• What to Expect in the Middle Years

     You've lived through 2 AM feedings, toddler temper tantrums, and the “but-I-don't-want-to-go-to-school-today” blues. So why is the word "teenager" causing you so much anxiety?

     When you consider that the teen years are a period of intense growth, not only physically but morally and intellectually, it's understandable that it's a time of confusion and upheaval for many families. Despite some adults' negative perceptions about teens, they are often energetic, thoughtful, and idealistic, with a deep interest in what's fair and right. So, although it can be a period of conflict between parent and child, the teen years are also a time to help children grow into the distinct individuals they will become.

     Understanding the Teen Years

     So when, exactly, does adolescence start? The message to send your kid is: Everybody's different. There are early bloomers, late arrivals, speedy developers, and slow-but-steady growers. In other words, there's a wide range of what's considered normal. Many kids announce the onset of adolescence with a dramatic change in behavior around their parents. They're starting to separate from Mom and Dad and to become more independent. At the same time, kids this age are increasingly aware of how others, especially their peers, see them, and they're desperately trying to fit in. Kids often start "trying on" different looks and identities, and they become acutely aware of how they differ from their peers, which can result in episodes of distress and conflict with parents.

     Butting Heads

     One of the common stereotypes of adolescence is the rebellious, wild teen continually at odds with Mom and Dad. Although that extreme may be the case for some kids, and this is a time of emotional ups and downs, that stereotype certainly is not representative of most teens.

     The primary goal of the teen years is to achieve independence. For this to occur, teens will start pulling away from their parents - especially the parent whom they're the closest to. This can come across as teens always seeming to have different opinions than their parents or not wanting to be around their parents in the same way they used to. As teens mature, they start to think more abstractly and rationally. They're forming their moral code. Parents of teens may find that kids who previously had been willing to conform to please them will suddenly begin asserting themselves - and their opinions - strongly and rebelling against parental control.

     You may need to look closely at how much room you give your teen to be an individual and ask yourself questions such as: "Am I a controlling parent?," "Do I listen to my child?," and "Do I allow my child's opinions and tastes to differ from my own?"

    Tips for Parenting During the Teen Years

    Looking for a road map to find your way through these years?

    Here are some tips:

     Educate Yourself

     Read books about teenagers. Think back on your own teen years. Remember your struggles with acne or your embarrassment at developing early - or late. Expect some mood changes in your typically sunny child, and be prepared for more conflict as he or she finds his or her way as an individual. Parents who know what's coming can cope with it better. The more you know, the better you can prepare your child. Suggested Readings:

    Not Much, Just Chillin’: The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers  Linda Perstein     $17.50

       Why Do They Act That Way?              David Walsh, $28.00

      The Roller Coaster Years        Charlene C. Giannetti/Margaret Sagarese  $19.50

      Parenting 911                         Charlene C. Giannetti/Margaret Sagarese  $18.00

     Talk to Your Child Early Enough

     Answer the early questions your child has about bodies, such as the differences between boys and girls and where babies come from. But don't overload your child with information - just answer their questions.

     You know your child. You can hear when your child's starting to tell jokes about sex or when attention to personal appearance is increasing. This is a good time to jump in with your own questions such as:

    Are you noticing any changes in your body?

    Are you having any strange feelings?

    Are you sad sometimes and don't know why?

     A yearly physical exam is a great time to bring up these things. A doctor can tell your preadolescent child - and you - what to expect in the next few years. The exam can serve as a jumping-off point for a good parent/child discussion. The later you wait to have this discussion, the more likely your child will be to form misconceptions or become embarrassed about or afraid of physical and emotional changes.

     Furthermore, the earlier you open the lines of communication on these subjects, the better chance you have of keeping them open throughout the teen years. Give your child books on puberty written for kids going through it. Share memories of your own adolescence with your child. There's nothing like knowing that Mom or Dad went through it, too, to put your child more at ease.

     Put Yourself in Your Child's Place

     Practice empathy with your growing child. Help your child understand that it's normal to be a bit concerned or self-conscious. Tell your child it's OK to feel grown-up one minute and like a little child the next.

     Pick Your Battles

     If teenagers want to dye their hair, paint their fingernails black, or wear funky clothes, it may be worth thinking twice before you object. Teens want to shock their parents, and it's a lot better to let them do something temporary and harmless; leave the objections to things that really matter, like tobacco, drugs and alcohol.

     Maintain Your Expectations

     Teens will likely act unhappy with expectations their parents place on them. However, they usually understand and need to know that their parents care enough about them to expect things from them. Appropriate grades, behavior, and adherence to the rules of the house are important standards to maintain. If parents have appropriate expectations, teens will likely try to meet them.

     Inform Your Teen - and Stay Informed Yourself

     The teen years often are a time of experimentation, and sometimes that experimentation includes risky behaviors. Don't avoid the subjects of sex or drug, alcohol, and tobacco use; discussing these things openly with your child before he or she is exposed to them increases the chance that your teen will act responsibly when the time comes.

     Know your child's friends - and know your child's friends' parents. Regular communication between the parents of adolescents can go a long way toward creating a safe environment for all the children in a peer group. Parents can help each other keep track of the kids' activities without making the kids feel that they're being watched.

     Know the Warning Signs

     A certain amount of change may be normal during the teen years, but too drastic or long-lasting a switch in a child's personality or behavior may signal real trouble - the kind that needs professional help. Watch out for one or more of these warning signs:

    extreme weight gain or loss                         sleep problems

    rapid, drastic changes in personality            sudden change in friends

    skipping school continually                          falling grades

    talk or even jokes about suicide                  signs of tobacco, alcohol, or drug use

                run-ins with the law

     Any other inappropriate behavior that lasts for more than 6 weeks can be a sign of underlying trouble, too. You may expect a glitch or two in your child's behavior or grades during this time, but your A/B student shouldn't suddenly be failing, and your normally outgoing kid shouldn't suddenly become constantly withdrawn. Your child's doctor or a local counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist can help you find proper counseling.

     Respect Your Child's Privacy

     Some parents, understandably, have a very hard time with this one. They may feel that anything their child does is their business. But to help your teen become a young adult, you'll need to grant some privacy. If you notice warning signs of trouble, then you might want to invade your child's privacy until you get to the heart of the problem. But otherwise, it's a good idea to back off.

     In other words, your teenager's room and phone calls should be private. You also shouldn't expect your teen to share all thoughts or activities with you at all times. Of course, for safety reasons, you should always know where your child is going, what he/she is doing, and with whom, but you don't need to know every detail. And you definitely shouldn't expect to be invited along!

     Monitor What Your Child Sees and Reads

     Television shows, magazines and books, the Internet - kids have access to tons of information. Be aware of what your child is watching and reading. Don't be afraid to set limits on the amount of time spent in front of the computer or the TV. Know what your child is learning from the media and who he or she may be communicating with over the Internet.

     Make Appropriate Rules

     Bedtime for a teenager should be age appropriate, just as it was when your child was a baby. Reward your teen for being trustworthy. Does your child keep to a 10 PM curfew? Move it to 10:30 PM. And does a teen always have to go along on family outings? You decide what your expectations are, and don't be insulted when your growing child doesn't always want to be with you anymore. Think back. You probably felt the same way about your mom and dad.

     Will This Ever Be Over?

    As your child continues to progress through the teen years, you'll notice a slowing of the highs and lows of adolescence. And, eventually, you'll have an independent, responsible, communicative child. So remember the motto of many parents with teens: We're going through this together, and we'll come out of it - together!

     More information can be found at:   http://www.kidshealth.org/