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Teen Minds: What Are They Thinking?

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Scene 1: A teenager arrives home one hour past curfew, without having called. continued...

Of course they care, and so does the teen (although he may not realize it) says Elkind, but if the ground rules aren't well established, there's bound to be trouble. What happens too often is that parents don't anticipate the possibilities and therefore don't set rules, and when the unwritten rules are "broken" they don't have anything to fall back on.

"One of the things that helps in that situation is if guidelines have been set in advance, if the parents says 'If you come home late, this is what's going to happen,' so that it doesn't come out of the blue."

Even though most teens rebel outwardly against limits, "they want them because it means that the parents care enough to risk a confrontation, and that means that they love them," Elkind says.

Scene 2: A teen is thinking about experimenting with marijuana.

What the parent may be thinking: Marijuana can be a "gateway" drug. We don't want her making the same mistakes we made.

What the teen may be thinking: They smoked pot when they were my age. Why can't I?

Honesty is the best policy here, says Elkind. "If parents did smoke, they should say so: 'I did that when I was kid, at a time when we were all experimenting.'"

But parents also have to realize that their children aren't under their guidance all the time, and should not make limits that they can't enforce. They can, however, let the teen know what the consequences will be if they discover it after the fact.

If nothing else, the teen is likely to think, "Well, at least they're being honest with me and aren't trying to deny it." Adolescents have highly refined lie detectors, and are pretty good at sensing when parents are hesitating or beating around the bush, Elkind says.

And if the kid counters with "Well you did it, why can't I?" the parents' best comeback might be, "We all learn from mistakes and we're hoping that you can benefit from ours. We didn't know as much about it then or about how harmful its long-term effects can be as we know now."

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