one of your jobs as a parent is to keep your teen safe. If you are allowing your teen to spend time with others who may put them in harm's way, how well are you doing your job?

5) "My teen is moody and irritable a lot of the time. He doesn't want to spend time with the family and says things that hurt my feelings. I feel like all we do is argue." Being moody and irritable is a typical, common behavior of all adolescents. Easier said than done, but try not to take it personally. You, as a parent, are the easiest and safest person for your teen to take their bad days, moodiness and irritability out on. This being said, teens also need a message from parents that it is okay to have a bad day, but it is NOT okay to express themselves inappropriately. TEACH your teen how to be angry and express themselves appropriately. If they call you names, DO NOT call them names back. If they roll their eyes and make large sighing noises, DO NOT do this to them. Model effective communication. Talk to them the way you want them to talk to you. Use "I" statements. Take a time out. KNOW WHEN TO PICK YOUR BATTLES. Often, parents let too much up for negotiation. Know your sticking points. No is no. Know and argue the important issues, not the small ones.

6) "I don't approve of the way my teen dresses." Do NOT buy your teen clothes that you think are inappropriate. If you do, this sends a message to your son/daughter that you condone the garment you are buying. If a teen wants to wear something the parents don't approve of, some parents make the teen buy it with their own money. Some parents throw clothes away if they are deemed inappropriate. Decide what you will do and then be consistent in following through with it.

7) "How do I get my teen to be more motivated in school?" Ask yourself first if you have reasonable expectations for your teen in regards to grades. Then rule out the possibility of any undiagnosed learning disabilities. After you've done this, ask yourself, "Does my teen have too many privileges?" Often, parents let their teens go out with friends, drive the car, have parties, go shopping, etc. when their grades are sub-par and they aren't working to their potential. As an adolescent, your teen's "job" is to go to school. Remember that your teen may not have their own drive or always be self-motivated. Teens are motivated by their friends, having fun and being entertained. Use these as rewards to doing their best in school. This isn't bribery. In life, as adults most of us don't get what we want whenever we want it without working. Teach your teens that they need to do some work in order to get what they want.

8) "What are appropriate consequences to give a teen when they have done something that warrants punishment?" The most appropriate consequence you can give is whatever you can CONSISTENTLY FOLLOW THROUGH WITH. One of the biggest mistakes parents make is handing out a consequence and then not following through with it. This sends a message to your teen that it doesn't matter what they do, because they won't get into trouble AND you as a parent, are a pushover. Your teen, much like when they were a toddler, will push your buttons and try to do whatever necessary to make you "give in." Stay firm. Similarly to toddlers (but on a much larger scale), they may throw a tantrum, get angry, say mean things and become disrespectful. Let them emote their feelings and continue to send them a message that you are going to stand by your consequence. A good rule of thumb: make consequences that are immediate, measurable, and short term. In addition, make the punishment fit the crime. Bigger consequences for bigger mistakes. Smaller consequences for smaller mistakes.

9) "Should I let my teen on My Space, Facebook, or Friendster?" Do you know who they are talking to? Do you know what they talk about? Keep in mind that the internet is the predator's playground of the 21st century. Not only are sexual predators constantly online, internet sites and instant messaging forums have become arenas for bullying to occur. As a parent, you have the right to restrict internet usage to whatever you see fit. There is wonderful software available that restricts certain websites, shuts down the computer at certain times of day and can provide you a record of every website, conversation and keystroke that has been made. They are investments that are well worth the time and money.

10) "I think my teen has a poor body image." Our media and society send a very poor message about what a healthy body looks like. In a time period when bodies are constantly growing and changing, your teen's body image may suffer. Always give positive feedback to your teen about their uniqueness and what makes them special. Focus on the "real" them...give them positive feedback about who they are as people. Do NOT make comments about your own weight and do not make negative comments about your own body. Try to limit exposure to magazines that promote unrealistic body images. Try to have healthy food in the house to promote healthy eating habits. Yet at the same time, try not to be too rigid in not allowing any "junk" food. Sometimes, teens will use eating food that is completely restricted to them as a way to retaliate against their parents. This can lead to binge eating and potential eating disorders. Teach your teen moderation. Encourage exercise, in any form. Exercise with your teen, whether this is taking the dog for a walk, going for a bike ride, or raking leaves. Try to sit down and have at as many family dinners as you can. Cook with your teen.

-Try to be free from judgment. Your teen is judged enough by his or her peers everyday. Every teen has a need to feel that who they are at any given moment is okay. Often, when teens feel judged or rejection from parents, they turn to the peer group for acceptance. Try offering an opinion without making a judgment.

-Get to know their friends. Offer to have get-togethers at your home. Invite the group over for pizza. Offer to drive someone home. You don't need to have sit-down conversations to get to know your teen's friends....being in the same room with them will often give you plenty of information about their character.

-Familiarize yourself with what they're interested in. This sends a message that you are interested in THEM. You may not like their music, what they want to watch, or what they do in their free time. However, offering to learn about what and who they spend time with tells your teen that you accept them.

-Have 1:1 time and let them pick the activity. Every teen needs 1:1 time with each parent. This doesn't have to be hours of time, even twenty minutes can suffice. Try scheduling a set time every week, i.e. Sunday afternoon between 3:00 - 3:45. This way, when life gets busy, quality time will not get overlooked. In addition, it gives your teen something to look forward to and something stable when other things in their life may appear to be unstable to them.

-Be available! Try to refrain from saying "in a minute" or "wait until I'm done with....." Granted, sometimes you really can't pull away from what you are doing. However, keep in mind that teens are going to talk to you on when it is convenient and comfortable for THEM. Trying to reduce making these statements will help in letting your teen know that you are available when they need you.

-LISTEN - don't give advice unless your teen asks for it. Often, teens need to vent and need acknowledgment and validation for their feelings. Giving too much advice when it is not asked for will send a message to your teen that you are more focused on telling them what they "should do" and not listening to what they are saying.

-Don't be afraid to be a parent! Often, parents run into trouble when they try too hard for their teens to like them, or they try to be a friend more than a parent. Remember: adolescence is hallmarked by constant change and flux. Impulsiveness, poor decision making and immaturity are common, typical behaviors during this period. Teens don't need a buddy. They need guidance, boundaries and rules in order to learn how to organize themselves and navigate into adulthood. The best person to provide this to them is their parents. Sometimes it is hard to do the right thing as a parent and know that your teen may harbor negative feelings towards you for a while. When this happens, know that it will pass. Guaranteed.

About the Author
Tammy Daniele, LCSW, received her Master's degree from George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. Tammy helped develop and create the Early Emotional Development Program at Washington University School of Medicine. Past clinical experience includes work with depression, eating disorders, self-injury, anxiety, adjustment disorder, grief work, trauma and divorce issues.

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