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Take Time to Connect and Talk With Your Teen

Being a teenager is often a dance of push and pull. "Adolescents want to be independent and dependent at the same time," says Benjamin Siegel, MD, pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on the psychosocial aspects of child & family health. "On one hand, they want to assert their independence. On the other, they need their parents."

Your teen probably feels intense pressure to fit in. She may not know how to talk about it. She may not talk much at all. It may take extra effort to connect with her, but chances are she hopes you will. "The more we understand what kids are going through, the more empathic we can be towards them," says Siegel.

Be the 'Bad' Guy

Your rules and structure give your teen a framework for understanding the world, even if he protests. When Wallace asks teens what their parents could do to discourage drinking, the answers were surprisingly simple:

  • Talk to us. Teens say they want to know what their parents think and how they make decisions.
  • Punish us. Teens who break rules typically wait to see what happens. If there are no consequences, the rules don’t matter.
  • Limit overnight visits. Not having to go home can be too much freedom to handle.
  • Wait up for us. Knowing they have to face mom or dad, or both, in a few hours makes most teens think twice about the shape they’ll be in when they get home.

Encourage Your Teen’s Opinions

Raise your child to have opinions, even if they drive you mad, says Rachel Fleissner, MD, a member of the workgroup on consumer issues for the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. An opinionated child has practice speaking his own mind.

Fleissner tells the story of an opinionated young patient whose parents were fed up with his mouthing off. "The child is entitled to his opinion. That doesn’t mean things are always going to go his way," she says. "He needs to learn to think through how he arrived at his opinion and whether it’s worth arguing over."

Teach Relationship Skills

"Kids need friends. Building relationships is an important part of their development," says Siegel, and parents have a role in this learning process. You know that relationships are often messy. Your child may not have figured that out yet. Siegel suggests frequent conversations that will help your child develop friendship skills. Open with questions such as:

  • What do you like about your friend?
  • What are you getting out of the friendship?
  • What happens when you don’t agree with your friend?

Observe and Comment on Teen Peer Pressure

"Some children come under the influence of a close friend who constantly acts out," says Hedrick. If this sounds like your child, your challenge is to share your point of view without criticizing the friend. Lay your worries on the table in a matter-of-fact way. For example:

  • "You seem to break the rules every time Johnny comes over."
  • "I get calls from other parents when you and Johnny hang out."

Some situations call for dramatic action. Fleissner recalls a family who moved across state lines to remove their son from a destructive friend network. He didn’t like it at the time, but thanked his parents years later.  

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