Family Health Magazine - ADOLESCENT HEALTH
Dealing with Teen Rebellion
Keeping the lines of communication open
Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll - These are defining words for the generation that came of age in the late sixties and early seventies. It was then, and remains now, the creed of youthful rebellion. Your teen is being exposed to it, and together, you're both going to have to learn to cope with it. Do you ever wonder if you have the parenting skills to guide your child's passage through these unsettled waters or if your kids even want your help?
Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
- K. Gibran
The teen years are about independence and experimentation, but mistakes in life choices now can have difficult, long-term consequences for your child and your family. As teens seemingly become less dependent on their parents, they conform with their circle of friends. Depending on the choices their friends make, your children may end up making dangerous decisions while trying to claim membership in the group. Reasoning with teens may be difficult as you try to help them understand the consequences of their choices. Are you prepared to guide them and share the benefit of your experience in a friendly way? Are you ready to deal with specific situations you fear may develop?
Just How Do I Talk with My Children?
The Minnesota School of Public Health recently surveyed kids from grades five to 12 about who they would talk to regarding health concerns. They found 41 per cent of boys and 58 per cent of girls would approach their mothers first. A doctor or nurse would be chosen by 21 per cent of boys and 16 per cent of girls. Fathers would be asked by 21 per cent of boys and four per cent of girls. As they got older, the teens tended to discuss health matters with their friends rather than their parents.
Kids face tough issues in growing up. As a parent, you can anticipate and take preventative action. Strategies you can use:
- Educate yourself - the Minnesota research indicates that parents could benefit from continuing education and guidance on high risk health issues.
- Start early - as a parent, you have a unique opportunity to talk with your children about issues before anyone else can give them (mis)information that conflicts with the sense of values that you want to provide. By the time they reach their teen years, they tend to rely more on their friends and the media for information. They are your children - to teach them is one of the basic responsibilities of a parent.
- Start conversations with your kids - do not always wait for them to come to you to talk about these issues. Listen to their music, observe who they are friends with, and be prepared to frankly discuss your misgivings, should you have any.
- Try to overcome your nervousness about discussing intimacy and sex - you are not alone, but who is better qualified to discuss your values with your child?
- Create an environment that welcomes discussion - try to answer the question until your child seems satisfied with the answer. Remember, not every question demands an immediate answer, but if you commit to answering the question - make sure you do.
- Communicate your values - research has shown that children want, and need, moral guidance from their parents, so don't hesitate in making your beliefs clear.
- Listen carefully to your children - they need your full attention. Let them know that what they have to say is important. This will help in building their self esteem. Careful listening also can lead to valuable discussions about a wide variety of sensitive issues. Listening carefully also can help you better understand what your children really want to know, and what they already understand. Honestly answer their questions to their level of understanding and interest. Be patient.
- Use everyday opportunities to talk - it is very important to talk often with your kids about tough issues. Formal talks are often perceived as another lecture from mom and dad. But, if you use "talk opportunities" as they arise, you are less likely to have your kids tune out. Most major religions use parables to teach - look closely, and you too will see that the events for parables for your children occur on a daily basis.
Talk about it again - and again!
Following are suggested strategies for dealing with situations that confront parents more often than one might hope.
My Child Would Never Use Drugs...
Studies have reported the average age of a child's first drink to be as low as 11 years and the average age for the first experimentation with marijuana as low as 12. A 1997 survey found that 26 per cent of high school seniors, 23 per cent of sophomores and 13 per cent of 8th graders reported illicit drug use in the prior 30 days. There is no reason to believe that things are different in Canada.
Drugs and alcohol are readily available to children at a young age. Parents are the best obstacle to their use. Children whose parents communicate with them openly about drugs are less likely to use drugs. Furthermore, this discussion should not be a one time event.
So, how do you do it?
- Role-play saying "No."
- Encourage choices in other areas of your child's life.
- Set an example - do as you say.
- Repeat the message.
- Ask your children if they have any problems.
- Explain the difference between 'good' drugs (medication) and bad drugs.
- Discourage tobacco use. If you disagree with smoking and suddenly find your child using tobacco, ask yourself if your child could be doing other things to experiment with new lifestyles.
Mom, Dad, I'm Pregnant!
One in four boys are sexually active by the age of 12. For girls, one in four are by age 14. About half of both males and females are sexually active by 16. About 10 per cent of all girls between the ages of 15 and 19 become pregnant, with three out of four pregnancies occurring during the first month after sexual activity begins.
Try to remain calm. Recognize that your child is likely frightened and confused, and is looking to you for guidance. Before you react with shock, ask your son or daughter to leave you with time for yourself to sort out your own feelings. When you do talk to your child, instead of lecturing, be honest about your feelings.
Chastisement is not productive when pregnancy has already occurred. Now is the time to be supportive. Being supportive does not mean you have to be - or pretend to be - happy about the situation. You can still tell your child how disappointed you are. Being supportive simply means that you are there to help them. Be sure to talk to your teen about what you can or will do to help out. Different parents have different feelings about what they can offer, so let your child know your reasons.
What not to do:
- Don't accuse your child of being stupid, indecent or promiscuous - a sure way to cause anger and resentment.
- Don't threaten or force your child to follow your decisions - you might drive him or her totally away.
- You don't have to take it sitting down - your child has to know that you love and care enough to be upset by the situation.
- Don't force your child out of home - the life for your child on the street is full of danger. Perhaps now, more than ever before, your child needs your experience and guidance.
What can you do?
- Learn everything you can about sex education and pregnancy, and share your knowledge with your teen. Encourage informed decision making in matters such as school, finances, marriage or living arrangements and be prepared to deal with the consequences. Remember, in the end these are your teen's decisions and there may be nothing you can do to change them.
- Get counselling - there are support groups in most communities available through the local health units, local pregnancy crisis centers, social services, or your family doctor. Parents, siblings, and the expectant parents should all be involved in obtaining this.
- It is never too late for sex education. It is not a given that pregnancy makes your child wiser about sex. Use this opportunity to discuss sex openly with your teen and be honest - encourage the belief that one mistake doesn't make a person a failure.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The Archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrow may go swift and far.
- K. Gibran
It can be devastating to realize that irresponsibility has caused such a problem, but even worse would be to destroy your relationship with your teen because of the resentment and anger that you feel. By being supportive and open, your child may make the right choices, and have a bright and hopeful future. Without you, poverty, depression, abuse and neglect may become your child's most likely future. Sadder still, is that this might be the lot for his or her children (your grandchildren) too. Be the best parent you can be, and stand by your teen - no matter what.
Your children are your precious resources. Treat them as such, acknowledge their opinions, respect them. You will likely receive a similar return. Try hard to like them during this time, but love them always.
While effort is made to reflect accepted medical knowledge and practice, articles in Family Health Online should not be relied upon for the treatment or management of any specified medical problem or concern and Family Health accepts no liability for reliance on the articles. For proper diagnosis and care, you should always consult your family physician promptly. © Copyright 2015, Family Health Magazine, a special publication of the Edmonton Journal, a division of Postmedia Network Inc., 10006 - 101 Street, Edmonton, AB T5J 2S6 [AD_FHa02]