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Raising Teens

EDITORS NOTE: This is the fourth in a ten-part series on parenting teens, sponsored by the Lake Placid-Wilmington Connecting Youth and Communities Coalition. This organization of local community leaders, youth, parents, and youth development workers creates and supports local programs for youth and parents. It works to mobilize the community for the health and well-being of our youth. Teens voices Ask us how our day went often. Respect whats important to us. Pay attention and dont judge. You may question where your kids go, but do they know where you go? - Lake Placid High School students Its parenting, not pestering When our teens tell us to butt out of their lives, that they can manage for themselves, we may be tempted to take them up on the offer. When they are moody and sullen, we feel like backing off. They need independence, we say. They need their privacy. Dont do it! We still need to guide and counsel them. This requires knowing who our teens are and what concerns them. Remember, most of the traits they show as teens have always been part of their character. Teens just become more of who they are. Its true that our teens are growing in independence, and just like adults, they protect their privacy. But they still need us to guide them in decisions about their lives and the consequences of their choices. Parts of the brain develop at different rates and one of the last regions to mature is the part that determines sound judgement. Teens swing back and forth between higher and lower levels of moral thinking. As our children get older, we must relinquish control. Events will yank it out of our hands anyway. This does not mean that we relinquish our influence over our children. Studies show that simple monitoring -- knowing where they are and with whom -- is linked to a lower risk of alcohol, tobacco and drug use, as well as fewer problems with depression, school or with negative peer influence. And time and again, teens tell us that asking them about their activities says to them that we care! We replace control with communication.How well we communicate with our teens will help determine the success with which they are able to do take control of their lives. New strategies We need new strategies so that we can maintain the balance between our teens need for supervision and for privacy. What worked with our ten year old, will make our 16 year old tune out. Most monitoring of older teens needs to be indirect. Quietly observe his world and the people in it. Observe changes in behavior. Listen when he talks about friends. Ask about his friends relationships with their parents. Listen without judgement and criticism. Spend time with her alone without pressure. Your moody daughter may need time to be able to genuinely communicate and share what is on her mind. Be patient and dont probe. Pay attention to their body language and read between the lines. Sometimes he may need to talk about a problem but has a hard time initiating the conversation. He might throw out hints or feel you out to see what mood you are in. Sometimes he will give clues such as talking about a friends problem when he needs a way out of a difficult peer situation. When she talks, listen intently and quietly. Let her control the situation. First and foremost, try to put yourself in her shoes. Listen carefully before offering your thoughts. Show respect for her and dont make light of her concerns. No subject should be out-of-bounds. We may not want to think of our teens as sexual beings, but, in fact, adjusting to sexual maturation, managing sexual feelings, and struggling to find a sexual identity can create worries and confusion for teens. Expand these conversations to include what they think is expected of them or what they think you expect. Get to know him but get yourself out of the way! Although sharing your life experiences without preaching can be invaluable, the conversation is about him who he is (different from us) and what he is experiencing (different from our adolescence). Talk to other parents and adults who know our kids and are willing to honestly let us know about both positive or negative behaviors. Reach out to neighbors, employers, clergy, and schools. Pay attention to the parent grapevine. What to monitor School progress. Nearly 50 percent of parents never attend a school function. Stay involved. Read communications from school, attend school meetings and functions, participate in school governance, talk to counselors and teachers. Volunteer at school, even on your lunch hour, and therefore become familiar with teachers and counselors. Pay attention to the teachers and subjects he talks about and why. Decrease oversight of homework but stay involved in school activities. Physical and mental health. Most teens navigate the physical and emotional watershed of adolescence without serious difficulty, but 10 - 20 percent develop a serious emotional disorder or health problem. Learn and watch for warning signs including lack of motivation, weight loss, problems with eating or sleeping, a drop in school performance, and/or skipping school, drug use, withdrawal from friends and activities, promiscuity, running away, unexplained injury, serious and persistent conflict with you, and high levels of anxiety or guilt. After-school whereabouts, friendships and peer activities. As much as 40 percent of teens time is spent in unstructured, unsupervised activity. Know their whereabouts and behavior during out-of-school hours. Get to know their friends. Monitor their employment. Dont depend on the daily check-in phone call. Media and other popular culture. Certain media may influence the attitudes and behavior of susceptible teens. Listen, take an interest, and learn about teens choices in music, entertainment and other media. Discuss the messages being conveyed, encourage critical thinking, and establish family policies about media use. Keep computers and TV sets in central locations rather than private spaces and limit the amount of time spent in these activities. Resources If we see something amiss, we need to intervene at the first serious sign of trouble, and not wait for the day when our teen will, for example, resume earlier, more studious habits. Our teens can interpret our inactivity as a way of saying we don't care. And, if you accept the myth that teens are supposed to act erratically and be rude, you could miss something. Adolescents are masters at giving mixed signals. You can focus on the positive ones and miss the negative ones. Covert behavior, such as concealed alcohol use, is especially difficult to identify and treat. A troubled youth detaches more and more from parents, making it hard to find out what is going on. And, teens may act out with friends but be well behaved at home. Seek guidance if you see warning signs or even if you only feel uncertain about whether there is a problem. Consult with teachers, counselors, clergy, and physicians who know your teen. The Guidance Departments at our local schools have highly trained school counselors and psychologists who are experienced at social and emotional counseling. Personal counseling is an important part of what they do. They can also refer you to substance abuse counselors (often available within the public high schools) and mental health professionals. You can talk to a counselor or therapist yourself to check out your concerns. Your teen can then go for treatment if necessary. If you cant afford the fees for private counseling/therapy, your County Mental Health can refer you to free or lower priced services. Some private counselors have a sliding fee schedule and some counseling centers have funds which can be accessed for those with no health insurance. Our resources are stretched thin in our large, rural counties, but take advantage of what we do have. Our teens are counting on us to help them. The Raising Teens column was first published by the Lake Placid News, a community partner of the Lake Placid-Wilmington Connecting Youth and Communities Coalition (CYC). The columns express the judgments and opinions of Anna Lee Court and the experts she cites. They have been reviewed by a wide-variety of local experts in the fields of health education, youth alcohol and drug prevention, and family practice counseling as well as parents and youth. Funding for writing and researching the Raising Teens columns comes from a grant provided by the Drug-Free Communities Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to CYC.

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