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Guiding Your Child Through Teenage Years

Apr 17, 2008
Preteens and teens face numerous choices and decisions as they learn to become independent and express their individuality-often by exploring different clothes, hairstyles, friends, music, hobbies, religions, political issues, and social causes. They have an innate need to find things out for themselves-to test their feelings and ideas about life. They may reject their parents' values and challenge their rules, often pushing the limits placed on them by adults and society.

Teenagers change constantly. They may be helpful and kind 1 minute and cross and rude the next. Adolescents sometimes want to be alone and keep their thoughts to themselves; at other times they want to be with their parents and share their feelings. Let your child know that his or her ideas and feelings are important to you by spending more time listening to your child than talking. Listen actively by nodding and reflecting your child's words periodically to show that you're really hearing what's being said.

Teenagers get conflicting messages from their parents, their peers, and the media. As they struggle with the increasing need to "belong" socially, they may also feel pressure to perform academically. For some adolescents, these challenges are complicated by difficult family situations, dangerous neighborhoods, or exposure to alcohol or other drugs. Without support or guidance, many teens fall victim to behaviors that place them, and others, at risk. Dropping out of school, running away from home, joining a gang, or using alcohol or drugs can jeopardize a child's ability to mature-physically, emotionally, and intellectually. These risky behaviors can sometimes lead to depression, social isolation, and suicide.

Show confidence in your child and expect the best. Praise your child often for jobs well done. Teenagers are less likely to engage in high-risk behavior if their parents set clear expectations for success and are emotionally available. Stay in contact with your child's teachers and school and encourage your child to be involved in positive activities such as sports, music, theater, or academic clubs. Teenagers who are busy with activities that require a commitment tend to do better in school and are more likely to have the self-confidence to resist negative peer pressure.

One of the hardest parts of being a parent is that, in spite of all your knowledge and experience, you can't always prevent your child from making mistakes. Children have to learn many things for themselves-often the hard way. As your child gets older, your ability to manage or control his or her behavior steadily diminishes. Your child begins to learn more from his or her own experiences, observations, and peer group. This does not mean that you should be passive in your relationship with your child. What teens need most is reliable information but they accept it best when you give it in the form of advice rather than orders. Try to talk to your children like a friend and avoid being too judgmental. Teenagers should be given an opportunity to freely express their emotions with feeling like they are being alienated.
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