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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.

Member 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.

Member 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 distancing.

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 with those.

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