Nothing Good Happens in the Woods

I found this article a great reminder not to settle for “at least” parenting. Too often, starting with young children, the temptation to do the least arises. Give a toddler an iPod because “at least they’re not whining;” give a child a phone because “at least you can get in touch with them;” drive your teen to the party so that “at least they won’t drive drunk.” Parenting is hard work, but when did it become appropriate to do the least? Pick your battles, but “at least” fight them!

It’s a new year. Where in your parenting can you make a resolution to do MORE?

My Daughter’s Friend Had an Abortion

While many of the topics discussed on this blog are more theoretical in nature — focusing on research studies and circumstances we as parents would like to prevent — sometimes we face very personal parenting challenges. Over the next few weeks, we’d like to address some of the tough situations that parents face, or that they may need to help their children face.

As a parent of a teen, it is likely that even if your own child dodges the worst case scenarios, his or her friends won’t all be so lucky. And if they have been lucky and safe so far, statistically, it is only a matter of time before your child will know someone who has gotten pregnant, or had an abortion, or been abused, or tried drugs, or, or, or. So this week, let’s consider what happens if your child’s friend has an abortion, and either the friend feels safe telling you directly or your child comes to you for advice on how to help her friend.

While the moral and political beliefs surrounding abortion vary widely, it is fairly safe to say that no one plans on having an abortion. The young woman who has experienced an abortion has gone through a crisis in her life — a sudden change in plans that for many people elicits surprising emotional responses. It is likely that you or your child, upon hearing about the abortion, may also experience an emotional response that you did not expect, particularly if someone in your family has strong convictions about abortion or has personally experienced an abortion. I would caution you to deal with these emotions separately from helping your child’s friend. Then, when you or your child are in a position to reach out to the young woman who had an abortion, keep the following in mind:

First, it is important to understand what emotions a teenager might be experiencing after having an abortion. Many teens can experience conflicting, confusing, and painful emotions during this time. She may feel relief: relief that the crisis is over and she can move on without any big changes to her lifestyle. Sadly, the relief she feels can be short-lived and can turn into many other emotions such as denial, depression, and anger.

Denial can come in the form of refusing to believe the pregnancy and abortion even happened. This is one way her mind can try to block out the painful experience. After the denial passes, depression or regret can cause her to feel sad and have crying episodes. Many post-abortive teens have found it difficult to be around pregnant women and babies because it acts as a reminder of the baby she aborted.  Alongside depression can surface anger. Anger can occur when she feels upset at herself for going through with the abortion, even if it was her choice all along. Also, she may feel anger towards the baby’s father and others who may have encouraged her to abort, or who didn’t provide her with the support she wanted during the pregnancy. With all of these feelings surfacing, it may be compounded by the fact that she feels very alone. She may feel (justifiably) uneasy talking to others because they may judge her or openly tell others about it.

Restore After AbortionWhat can you (or your child) do to help? You can offer her emotional support so she knows there are people who care about her. Be understanding and tell her you will be there for her while she is working through all the emotions. Tell her it is common to experience these emotions and give her hope it will get better.  Also, it is important to direct her to post-abortion support services. Locally, Avenue Women’s Center offers a program called Restore, which offers a safe, confidential, and nonjudgmental environment for teenagers to talk to professional staff and other post-abortive teenagers about their abortion experiences. This can reassure her she is not alone and help her get to the point of acceptance and healing in her life.


Teen Drinking Has a Social Payoff

We knew this, didn’t we?  If you’re a teen who “parties,” you are more popular.  The Chicago Tribune reported on a study showing that “Teens who reported occasional drinking and getting drunk tended to have higher ‘social connectedness’ than their abstaining peers.”  Last year, this blog reported that teens who have good friends who drink tend to get their first drink from a  friend, rather than their parents.  It may be a good time to acknowledge, and bring out into the open, what is probably evident to your teen.  Popularity may go up if he or she drinks and gets drunk…but that still doesn’t make it wise or desirable.  Just having a lot of friends doesn’t guarantee quality friendships.  Friends that are worth having care what happens to you, and want you to have a safe, healthy experience as you go through the teen years.

Why Teens are So Self-Centered

Well, that explains it!  Recent research has determined that when our son or daughter exhibits a breathtaking lack of compassion and understanding, it’s because of a deficiency in the ability to experience empathy.  Empathy refers to the ability to share someone else’s feelings or perspective…to “step into his shoes.”  As in other areas, boys are a bit older when their ability to empathize increases–15 rather than 13 like girls–according to the research.  In a Huffington Post article, Psychologist Barbara Greenburg gives 5 tips on helping teens develop empathy.  Here are three:

  • Point out social cues.
  • Make your teens aware of how much impact their behavior may have on others.
  • Praise your teen when he or she exhibits empathetic behavior.

Teens More Likely to Drink if Close Friends Do

Teens who have good friends who drink are likely to get their first drink from a friend, rather than from family, revealed a study reported on by  “In the study, having pals who drank and had access to booze was the most important factor in predicting when a kid started drinking — trumping a teen’s own trouble-making tendencies and a family history of alcoholism.”

I couldn’t help but think of the times I, in my quest to be cool and popular, brought little “airline” bottles of alcohol (which I had gotten from my parents’ liquor cabinet) to the junior high dances.  And I appeared to most people, including the parents of my friends, as a “good kid.”  I wonder which of my friends back then were introduced to alcohol by me?

So be alert and aware, parents, to the influences on your teens.  And remember, that boy or girl who has been coming to your house since kindergarten may change, and take a different path from the one you want your teen to travel.

A Teen’s Date’s Social Circle is Powerful Influence

I call still recall my disbelief when a dad at a parent presentation told me he had not yet met his 13-year-old son’s girlfriend of 3 months.  I urged him to get to know this young lady pronto (and wanted to tell him that I thought dating in middle school at all was a bad idea).  It seems that I could have also added, “and get to know her social network as well.”

A recent study showed that the friends of a teen’s significant other are more influential with regard to alcohol use that the teen’s own friends or boyfriend/girlfriend.  My mind flashed back to the point at which I began to get drunk at parties in high school.  It was when I was with my new boyfriend and his friends.  When that boyfriend exited the picture (replaced by one who was not a drinker), my drunken episodes ceased.   Similarly, when another date used pot, I did as well.  Parents, it’s not enough to know your teen’s date; you need to know about their friend-group as well.  Asking questions (“So have you made new friends now that you’re dating Alexa? Tell me about them….”) is a good start.