Uncommon advice for parents with teens

  1. You're judge and jury, and there is no parole. One of the most important lessons is that of natural consequences. They teach your teenager cause and effect -- so a mere understanding of these laws shouldn't let your kid off the hook.
  2. Resist giving advice, even when your teenager asks for it. Teenagers seek your advice because they have momentarily lost belief in themselves. They need to borrow your belief in them until they can restore it in themselves, which is regained by having them work out their own problems. Don't take your teenager's request for advice too literally until the third time he or she asks. As one parent says, "The less advice I offer the more he talks to me."
  3. Forget heart-to-heart talks. Communicate indirectly. Sometimes, in order to be heard, you need to write a letter so that your kids can digest your thoughts on their own time, when they are less defensive and more open to what you have to say. Tapes also work, and you can even instruct them through people they admire˜what you may tell them is ignored; the same piece of advice from an admired teacher is "sheer brilliance."
  4. Embrace estrangement. The development of personal identity during adolescence includes moving away from, but not becoming disconnected from family in order to establish independence. Your teenager needs to show himself he doesn't need you. Expect to be criticized as part of this process, as your child learns that you are not perfect.
  5. Be selfish. Take care of yourself˜schedule leisure time, spend money on yourself, have friends. How you treat yourself sets an example for your kid.
  6. Let your teenager brood. You lament that your children are so much more sociable when they're with strangers than with you, but be comforted in the fact that home is a place where it is safe to vent frustrations, and a place to sort through and make sense of their changing lives. They believe their friends will abandon them if they behave this way, so they hold in pent-up emotions for when they come home, where they are free to express their true feelings of anger, self-doubt, and confusion (without being kicked out).
  7. Expect inconsistency. Your teenager is a cauldron of emotional, physical, and hormonal changes, struggling between the life of the lost kid and the emerging adult. It's a poltergeist˜your child is occasionally inhabited by a strange being (the inner adult) that will eventually take over. Expect her to fluctuate between these two people; she can't help it.
  8. Give your kid a "cocktail" hour. Just like adults use the cocktail hour to decompress from their day, so, too, do teenagers need time alone (often in their room, to the accompaniment of loud music, which mutes anxiety and provides perspective).
  9. Let your kid do the worrying. If you do all the worrying for your teen, he will feel as if he's off the hook. The goal is to give the appropriate amount of worrying back to the teenager so he can begin to take responsibility for himself, but not so much worrying that he is overwhelmed.

Adapted by Cynthia Traina and excerpted from "Uncommon Sense for Parents with Teenagers." Copyright © 1995 by Michael Riera. Reprinted with permission from Celestial Arts, Berkeley, CA.

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