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Talking with Your Teen -- David Elkind, PhD

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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.

Between the two of you it's difficult -- you can say to her, "I know you are frightened, and angry too, but we have to deal with it." Verbalizing may help. We have to deal with reality, but sometimes at that age, they may be able to really listen. So see if it is possible for her to see someone, even a close friend who can talk to her without the emotional overlay that's there between you.

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