From the National Health Institute|
Helping Your Children Navigate Their Teenage Years:
A Guide for Parents
Increasing Responsibility and Freedom
Teenage Brain: A work in progress
You don't trust me . . .
But they're my friends . . .
Everyone else is doing it . . .
Teens need their independence, but
how do you make sure they are safe?
It's tough to decide when to give your teen
more freedom. Do you hang on to the
kite string for as long as you
possibly can, or give the kite
free air? The decision isn't
easy. One parent's decision
for his or her teen may not
be right for other parents
and their teens.
Although every adolescent
is different, there are many
experiences common to the
teenage years. The most common
may be the pull and
push between dependence
Teens, at younger and
younger ages, are putting
themselves at risk for sexually
AIDS—and for pregnancy.
And some teens, and even
younger children, smoke tobacco, drink
alcohol, use other drugs, or commit acts of
violence and other crimes. No wonder so
many parents are concerned, even frightened;
no wonder so many try to control
the behavior of their teenage children.
It is important for parents to make
rules for their young children. As children
get older, however, they need to learn to
make some of their own decisions and life
choices. Teens need the chance to practice
good decision-making skills, and to manage
new life experiences. Parents need to
give teens the freedom to do just that. But
there is a catch: teens must be ready. They
need to agree to behave in responsible
ways and show that they can handle the
freedom. They also need to keep their parents
informed. That way, parents know
when to lend guidance and supervision,
and how to support their teen's progress.
That's where respect, responsibility
and reliability come in.
Respect: Respect is a two-way street, but
it starts with you. Give your teens the
respect that you would like to be given.
Give them credit for their knowledge and
abilities; pay attention and listen to them.
That means showing confidence in your
teens, and being supportive.
Responsibility: Teens are learning to take
care of themselves as they prepare for
adulthood. That's what growing up is all
about. Give them an appropriate amount
of freedom and independence. Encourage
and promote responsibility and good decision-
making, offering support and gentle
help with difficult decisions. Let your
teens know they can gain more freedom
as they demonstrate increasingly responsible
Reliability: Part of growing up is learning
and adapting to rules—rules about driving
and work, rules about drinking and dating,
social rules and family rules. Teens will test
the rules, but over time most will make
these rules part of their lives. This kind of
reliability is worthy of recognition and
praise. When you can rely on your teens
behaving responsibly, it may be time to
give them more freedom.
Parents should believe in their teens; set
high standards for them, encourage them,
expect them to achieve their goals, and
provide consistent love and support—
including practical help—so they can
achieve the promise that lies within them.
Clothes and hair... where do I draw the line?
Jason is doing well in middle school. He's
great with his younger brothers and helps
around the house, but I'm concerned about
some of his new friends. Some have dyed
their hair odd colors; they wear baggy jeans
with their boxer shorts showing. A few have
pierced tongues and tattoos. A while ago,
Jason asked about getting those baggy jeans.
I said no, because the gang kids wear them. I
hoped he'd forget about them, but he has
asked again. Between the drugs in our
neighborhood, baggy jeans, and new friends,
I'm worried. I want to steer him away from
problem kids. Should I let him buy the
jeans? What should I do about his friends?
Adolescents are striving for independence. As
teens prepare for adulthood, parents should
encourage independence, while making sure
their teens don't drift too far from a positive
course. How should parents react to the choices
of their teenage children? In general, extend
trust and give children as much freedom of
choice as they can handle. Be sure to set limits,
too. Your decisions about the baggy jeans and
about your son's friends require careful evaluation
of all the details. You need to think about
your own values, look realistically at where
Jason seems to be headed, understand what he
is doing or wants to do, and determine how
best to promote his safety and growth.
Jason is doing well in school and not getting
into trouble. Success in school gives children
a sense of accomplishment. They can see
a positive future for themselves and are less
to his friends and his preferences in clothing,
you need to gather more information if you're
going to make a smart decision. You need to
know more about your son's friends: What are
they like? Do they use alcohol or other drugs?
Are they in gangs? How does your son feel
about these kids? How does he feel about drug
use? How does he feel about gangs?
Get to Know Your Son's Friends
Ask your son to invite his friends to your
home so you can meet them. You'll show that
you have an open mind. If his friends behave
poorly in your presence, your son will notice.
You also need to understand what the
baggy jeans mean to Jason. Are they just a
style he likes? Or is wearing them a way to
identify with a gang? Sometimes teens
dress differently just to harmlessly show
some independence from the family.
Think back to your own adolescence,
and remember the fashion changes.
There may be some similarities.
Have a discussion with your son
about his friends and about the clothing
he likes to wear. Sometimes discussions
can bridge differences. Maybe
your son will be swayed by what you
say about the jeans and gangs, or maybe he
will convince you that baggy jeans have
become a style that has little to do with
belonging to a gang.
A conversation with your teen can help
you decide whether there is a real problem
or it is just a question of fashion.
Next Handling Tough Situations
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