When dating comes to a stop…and it’s just FINE!

I imagine that a fair amount of teens feel like they’re missing out on “normal” high school life…especially the dating part.  Catching that cutie’s eye in class, flirting in the hallway, sharing phone #s, texting, and then…dating itself. To a teen, dating can feel like proof that you’ve “arrived” socially. If you were to quiz middle schoolers about their expectations about high school, dating is way up there in hopes and dreams for those 4 years.

Maybe you want your teen to experience normal dating, because…well, it IS a sign of normal development for our kids to date, right?

New research from the University of Georgia, published online in The Journal of School Health, examined the assumption that dating is “normal and essential for a teen’s individual development and well-being.” Lead researcher Brooke Douglas notes that “The majority of teens have had some type of romantic experience by 15 to 17 years of age” suggesting to some researchers that dating during teenage years is a normative behavior. “That is, adolescents who have a romantic relationship are therefore considered ‘on time’ in their psychological development.” So, wondered Brooke, would non-daters have some deficit in social development? Are they the stereotypical social misfits?

Not at all! It turned out that “Non-dating students had similar or better interpersonal skills than their more frequently dating peers…. [and] teachers rated the non-dating students significantly higher for social skills and leadership skills than their dating peers.” In addition, those who didn’t date were also less likely to be depressed.

Takeaway? If your child has not entered the dating scene (or is missing it during this shut-down)…reassure him or her that it’s actually perfectly “normal” to enjoy high school without dating…and they’ll probably be happier for it! There are plenty of other fantastic friendships and experiences awaiting them in middle and high school.

Conflict with Teens in Covid Lockdown

We want our kids to be safe…but they think we’re the enemy when we limit their time with friends. They can become hostile when we don’t give them the freedom they want…and it can feel like THEY are the enemy of peace in our homes. But what if we  recognize that we’re all facing a common enemy…a virus that has upended all of our lives. An article in the Chicago Tribune recently posited this very thing…and pointed out that the situation we find ourselves in can actually be an opportunity to recognize and avoid common unhealthy types of conflict: “Being a bulldozer — just running people over. Being a doormat — just letting yourself be run over. And being a doormat with spikes, which is basically passive-aggressive behavior: Using guilt as a weapon or playing the part of a victim or involving third parties even though it’s really a two-party disagreement.”

Several ideas on working through conflict are given in the article. A tried-and-true strategy is to show empathy by listening carefully enough to someone else’s viewpoint that you can repeat it back. “Parents and kids should try adopting and repeating each other’s opposing positions” suggests Lisa Damour, clinical psychologist, and best-selling author quoted by the Tribune.

Sometimes just giving each other much needed space can do wonders.

The article mentions that families can “neutralize” the need to have some alone time by agreeing that no one should feel rejected if someone in the house just needs a break from all this togetherness. A break can be as simple as YOYO (you’re on your own) for dinner several nights a week. One teen suggested an in-house sabbatical…a day apart in the same house. Maybe you can come up with something for your home that takes down the level of stress by giving you a breather…and a chance to appreciate each other when spending time together again.

Why doesn’t my kid listen to me?

It seemed like such a good talk! Our kid comes to us to talk through a problem. Finally…we have a chance to connect and impart  our wisdom and practical knowledge. And they ignore every bit of what we said. Sigh. Could it be that what we thought they were looking for…a solution…isn’t what they really wanted?

An insightful article in the New York Times points out that teens sometimes use their parents as more of a sounding board: “More often than not, offering our teenagers an ear, empathy and encouragement gives them what they came for.” Psychologist and author Lisa Damour helps us understand how to listen, and not offer help or a solution unless it’s really wanted, making this recommendation: “Start by asking if your teenager wants help solving the problem. If you get a yes, divide the issue into categories: what can be changed and what cannot. For the first type, focus on the needs your teenager identifies and work together to brainstorm solutions. For the second type, help them come to terms with the things they cannot control.” For those of us who like a “hands on” demo, the article includes an example of what this would look like.

Recreational marijuana is coming to your local strip mall

As the head of Teen Decision, and an adult who cares about teens, I was part of a group of citizens that helped convince my aldermen to vote to opt out of allowing recreational marijuana dispensaries in my town. But even if they’re not coming to my town, or yours, they WILL be in the suburb next door as of January 1. We need to be vigilant as parents to send a clear message that marijuana use hurts the teen brain, even if our state government has deemed it safe for adults. Teens have gotten their hands on marijuana even while illegal in Illinois to be sure, but permissive attitudes among those in the marijuana industry contributes to a rise in selling marijuana to minors (studies from Washington State and Oregon).  A Colorado study found that about half of youth in outpatient substance-abuse treatment reported using diverted “legal” marijuana.

Besides negative affects on the teen brain, according to a CDC fact sheet, “studies show that sexual risk behaviors increase in adolescents who use alcohol, and are highest among students who use marijuana, cocaine, prescription drugs (such as sedatives, opioids, and stimulants), and other illicit drugs. Adolescents who reported no substance use are the least likely to engage in sexual risk-taking.” Oh, and the CDC fact sheet says one risk factor might be YOU:  “Favorable parental attitudes towards the problem behavior and/orparental involvement in the problem behavior.” Yet another reason to make it clear that you expect your child to make wise choices, and say NO to drugs, and maybe set the example by opting out yourself (at least for now) for the sake of your teen.

Having a loving mom can protect teens from later dating abuse

A recent University of Buffalo study discovered that even when there is conflict in the home, a mother’s warmth and acceptance can act as a “buffer” and reduce the chance of teens ending up in abusive dating relationships. Said lead investigator Jennifer Livingston, “Children form internal working models about themselves and others based on the quality of their relationship with their parents,” Livingston explains. “If the primary caretaker is abusive or inconsistent, children learn to view themselves as unlovable and others as hostile and untrustworthy. But positive parenting behaviors characterized by acceptance and warmth help children form positive internal working models of themselves as lovable and worthy of respect.” As we parent, even though we certainly must be firm and at times even mete out consequences…it’s important we do it from a place of love, and express this in our actions and words: “I have to take away the car keys for the next two weeks because of your ticket for texting while driving, but I want you to know that I love you and I know you feel bad about it because you’re a great kid, and you usually make good choices.”

Videos by teens, for teens

I recently came across the OK, Inc. YouTube channel, with dozens of videos on topics teens say they want addressed…things such as date rape, bullying, sexting, abusive relationships, substance abuse, etc. These videos use high school students as actors and portray realistic scenarios. I watched several that have been viewed by millions, and can recommend them as excellent tools for parents and teachers.

These short story videos help teens recognize risky situations, make good choices, deal with consequences, and see a way forward even after making a poor choice. Every video has an example of friends who help their friends along the way.  Parents, don’t we want to see our child learn now how to have good relationships, choose well when faced with negative pressures, and to BE a good, supportive friend to others who are caught in bad decisions, or bad relationships? Sometimes, all the good advice we know we could give is better received coming from peers. These videos provide a creative way to open conversations with our children about the pressures and problems they face in everyday life, without coming across as too “preachy.” I urge you to watch and discuss as many of these videos with your teens as possible.

Where is your teen headed?

Looking ahead

We can see in retrospect that the decisions we made as teens and twenty-somethings set the course for the rest of our lives, but if the teens under your care are like many young people, they are less focused on direction in life than what’s for dinner, who asked who to homecoming, and making the next kill in Fortnight before getting down to homework.

Do you know what your child would say if asked about goals in life?  If you find yourself using the line: “If you don’t get good grades, you won’t get into a good college” it’s time to rethink your strategy.  Do we really thing kids can’t wait to finish high school, just so they can go to college for 4 or more years? No…college is a means to the other goals they have: A good job, a house, travel…and yes, marriage and family. So HOW can we help them put a name to their goals, and use those goals to drive the decisions they make today?

The first step, is to help your child identify the things that are important to them…put a name to it! Take one of the spokes on this life “wheel” (LINK) and talk about it at the dinner table some night…and keep going until you’ve talked about them all.  Then, once important goals are identified and written down, talk through the HOW of achieving those goals. Next, identify the roadblocks they might encounter, or create by their lack of planning or poor decisions.

Teen Decision and other organizations are part of the effort to get teens to consider how relationship choices now can affect teens today AND tomorrow. Over 15,000 Illinois students this year have benefited from a state-funded workbook based program (A&M Partnership) teaching abstinence from a medically accurate, well-reasoned perspective. The very first chapter in each workbook  talks about goal-setting. The entire first chapter of Navigator (LINK) has great resources if you want to take a page or two to help you talk through goals in life with your child. In the next blog posts, I’ll be taking some other tips and ideas from these workbooks to help you help your teen on the path to maturity.

Dads, daughters, and risk.

Their is plenty of research on the link between girls growing up without dads, and heightened incidence of risky sexual behaviors. But what about the KIND of fathering a girl gets, and the “doses” of father time? It turns out that encouraging dads to take an active role in parenting their daughters is KEY to whether or not they engage in risky sexual behaviors. A study looked at sisters who had different amounts of time, and different quality time, with dads…for instance, because of divorce or separation. An older daughter might have had more “dad” time than a younger one growing up, and it showed in different outcomes.

According to the article, “ItTeenager and dad‘s not enough for a dad to just be in the home,” said Danielle J. DelPriore, a post-doctoral fellow in the University of Utah’s department of psychology and lead author of the study. “The quality of a father’s relationship with his daughter has implications for both the overall monitoring she receives from her parents as well as her likelihood of affiliating with more promiscuous or more prosocial friends.”

Anyone knows how exhausting it can be to parent teens, and keep tabs on their safety…and two parents are better than one if you can both play a part.  The article points out: “Parental monitoring refers to parents’ supervision over their children’s lives, including their communication and knowledge about what a child is doing, who she is hanging out with, and how she spends her time and money. Research has shown that low parental monitoring is associated with increased drug and alcohol use, delinquency and other behavior problems.”  If you are a dad, know how important your presence and input are!  If you are a mom, encourage your daughter’s relationship with her Dad (we’re not talking about abusive dads of course), whether you are an intact family or not. It can really help her take the path to a better future.

Talking to Teens about Love

When our Teen Decision program comes to a school, teens often are often either nervous, or skeptical about our “sex ed” program.  I once had someone write me that they’d expected the presenter (me) to be an “old lady with warts” but was pleasantly surprised to find our program fun, informative, and relevant to teens’ real lives.  While we do discuss the benefits of abstinence (and the risks of sexual activity), we spend FAR more time talking about relationships, knowing that teaching them how to recognize and have healthy relationships is far more effective in helping teens make good choices about sex than scaring them about teen pregnancy and STDs…although there is a place for healthy fear about these very possible consequences!  And you know what?  That’s what teens really want to talk about as well…relationships…love! Now that it’s summer, love (or infatuation more likely) may even be blooming for the teen in your love foreverhome!  I found this article about talking to teens about love, and I thought it could help you to talk with the teen in your life about what love is, and how to learn how to BE a healthy person in a healthy relationship.  I particularly liked one point the author made, that we can help any young person recognize that a good dating partner is someone who has demonstrated the qualities of a good friend:

What about a younger child who isn’t necessarily old enough for a romantic relationship? Is there a way you could ease into the topic?

The basics, like how to choose a friend. The same skills that kids would use to choose a friend — whether it’s generosity or kindness or loyalty or empathy — those are the same traits they’re going to be looking for later in a relationship. So parents can help guide kids, and they can lead that discussion at home.

I do a lot of work in the younger grades with friendship skills: reciprocity, reflective listening, turn-taking, sharing. All of these very basic skills that you need to teach young kids so that later on, they not only have the skills to maintain a healthy relationship, they’ll know how to identify a healthy relationship, too.

Help Your Teen Get Out of a Bad Situation

x-planI read this great post by a dad who counsels a group of young people in recovery from drug addiction. He asked these kids recently: “How many of you have found yourself in situations where things started happening that you weren’t comfortable with, but you stuck around, mainly because you felt like you didn’t have a way out?” They all raised their hands!

Moms and dads, we need to BE our kids’ way out! This dad has a great idea…a deal he has made with his own kids that they can text “x” and it immediately gets a response from home…a phone call to his teen where a “script” is followed, like this:

“Hello?”

“Danny, something’s come up and I have to come get you right now.”

“What happened?”

“I’ll tell you when I get there.  Be ready to leave in five minutes.  I’m on my way.”

Your child knows they can count on you to get them out of a situation that they know isn’t good, but their excuse in front of their peers is “I have to go…I don’t know what’s up, but my Mom just called and she’s coming to get me.” They save face, and they learn how to recognize and withdraw from a bad situation. Here’s the hard part for us as parents: No questions asked, and no recriminations. They get to tell you as much or as little as they want. That’s hard, admittedly, but read HERE why the X-Plan involves keeping that promise to your teen.