Sunday, August 29, 2010

Tracking your Teen

Working Mother magazine, December/January 2010
By: Irene Chang, Photo: Veer

It’s Friday night and you’re trying to be levelheaded as your teen attempts to test some of your rules. You want to know where she’s going and whom she’ll be with. She wants to slink out the door. Okay, that’s the natural order of things (you remember being a teen). The more you ask, the less she shares. You don’t want to rob her of her independence; still, you need to know.

Teens may think they need their parents less and less, but our supervision may be more important now than ever. Research consistently suggests that adolescents whose parents keep tabs on them are less prone to risky behaviors, including drug and alcohol use. But a recent study review shows that better results come when teens voluntarily share with their parents information about friends, activities and whereabouts, says report author Judith Smetana, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester in New York. “Parents putting the pressure on by asking more and more questions, being intrusive and laying on guilt is associated with teen depression and anxiety,” she says. “Yet positive behavior control, including clear rules and expectations, negotiating and listening, is not only psychologically healthy for adolescents, it also may lead them to offer more info to parents.”

So how do you find the middle ground? The key is trust—on both sides. When there’s give-and-take between parents and teens, when kids are given room to explain their reasoning and negotiate, a climate of trust is possible. Kids are then more apt to open up and share.

But be realistic about what your child is likely to share with you. There are certain topics teenagers feel comfortable talking about with their parents, and then there are others, says Dr. Smetana. Your daughter is going to tell her BFF, not you, about that cute guy in algebra. Even so, you need to keep communicating: Set clear, consistent rules about her letting you know where she is, whom she’s with and when she’ll be home, and about sex and alcohol and drug use. She also needs to understand risky behaviors, their consequences and how easily peer pressure can promote them. “Kids are trying to negotiate developing independence, but parents ultimately are trying to keep them safe,” Dr. Smetana adds.

Of course, these sometimes conflicting agendas yield a push-pull between parent and child. Regardless, your job is to continually express interest. And if you feel your teen is hiding something, don’t wait for her to share. Ask, but in a gentle, unemotional, non-accusatory way. Hopefully, what she’s hiding is as simple as that algebra crush—and she might just tell you about it over low-fat milkshakes at the mall.

No comments: