Her popular book for teens, How to Say No and Keep Your Friends, 2nd Ed., empowers kids to stand out—not just fit in!
A follow-up book for teens, When to Say Yes! And Make More Friends, shows adolescents how to select and meet quality friends and, in general, feel good for doing and being good. More Information
School Age Childrens Books
Advice for Parenting Teens
Tips from the Teacher
A Parent-Friendly Guide of Teacher Tips and Useful Tricks You Can Use to Help Your Child Succeed in School Today
by Jennifer Cummings, M.Ed.
Helping Your Children Navigate Their Teenage Years:
A Guide for Parents
Handling Tough Situations
Teenage Brain: A work in progress
Teenagers, like all of us, sometimes
need help and guidance, but it can
sometimes be difficult for parents to recognize
when to intervene in their teenager's
life. You know about the challenges
that today's teenagers face—some of
which are different than those you experienced
as a teen. Understanding these challenges,
and knowing when and how to
intervene to help your child overcome
them, is an essential role for parents.
It is also a difficult role. Being able to
tell the difference between normal teenage
behavior and self-destructive, hurtful
behavior is critical. The following examples
are designed to help you understand some of the
warning signs that your teenager may need help.
Read through these examples and see if any sound familiar.
Remember, though, that every teenager
is different and there is often no clear
answer to your specific situation. If you are
concerned, talk to your teenage children. At
a minimum, let them know how you feel
and tell them that you would like to talk. If
you are still concerned, or if you think that
your teenagers may hurt themselves or others,
you should get help immediately.
I was called to my 13-year-old son's school
today because he stole some money from
another boy during lunch. This wasn't the
first incident. A few weeks ago, the principal
called because Keith made another
boy take the blame for graffiti he wrote
on the school bus. No matter what we tell
him, he constantly seems to get in trouble.
What can I do?
You certainly have reason to be concerned
about your son's behavior. He is acting like a
bully and needs your help to put on the
brakes. The principal was right to call. The
school can set a clear standard—no bullying—
and make sure that your son understands
the consequences for violations of this
rule. You, too, need to make clear that you
disapprove of bullying. You need to help
your son develop empathy—which is the
ability to understand how other people
feel—and to care about others'
feelings. You will probably want to
impose consequences on your son
for his unacceptable behavior. Be
firm, but do it in a loving way. Right
now your son needs your
empathy, understanding, and
love. By providing this, you
can show the power of caring
about others in a positive way.
This still leaves the bigger
part of the problem—getting
to the reasons for your son's
behavior. You have to talk with him to determine
why he is being a bully. What leads
your son to behave in such hurtful ways?
With your help, or with the assistance of
a professional, your son can understand his
own motives for bullying. Some young people
are bullies because they are bored and
crave excitement; some do it to feel powerful;
some engage in this behavior as a
response to family problems; some do it for
attention and to be popular with their peers.
You need to ask him very detailed questions:
- Did you plan to take the other boy's
lunch money beforehand, or was it a
- Why did you pick on that particular person?
- What were you thinking when you did it?
(Ex: I need the money; I'll look cool.)
- How did you feel when you did it? (Ex:
Excited, thrilled, frightened, powerful).
- How do you think the other boy felt?
- What's happening in your life or in our
family that may be upsetting you?
When you understand the details of
what happened, you can determine how to
help your child. For example, if your son
stole money because he saw it sitting on a
lunch tray and had a sudden urge to grab
it, he will need to learn to recognize his
impulses, and to stop them. If he planned
to steal money, preselected a victim and
stole because he wanted to look important,
he will need to learn positive ways to
make friends and gain peer acceptance.
We have to help our children learn
healthy and socially acceptable ways to
cope with urges and anger, and to satisfy
their emotional needs appropriately. A big
challenge? Yes. But it's part of growing up
and becoming a good citizen.
Drug Use and Failure in School
Our 16-year-old daughter, Julia, was
caught drinking at a party. We suspect
that she has smoked marijuana, too.
She has been doing poorly in school—
in fact, now she's neglecting her school-work
and failing one subject. We set
up required study time, but it hasn't
helped. She misses curfews and hasn't
been doing her chores. We've talked with
her about alcohol, drugs, and sex, and
we've been clear about the rules and
consequences when she has broken them.
Obviously, it hasn't worked. She says
I'm a nag. What else can I do?
Alcohol and Substance Abuse
Julia's drinking and possible drug use may
be the tip of the iceberg. Alcohol and other
drug use often occur along
with other serious problems.
First, you need to talk to Julia and
find out what drugs she is using and
how often she is using them. Don't confront
her when she seems to be under
the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
Wait until she is straight and sober. Then
discuss your suspicions with her calmly
and objectively, as you begin a dialogue.
Bring in other members of the family
to help, if necessary.
Second, impose whatever discipline
your family has decided on for violating
the rules, and stick to it. Don't relent
because she promises never to do it again.
Make sure that she knows that her use of
alcohol and other drugs is a serious problem
and that she is harming herself.
If Julia has developed a pattern of drug
use or has engaged in heavy use, you
should get immediate help. If you do not
know about drug treatment programs in
your area, call your doctor, local hospital,
or county mental health center for a referral.
Your school district should have a substance
abuse coordinator or a counselor
who can refer you to treatment programs,
too. Parents whose children have been
through treatment programs can also provide
Many young people lie about their
alcohol and drug use. If you think Julia is
not being truthful and the evidence is
pretty strong, you may wish to have her
evaluated by a health professional
experienced in diagnosing adolescents
with alcohol- and drug-related problems.
Listed in the box at right are signs
that may indicate problems with alcohol
or other drugs. They could also
indicate other problems, not related to
drugs. In either case, if you observe
significant changes in your teen's
behavior, something is wrong. Start a
dialogue with your teen about the
problems. If you are still confused
about whether alcohol or other drugs
are part of the problem, or if you recognize
that a substance abuse problem exists,
get professional help.
Failure in school is another serious issue,
but nagging is the wrong approach, and
enforcing study times usually doesn't work,
either. Parents often assume that school
problems are caused by lack of effort, and that
making kids study more will improve their performance.
Usually there is much more to it. For example,
children may be having trouble
with academic work and need tutoring.
They may have a learning disability or they
may need help with study skills (understanding
how, when and where to study).
They may also be upset about something
at home, at school, or with peers, that is
interfering with their concentration. Even
when the amount of effort invested in
schoolwork is deficient, usually the underlying
cause is discouragement, rather than
laziness. The remedy is support, not more
pressure. We need strategies to get teens
thinking and solving problems for themselves.
Dialogue is the most effective way
to get them started.
How long ago did Julia start slacking off in
school? What do you think has been holding her back?
You need answers to these questions to determine how
to correct the problem. Encourage Julia to consult with her
teachers or the school counselor, and offer to participate
in these meetings. If need be, you can consult with the school
or get other professional help. Using all available resources,
you and your daughter should be able to determine
the causes of the problem. Once you know
the causes, the solutions should become
clearer. Your daughter will still have some
obstacles to overcome, but at least she will
be headed in the right direction.
Sarah has never had much confidence.
High school is harder than she expected.
My husband and I are divorced, and
this has been very hard on her. Now,
she looks and acts absolutely exhausted,
doesn't sleep, and just sits in her room
crying with her door closed. When she
goes out, she dresses all in black clothing
and wears heavy black eye shadow.
I have tried to talk to her, but she acts
angry and won't say a word to me. I
can't tell if Sarah is just "going through
a phase or is truly depressed.
The teen years offer new experiences and
challenges that can be exciting, but also
stressful. The stress of adolescence is one
of many factors that can make young people
unhappy. Teenagers are also experiencing
hormonal changes which can affect
their mood. Some sadness and mood
swings are a normal part of life. But when
the "blues last for weeks, or interfere with
school, home, or other activities, your
teen may be suffering from clinical depression.
Depression, a mood disorder that is
a real medical illness, is often unrecognized,
but can be effectively treated.
When teens, or anyone, are very upset
about things, they need to talk with someone
who cares and can help. Parents
should be concerned and talk with their
child about his or her unhappiness,
whether it is a temporary state or a case
of clinical depression. We should set an
example of confronting problems, head on.
It is sometimes hard to tell when teens
are depressed, because the symptoms may
be hard to read. For example, you may
mistake a sleep disturbance, which can be
a sign of depression, for a late-night television
habit, or your teen may only reveal her sadness in writings
that contain morbid themes. Teens may say they are "bored
when, in fact, they are depressed. In addition,
signs of depression may vary among
cultural groups: Teens in some groups experience
sadness or guilt; while others experience
more physical symptoms, such as
headaches and nervousness.
Clearly, Sarah is unhappy and may be
suffering from depression. What is going on
in her life to make her feel this way? Think
about past and present problems. When did
this crying begin? Did it coincide with family tension, or the divorce, or problems in
school? How is she getting along with
friends? How are things in your family, now?
Are there any other problems or symptoms?
The answers to these questions provide clues
about what is wrong and how to help her.
Depression does increase the risk of
suicidal behavior. Many teens think about
suicide, and some of them follow through.
Parents should be especially concerned and
get professional help immediately if additional
warning signs are evident, such as
when a child has a history of previous suicidal behavior,
hints at not being
around in the future, expresses a desire
to die, gives away prized possessions, has
experienced a recent loss, or makes
threats of suicide. Sarah needs to talk
with someone who cares and can help.
Give her an opportunity to discuss her
feelings and what is causing them. If she
won't find an adult with whom she can talk, such as a family
physician or a mental health professional.
Anger and Violence
My 16-year-old son, James, is failing in
school. He is often angry, has no interest
in our family, and sometimes doesn't
come home until 4 a.m. I have no idea
what he's doing and worry he might get
into trouble. At home, he spends most
of the time in his room playing violent
video games and listening to music with
violent lyrics. I've heard him plotting
"revenge with friends, and he seems to
always be talking about different
weapons. This worries me, but I don't
really believe he would hurt anyone.
What can I do?
You are right to be worried. Although it
is difficult to predict who will become
violent, there are certain risk factors that
may warn of possible danger. It is important
to keep in mind that the presence of
these signs does not necessarily mean that
a person will become violent. These risk
factors include: a history of violent or
aggressive behavior, carrying weapons
or access to weapons, the use of alcohol
and other drugs, isolation from
family and/or peers, poor grades, and
trouble controlling anger. The more of
these warning signs we see, the more
we believe that children are "at
risk for violent behavior. No single
factor indicates a problem, but
if we see a pattern of several risk
factors, it's time to take precautions.
James exhibits many of these
warning signs. He is isolated from
his family, failing in school and staying out much
too late at night.
He has discussed weapons, has a
problem with anger, and you heard
him plotting revenge. Has James
been bullied, or excluded, or teased
by peers or family members?
Children who have been bullied,
mistreated by others, or feel they
have been mistreated, are also at
higher risk for being violent than those who
have not. The same is true for children who
feel rejected or alone.
As you consider various risk factors, bear
in mind that these are "red flags, not predictors
of violence. They are warning signs
of possible trouble. After some of the recent
high profile shootings in schools, the media
has publicized lists of warning signs. These
lists can be used to unfairly label nonviolent
youth as dangerous, because many adolescents
who will never become violent will
show some of the red flag behaviors.
Still, parents should recognize these
warning signs and use them as a cue that
something is wrong and a child needs help.
When parents see a serious problem
affecting their child and can't seem to
resolve it, they should connect with someone
who can. To help James, you should
look for a child/family mental health
professional who is well-respected in your
community and experienced in working
with adolescents and their families.
When a teen exhibits a number of warning
signs for violence, as James does, parents
should act promptly—for safety's sake. As a
precaution, they should
make sure their children do not have access
to firearms, and remove other dangerous
materials or objects from the home.
Next Managing Anger: Theirs and Yours
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