Talking with Your Teen -- David Elkind, PhD
We know our kids well, and
we know whether or not they are responsive to pressure. If we think our kids
are basically responsible young people, we should communicate that rather than
questioning whether they do or not. Leave it at that rather than interrogating
him after the fact.
question: I have a 14-year-old
(15 in November) who is ADHD. We have a lot of trouble communicating. He lies
about little things (not so much the bigger/important things). Every
conversation we have is an argument -- he has to be right and has to have the
last word. It is hard to differentiate between what is normal teenage years,
typical boy, and ADHD. HELP!
Elkind: It is difficult because sometimes being diagnosed
and on medication, there can be a lot of resentment from being treated special,
and so on, that can come out in other ways. Sometimes it's a personality trait.
I often find that when kids behave this way, often someone in the family has
the same characteristic.
Sometimes kids argue for the
sake of arguing simply because they are able to do it. Because of new mental
abilities that emerge in adolescence, they are able to argue for the sake of
arguing, much like children babble to practice verbal skills.
The need to be right all the
time can be a personal thing; it may be one way to express anger and resentment
of the whole issue of taking medication or being treated specially, or again it
may be a personality feature of someone else in the family.
question: My 16-year-old daughter
is an excellent student and has never given me a reason to be concerned until
recently. Last March 2002, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. This was very
difficult for my daughter to accept and understand. She has become somewhat
distant and communication between us has dropped off. Could she be doing this
as a defense mechanism and distancing herself from me because she is afraid
that I am going to die? She can't understand why I am not as energetic as I was
and she resents that. I am a single parent with only my daughter and I want to
remain as close and as honest as possible. How can I get her to tell me what
she is felling about my disease?
Elkind: Clearly, a difficult situation, and I think you
are right. Her distance is a defense. She's terribly anxious and frightened
about losing you and that this might mean she might have breast cancer herself
at some point. She has a lot going on. One way for her to deal with it is the
If she's willing maybe she
can talk to a therapist. It may be difficult for her to show you her emotions
right now because they are so conflicted. She's both afraid and angry, and
doesn't know how to deal with those. Rather than deal with the emotions, she's
distancing herself. It may be useful for her to see someone to help her deal