When children are little, parents rule. But as kids grow into teenagers, friends often take priority over parents.In their shocking and sometimes frightening behavior, teenagers are telling us everything we need to know, not just about them, but about ourselves. What we see in today’s teens is actually a reflection of what’s going on in the adult world – the good and the bad. Dr. Liz Hale is here to tell us more about that and what causes teens to turn away from their parents, embracing instead, their second family and how we need to work with and compete against this powerful force.
If you see what’s going on in our adult world, you’ll see that teens are dealing with the same complexities …… only amplified. As we are victims of a consumer culture, often going in debt to prove our worth and satisfy our wants, our children are stricken by “the gimmees,” feeling entitled to the artifacts of pop culture just because “they are.”
As we over schedule our days and become more dismissive of and distant from each other, our children are disengaging from us at earlier and earlier ages, as well. As we chose career over family and spend increasing amounts of time away from home, children are also spending more and more time away from home, choosing peers over parents to the point of inhabiting an alternate second family.
As we seek relief from stress by drinking or taking prescribed medications or overindulging in natural remedies, children are altering their chemistry, too, experimenting with drugs and alcohol at alarmingly young ages. And, as advertising as become highly sexualized and pornography is widespread, our children are becoming sexually active and highly experimental, too; a majority of adolescents will have had sex prior to graduating from high school.
If you look carefully into the life of a teen, you will see a distorted and exaggerated view of the person you are. Some trends have become positively progressive while others, alienating and dangerous.
Who makes up the second family; and is it good or not so good?
The second family provides both…it can be cruel and competitive as well as supportive and secure. The key is to maintain firm footing as the first and primary family in your child’s life; embrace the second family and welcome it into your home. This other family is your informant and the key to the heart of your child.
EMBRACING THE SECOND FAMILY
Resist Dismissing Naive Beliefs
It’s hard to resist what you don’t recognize. I’m paid NOT to be an ostrich. Kids will often tell me that their parents often don’t have a clue what they’re up to. I know that children tell bold-faced lies to their parents; they watch programs and DVD’s that their parents have no idea they watch; furthermore, they have traditions and behaviors that only they and their fellow peers are privy to. You may say, “Not my child.” To that, I say, “Yes, even your child….even my child.” Don’t take anything at face value; check up on your kids. See that they are where they say they are; pay attention to their music and movie/TV selections. Watch with them. Children 7-years of age and older engage in media without their parents more than 95% of the time. Say to your teen, “Honey, my checking up on things has nothing to do with you and whether or not you’re a good kid; it has everything to do with me wanting to be a good parent!” If you don’t capture your children’s attention and allegiance at an early age, another collective force of peers and pop culture will!
Indulge in Undivided Attention & Rules
Moral values are on a sliding scale; parents waffle over their ethics. Stand firm. Believe it or not, kids often tell us that there are NOT enough rules at home and that they don’t get enough of their parents, one-on-one. Laissez faire parenting stems from the fact that parents are skittish about being “in charge” of their kids. Too often we give respect but fail to demand it in equal measure. What happens to kids when they don’t get the kind of direct, personal attention they need from their parents? To whom do they turn when they realize that the adults in their life lack the confidence to guide them and reign them in? The second family offers not only excitement and instant gratification but identity, belonging and rituals.
Hold an Open House, Always
Do your best to maintain that balance between setting limits and knowing when to hold back. Have clear expectations of your child and their friends, mixed with a genuine interest in what they think and do. When your child’s friends want to be with you, your child becomes more receptive to your guidance as well. If you want to make your home one that kids will flock to, be a parental presence, not a buddy, and communicate directly with your children’s friends. It is a burden for a teen to have to be responsible for making their friends conform to his or her parents’ rules. When you can tell the peers what’s expected from you face-to-face, so everyone knows the score, it keeps your child from feeling in the middle.
Balance Expectations with Empathy
Privileges and privacy are not developmental – they are to be earned. Space and property are open to occasional inspection. Earning adult trust and being held accountable helps teens improve their judgment. Instead of accepting that privacy is an absolute right, never to be violated, let them know that, as is the case with most privileges in life, one needs to earn rewards. Ignore the old guidelines that teenagers need “space.” Be clear about what you expect and take heed when those standards are not being met. When we adults are empathic, when we listen without the lecture, adolescents will let us in.
Do Sweat the Small Stuff
When specific expectations are not met, deal with the small infractions before they turn into serious offenses. It’s the small details that not only tell us whether a teen is on the skids but will give us ample opportunities to increase empathy and create realistic expectations. We need to make time! When you promptly address what’s happening in your child’s life, tell him or her what you expect, and then haggle over the specifics, it’s then that you are most likely to connect. It’s as if you hit the “pause” button to break through the frenzied pace of daily life and really get through to your child. And, because kids want increased privileges and freedom from you at those times, they will be more open to talking. If, on the other hand, you don’t ask kids to earn your trust, they will have no need or motivation to discuss anything with you. They’ll simply rush out, slip off, or fly through the open door into the comforting arms of the second family.