I’m Free to Do What I WANT! You can’t stop me.

It’s true.  If a teen wants to do something foolish or dangerous, we can’t physically tie them down.  But we don’t have to participate.  Teens need to believe that you take lying and dishonesty, and breaking moral boundaries (whatever those are in your family), VERY seriously.  One father I know would not allow his 15-year-old daughter to stay overnight with her boyfriend, have sex openly, and still be a fully included part of the family.  He, with the support of his wife, and with great sorrow, said she had a choice.  He couldn’t stop her from going to live with her boyfriend as she threatened (why his mother unaccountably allowed this is a mystery to me).  But if she did, she couldn’t come home when she felt like it and enjoy all the benefits of full harmony, support, and participation in family life.  He wouldn’t support or condone her choice.  Because he loved her.  
This young lady was free to foolishly rebel, but not free to enjoy the day-to-day closeness of her loving family.  It was the approaching holidays and missing her family that woke her up to the consequences of her “free” choice.   She came home, broke it off with her boyfriend, and made a complete change in her life.  Four years down the road, the family has complete trust in this once wayward, rebellious daughter.
This “tough love” approach won’t always bring results like this, but the alternative to putting down our foot can be chaos in the home, damage to other siblings, and a child who learns that boundaries can be crossed at will.  For more on the tough love option, read the article (CLICK HERE) “What Tough Love Is, and What It Isn’t.”

The Messy Room

I am visiting a relative right now, and was surprised to see my nephew’s messy room through an open door.  My nephew is an outstanding guy in every way.   And yet…that ROOM!  It brought back memories of my own daughters’ rooms, which looked the same in their adolescent years…in between times when their dad and I went to war with them over their messiness.  So what’s going on with this?    I found an excellent article from Psychology Today, describing the phenomenon first, and giving wise advice next.  Says psychologist Carl Pickhardt “Usually beginning in early adolescence (years 9 – 13) as a function of personal disorganization brought on by more growth change than the young person can easily manage, this state of internal confusion and external disarray quickly attracts parental attention. So to begin with, parents need to understand that early adolescents are honorably disorganized. Their life in childhood has begun to fall apart…. And they don’t know where they grow from here.”

After helping the parent understand how adolescent internal chaos leads to external disorganization, I expected Dr. Pickhardt to advise just closing the door and letting your son or daughter be.  But NO.  He recognizes that the messy room can become an environment that is hard for the teen brain to work in, or (more critically) a battleground for a power struggle.  If so, it may be unwise to relinquish what he calls “a supervisory role” for the parent.  He advises: “Remember,if your child knows you will keep after the small responsibilities, like cleaning up a messy room, he or she also knows this shows you will be keeping after big stuff like obedience to major rules. So cleaning up the messy room is in fact an issue to keep fighting for.”

He even goes on to give specific answers to these objections: “Just close the door and keep out and the mess won’t bother you,” and “This is my room and you can’t come in without my permission.”  Read HERE for suggested responses and more ideas from Dr. Pickhardt.

Home Alone…and Having Sex

When I get teens talking about situations to avoid, one of the ideas they come up with is “Don’t be home alone.”  Indeed, this is a WISE idea.   One study of urban teens showed that “Among the respondents who had had intercourse, 91% said that the last time had been in a home setting.”  More often it was at the boy’s house.   So teens on a Saturday night date making out in the back seat of the car may NOT be the most common impetus to sex.  Instead, it’s an overabundance of unsupervised time…after school…during the summer…when parents are at work.   “The likelihood of intercourse, the number of partners for intercourse, and substance use increased as the amount of unsupervised time increased.”

This is not surprising, of course.  But what the researchers pondered about this bears thinking about.  It might not JUST be a lack of opportunity that keeps some kids from having sex.  It could be that parents whose children have less unsupervised time consequently have more time relating to their parents and siblings.  They may be pursuing clubs, sports or other activities that give them a sense of purpose and self-esteem…and keep them occupied.  Two teens, with hormones, and too many hours with nothing fun to do might just be bored.  And that’s a recipe for a pregnancy or an STD.   If the summer is stretching on, help your teen keep out of trouble by helping him or her come up with some plans to do something fun and productive.

What does it take to resist peer pressure?

What kind of boy or girl resists peer pressure?  And how can I get one of THOSE kids?

All joking aside, there is some indication that a child who is comfortable “negotiating” with his or her mother, one who  stands up for his or her views in the family, might be good at asserting him or herself in a peer pressure situation. The study found that “teens that were best able to resist peer pressure were those who openly expressed their views with their mom. These teens also used reasonable arguments instead of whining or using insults to influence their mother’s opinion on common issues, such as grades, household rules, money and chores.”  So, the next time you’re weary of the child who seems to be wearing you down with arguments, remember that your little debater may also be taking those reasoning skills into social situations where resisting risky behavior is critical to his or her well-being.

Can teens multitask?

You would think, the way that they juggle cell phones, internet and TV…all while doing homework, that the answer would be “Yes.”  But if you were wondering how it is that they can’t both clear the dishes AND remember to take the laundry up the stairs (while walking right around the basket), you might say “No.”

The actual answer is closer to “No,” but it really depends on your son’ or daughter’s age.  An interesting study, linked right here, sheds some light on what’s going on in teen brain development, and when we can expect things to get better.  The article says, “The ability to remember multiple bits of information developed through age 13 to 15, the study found. But strategic self-organized thinking, the type that demands a high level of multi-tasking skill, continues to develop until ages 16 to 17.”  No answers, though, on how to manage parental frustration while we are waiting!

Flash Mob Idea Co-opted by Young Criminals

Cultural phenomena can spring up quickly, and flash mobs are a case in point.  Picking up in popularity in recent years, flash mobs are described on Wikipedia as a “group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and pointless act for a brief time, then disperse. The term flash mob is generally applied only to gatherings organized via telecommunications, social media, or viral emails.”  Up until very recently, we would just consider this good, clean fun.

Unfortunately, what used to be an innocent form of entertainment for young people, has taken an ugly turn.  Crime-by-flash-mob has hit Chicago and other urban centers, and could be coming to the suburbs.  This article describes behavior that has given “flash mobs” a bad name this summer.

In reading the above-linked article, I was reminded of how important the social group is to our teens…and how influential.  According to Scott Decker, a professor of criminology at Arizona State University, “Over 90 percent of crimes committed by young people are done so in a group.”

Whether its sexual activity, drinking, or criminal flash mobs, it’s still imperative to help our teens think through the consequences of getting caught up in something dangerous or criminal.  It was sound advice when we heard it from our parents, and it’s still something our teens need to hear:  “Don’t do something just because it seems like everybody else is doing it.”

House Rules

House rules let your son or daughter know what you expect. They should be clear and fair. You should expect them to be followed. Your pre-teen or teen might complain, but don’t give in. House rules make your child safe and they help your son or daughter make healthy choices.

Hardly any pre-teen or teen will admit that they like rules. But most really do. Rules make them feel loved and safe. They let them know what they can and can not do. Rules give them an easy reason to tell friends, “No, I can’t do that.” So put up House Rules in your house!

Check out your blog next week for a suggested list of “house rules. So do you a set of house rules for your home?

Lying About Sexual Activity?

A few weeks ago I was teaching a parent workshop at a local high school. As I was sharing some statistics about the numbers of teenagers engaging in sexual activity, a father interrupted me with a question, “How do I know if my daughter is doing these things? Is there a way to tell?” I thought for a moment. Unfortunately, there are very few signs to let a parent know if their child is involved in sexual activity. Here are a few (rather blunt) examples:

1. Hickies or a disheveled appearance after a night out. (If you see it, say something.)

2. If your teen has been a social drinker, smoked, or has used drugs – negative behaviors come in clumps.

3. If your teen spends time with friends that you think may be sexually active, or engaged in one of these other risky behaviors – your teen could be influenced.

4. If your teen spends a great deal of time away from your house, is left in the house unsupervised before you get home from work, or chooses to be locked away in a bedroom or basement with a friend of the opposite sex when they “hang out.”

Those may seem obvious, parents, but they’re worth stating. Don’t be afraid to address these points with your teen.

But the best way to know if your teenager has become sexually active is to ask him or her outright. Use a non-accusatory, open ended question: “I heard a story about a girl today who… What do you think about that? Have you experienced any of that?” Getting a straight answer from your teenager requires that you build the foundation first. If your teen is used to you asking open ended questions that encourage dialogue, he or she has a better chance of answering all your questions honestly. When it comes time to ask about sex, hopefully his habit will stick. It’s best to start early. Parents, as you are forming the value of honesty in your children, be aware of your own tendency to fib or lie. We know kids mimic what they see.

Sometimes, however, despite your best efforts, your teens will still lie when faced with such a question. It’s not because you haven’t done a good job raising them. Their lying has more to do with their development – and wanting things their way – than it does with your parenting. This article states that tweens lie in order to grow in independence. They gloss over details, and occasionally like to pull a fast one on their parents to “see if they can get away with it.” A second article says that older teenagers often lie to avoid getting caught – but we all knew that. The best way to respond when you think or know they are lying is to ask why. If parents come at teens wanting to reason, it may open up a path for communication. Instant lecture will close it down.

Overall, parents, if you want to know what your teenagers are doing with the opposite sex – be involved in their lives. Know their friends, and their friends families. Be aware of their extracurricular activities. Be around, and available to help them reach goals.