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WHAT ARE YOUR TEENS GETTING UP TO?
Teen behaviour in the home seems difficult enough, but it’s even more daunting worrying what your teen’s getting up to outside of the home domain. Most parents’ biggest fear is their teen will get out of their depth in situations where, e.g., drink and drugs might be available or they may be pressured to have sex.
Add to this the fact your teen feels autonomous and independent when as a parent you know they still need guidance. But try to give them a little advice and they often repay you with a look saying you’re the most pitiful person on earth because they "know-it-all".
Many parents acknowledge rows are often triggered by what they perceive as a disrespectful "I know-it-all" attitude when it comes to things like going out, drugs and sex. However it's not necessarily your teen being disrespectful, but rather part of a normal process of "separation" from you.
The first stage of separation is when children pass through the toddler phase as their personality forms. But a further and somewhat trickier stage of separation occurs during adolescence in terms of decision making and taking control of their lives. Imagine if a colleague or family member was always telling you they "knew what was best for you". You'd pull away with your own "I know-it-all" attitude and that’s how many teens feel.
The key to dealing with all sorts of concerns outside the home is to work with this attitude - that yes they do know some of it and you simply want to add to their knowledge! Generally speaking the approach I encourage is "flexible firmness". This entails discussion with your teen about the various issues they'll face. Their feelings and opinions are acknowledged, but you combine this with setting boundaries where you know they need setting, e.g. with curfews.
Let's take each challenging area separately. First, though some general advice that will equip your teen with the skills to make good decisions includes:
1. Lead by your example. If you get hysterical easily or scream when angry then your teen will probably behave this way. Getting a grip on your own behaviour will give them a good role model.
2. Let them know they’re loved. If your teenager seems positively awful at times, they’ll pick up on your negative feelings. If you don't let them know how loveable they are at other times you can damage their self-esteem. Research shows the lower their self-esteem, the more likely they’ll become depressed and/or abuse drugs, alcohol or have sex before they're ready.
3. Know who their friends are and encourage them to invite them over. If they feel there's a welcoming attitude at home they’re more likely to bring friends home giving you the chance to monitor their friendships. Any friends that you feel are a bad influence you should discuss tactfully, but honestly, your concerns with your teen.
4. Think before you punish them if they've overstepped the mark. When you're enraged because, e.g., they've come home drunk, cool down before you set a punishment. Because if while your angry you say they're grounded for “three months” (a bit excessive!) you’ll only backtrack later. What's important with discipline is that it's consistent. You can ground them or take away privileges like pocket-money, phone use, and/or television.
5. During the pre-teen years children often start to give up hobbies and interests. Socialising can completely take over. Encourage your child to keep one sport, hobby, or activity going, to give them a focus that is solely their own and not dependent on their peers. Research shows that teens with at least one strong interest, particularly in sport, are less likely to use drugs or alcohol in appropriately.
6. Take a day-by-day approach. Parents can feel overwhelmed when they see months and years ahead of "bad" teenage behaviour. Tackling issues as they arise will help you get through things.
7. Never give up on your teen! You may face dark days, e.g., where you discover they've been taking drugs or have had sex too early, but don't turn your back on them.
* Freedom & Curfews - Keeping an open dialogue about where they're going and what they're doing is imperative. However you have the right to set certain curfews and ensure they avoid any “hot spots” where you know teens hang out and, e.g., take drugs. Every neighbourhood seems to have such an area!
Many parents are right to be concerned when their teen wants to hang out, e.g. in shopping malls for hours on end. Some "hanging out" is fine but if your teen spends hours and hours hanging out in malls they’re likely to end up looking for other adventures. Balance is important with such matters.
It's important that as your teen gets older you allow of them more input into curfews and freedom to spend their time how they wish. Right from the outset you should agree certain principles like they have to complete schoolwork and household chores before meeting friends.
Don't be fooled by the plea that their friends get to "stay out much later" than they do. Ring up their friends' parents and as parents together agree a reasonable time for your teens to be home. More and more parents are working successfully together like this.
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My new book The Emotional Eater's Diet is published in the UK on May 15 - I’m very excited as I hope emotional eaters - women or men will find it helpful. Each year 2/3s of people start a diet and 20% start a new diet each month. Yet 95% of diets aren’t successful.
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