How to cope with the tough teenage years

Parenting teens is a tough, stressful job these days, but the payoff can be huge with a reserve of patience and the drive to ask for help when needed.

Parenting teens is a tough, stressful job these days, but the payoff can be huge with a reserve of patience and the drive to ask for help when needed. Here are some strategies:

DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE Adolescence is about struggle — for identity, independence, but the grab for power often competes with the intense need for reassurance at home and conformity among peers. Teens may fight the leash while also taking comfort in it. Dr. Robin Goodman, a child psychologist and art therapist in New York City, suggests parents lengthen the tether, stay involved and step in sooner rather than later when newfound freedoms are abused. Remember, she said, defiance is a tool used by teens. It’s nothing personal.

IN THE HEAT OF THE MOMENT Dr. Mark Goulston, a Los Angeles psychiatrist who once trained FBI hostage negotiators, said parents must leave behind their fear, denial and “don’t ask, don’t tell” avoidance of confrontation and trust their guts in recognizing potentially violent behavior. To help rather than hinder, try calming down an upset adolescent in a heated moment by repeating what he says in a slow, measured tone. Hopefully, he’ll begin to listen at the speed you’re talking and feel validated rather than violated.

HELP! MY TEEN IS AN ALIEN Sarah Newton, author of the book “Help! My Teenager is an Alien,” said parents must learn to translate the intergalactic language of their kids to help make things run smoothly. Some parents are fond of the opening lines: “I know how you feel” or “In my day.” But you don’t know what it’s like to be a teen today, so stop what you’re doing, look them in the eyes and zip your lips. Try to see a situation from their point of view, not through your own filters. Make it clear you want to understand and need their help.

BE A PARENT, NOT A PAL Parenting is not a popularity contest. Don’t be afraid for your child not to like you for a time over words spoken or rules imposed. Mix criticism with praise. Be respectful, not insulting, and don’t dismiss your teens’ feelings or opinions as silly or senseless, said Rick Edwards, inpatient program director at the nonprofit Southwest Mental Health Center, a children’s psychiatric hospital in San Antonio, Texas.

LETTING GO OF GUILT Dr. Jason Stein, a family therapist in Los Angeles, said parents of out-of-control teens are often vilified, leading to unnecessary guilt.  AP

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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