Parenting a teen today is much like doing 65 on the Autobahn -- you try to take things slow and steady, but often have to put the pedal to the metal or risk being blown right off the road.
Vivian Manning-Schaffel: We asked Ellen Rittberg, mom of three and author of the pre-orderable "35 Things Your Teen Won't Tell You So I Will", to shed some light on a few of today's hot teen issues. She was happy to oblige.
Momlogic: What's the biggest issue among parents of teens these days?
Ellen Rittberg: I'd say substance abuse, including alcohol. But unsafe sex is right up there, vying for first place. Think about it. If your teen drinks to excess (and most teens when they drink, drink to excess), chances are better than even he or she will engage in other risky activities, such as having sex and going in a car with someone who also has been drinking.
ML: Your book says all teens lie, but as parents, it's our job to catch them before things spin out of control. Why do all teens lie? Can you offer any tips to help parents in busting them?
Rittberg: There are two reasons teens lie. They lie because they really really want to do something right now or very soon and they know you're not game. Most teens are not good at delayed gratification or hearing the word "no" or hearing a vastly revised plan of what they wanted to do, particularly when they feel certain that some of their friends will be doing those things they so badly want to do.
The second reason they lie is: a lie is easier and faster for them to formulate than any farfetched explanation they might try to pass off as a logical explanation. To catch and bust teens, you need to develop a communication system that rivals the CIA's and the FBI's. Its success consists largely in your ability to monitor their movement. Other parents' vigilance and cooperation are key to the successful implementation of this system.
ML: Most parents of teens swing between the best friend and authoritarian approach. Is there a middle ground in there somewhere?
Rittberg: Great question. Yes, there is a middle ground -- and that's where parents of teens should try to be. As I state in my book, there's a huge difference between being a kind but firm authority figure (which is what a parent should strive to try to be), and trying to be on the same social footing as one's child (which is what a parent shouldn't be). Teens want parents they admire and respect, they just don't always realize it.
Teens don't need parent-friends. Their friends should be their friends -- not you. This is not to say that from time to time a parent can't, when the occasion calls for it, act like an utter goofball for small periods of time in the privacy of their own home with their kids. My children have always enjoyed watching me make of fool of myself when I spontaneously (but not often!) break into my dorky dance steps. I also provide them with ample proof that mom won't be dancing with the stars any time soon.
ML: How can parents bridge the great divide that occurs between them and their teens?
Rittberg: Interesting word choice, "divide," which sounds somewhat military as in the expression, "divide and conquer." As I mention in my book, parenting teens often bears a similarity to waging war, but if things go as planned, there's no gore.
I would argue that the divide is actually a fluid one and it doesn't necessarily have to be big. Communication is key. If you're so fed up with your teen that you don't have much meaningful communication, you are contributing to the increasing size of the divide. Try to understand and share in the things that are important to your teens, whether it is their music, their sports obsessions, anything as long as it's a socially acceptable activity.
When you understand that part of the reason the divide exists is because teen's minds are not adult-like, you're ahead of the game. Then you understand that most teens are not yet equipped to always make good choices. Their judgment is, if not impaired, it's a work-in-process, if you will. And I think the divide also grows wider with parents who are unreasonably rigid with their teens, and which merely exacerbates the condition. This causes their teens see them as the enemy. Give teens some freedom with proper monitoring and safeguards, and lay out the rules and expectations. Applaud them when they're good. Respond appropriately and proportionately when they mess up and don't whatever you do, give up on them. Let them know you love them, but emphasize to them that you can't respect them when they don't act civilly, respectfully or reasonably sensibly.
ML: If you could offer our readers just one pearl of wisdom in building a balanced relationship with their teen, what would it be?
Rittberg: If you can teach your teens that they are part of society which has expectations and that their actions cause consequences, you are on the road to raising a responsible-in-the-making teen. And, I don't know if this is the extra credit pearl, but I'll say it anyway: Hug your teens. They needed to know they are loved.
|Vivian Manning-Schaffel has written for Babble, Parenting, The Advocate, The New York Post, Business Week and a variety of other publications and lives and works in the heart of breeder Brooklyn with her husband and two kids. She authors two pop culture blogs: The Mad Mom and A Hag Supreme, and is on the web at vivianmanningschaffel.com.|