Parenting is Not For Sissies: Parental Authority vs. Peer Pressure

(This is an excerpt from an excellent Empowering Parents article on how to handle the monumental task of keeping your teenager safe when they walk out the door. As I’m finding with my 18-year old (now invisible) daughter, it’s as important to make peace with what you aren’t responsible for as with what you are.)

Parenting Teens: Parental Authority vs. Peer Pressure

http://www.empoweringparents.com/Parenting-Teens-Parental-Authority-Vs-Peer-Pressure.php?&key=Adolescent-And-Teen-Behavior

It’s one of the hardest things parents deal with: even if you’re trying to raise your child the right way, as soon as he walks out the door, you know he’s going to be exposed to all sorts of negative—even dangerous—influences. From dress to attitude to a popular culture that says it’s cool to drink and do drugs, parents have every right to be concerned. Are you afraid to send your child out the door? In this insightful one–on–one interview, James Lehman gives you some honest advice.

Peer PressureJL: Like it or not, adolescents often gravitate toward the very things you fear and dislike. Your child doesn’t do this to annoy you; he’s doing it because his friends are doing it and because that’s the developmental stage he’s in. It’s a simple fact that even before your child hits the pre–teen years, he begins to pull away from you. Unfortunately, one of the primary ways he may do this is by engaging in behaviors you dislike. Suddenly, you see your 13–year–old daughter’s clothing and style morph into something age–inappropriate—or you notice that your shy 15–year–old son has started listening to music with violent or rude lyrics.

It’s important to remember that, as an adolescent, your child is learning how to be part of a group—and he’s terrified of not fitting in. Kids learn that to go along with others, you either enjoy what they’re doing or learn to hide your true feelings as a way to get by. And don’t forget, functionally, adolescents don’t want to just “get by” with their friends; they want to be popular and well–liked. In fact, the drive to be popular is probably the core value of most adolescents—and they often simply don’t realize what shaky ground they’re standing on when they take on that value.

Fitting into a group drives your teen’s development and defines who he is. Resisting authority makes him feel like an individual because he’s reaffirming who he is by resisting an outside influence. And in this case, you are the outside influence your child is resisting. Get ready, because if you don’t like something, he’s going to like it even more. Listening to music you don’t like feeds into his feeling of individuation—his sense of wanting to become his own individual. It’s not necessarily that he wants you to dislike his music, but if you do, that’s fine with him. The same thing happens with clothes, movies, and pop culture. The downside to that is that in our culture today, adolescents have access to very dangerous things—like drugs and alcohol—to a much greater degree than teens did 50 years ago. And that access gets easier as time goes on. Every year, younger and younger children can get drugs and alcohol. In my years of working with kids in high school, they would brag to me that they could get anything they wanted. And I’d question them. I’d say, “You mean like sleeping pills and barbiturates? Pain pills?” And they would answer, “Yeah, and heroin, crystal meth and coke.” Needless to say, these are very dangerous drugs—drugs where if you slip up and use too much, you die. Not only are they highly addictive, they’re fatal.

I think that children aren’t ready for that kind of temptation, and if their friends are doing it, they’re very much at risk. Now, in most areas, the peer pressure is not about hard drugs. In fact, I believe some of the peer pressure is against hard drugs. But certainly there’s a lot of pressure to use the drugs that kids see as “soft”: pot, ecstasy, and pharmaceuticals. And I want to clarify that I personally don’t see those substances as soft drugs—this is just how kids have presented the information to me.

So what’s going on in your child’s head? He thinks that nobody understands him but his peers. He thinks his parents are old–fashioned. He doesn’t like parental authority at this stage in his life. It’s an age where he’s actively looking for reasons to reject adults. Many times he’ll think, “If my parents believe something or like it, it’s automatically wrong.” Or he shrugs off whatever you say. All of these things factor into his readiness to test you, push the limits, and discard the opinions and insights of adults. You’ll find that you can hardly even give your adolescent child compliments—much less constructive criticism—without getting a defiant retort.

EP: How much control do you have over the things to which your child is exposed?

JL: I think it’s important to understand that you have no control over what your children are exposed to when they leave for the day. I mean, if you drive them to school during the school year, then they won’t be exposed to stuff on the school bus. But make no mistake, they’re exposed to whatever happens once they get there. If they go to an all–boys or an all–girls school, then they won’t be exposed to the opposite sex there, and that’s a choice many parents make. There are some things you can manage, but basically if your child lives in the world, your child will be exposed to the world. And unfortunately, it’s the same world you and I are exposed to, even though kids don’t have the mental capacity or maturity level that we have to deal with it. It’s a risky proposition, and I understand that.

So the only secondary control you have is through the beliefs, values, and morals that you teach to your kids. As a parent, you hope they’re going to make good decisions and that those values will exert some force opposing the negative influences out there. But each child is different, just like each adult is different, and there’s nothing you can do about that. Personally, I think parents expect too much of themselves if they think their own behavior in the home will prevent their child from making any mistakes in life.

Listen, I understand that it’s the most vulnerable thing in the world to know that your child is out there alone making decisions, some of which may be life–threatening. I’m not only talking about drug and alcohol use, but also decisions about shoplifting, risky sexual behavior, and who your child talks to online. And make no bones about it, if your child is committing crimes, he’s going to be arrested for them, and when he turns 18, he will be tried as an adult. Believe me, that’s going to affect him for the rest of their his life.

So parents have every reason to be concerned and worried, and to feel vulnerable. There’s nothing you can do except run a home where values are promoted and talked about. Don’t get into fights about it with your child—just keep your values clear. Values like “If you cop out with drugs and alcohol, you’ll miss the things you need to learn.”

There really are no easy answers. The idea of letting a child out into the world filled with dangers is a parent’s worst nightmare. One of the reasons it’s so hard is because you’re powerless over your kids. You spend all these years protecting your kids; you’re ready to jump in front of a bus to save them, but when the day comes when they do something risky, you’re powerless over it. It’s awful, but parenting is not for sissies.

I think the best thing you can do as a parent is to recognize your own limitations and learn how to be more effective if you can. And then really put a lot into those areas where it matters and keep role modeling.

Coffee

Managing Anger at Your Teen

“Anger destroys the vessel that carries it.” ~ Dr. James Sutton, child and adolescent psychologist

This is an excellent article by Dr. James Sutton on how parents’ anger at their teenage children can markedly affect the quality of their relationship. I know there are a few parents out there who might benefit from reading it (smile).Coffee


“Managing Anger (OURS)”

http://www.empoweringparents.com/blog/anger-and-defiance/managing-anger-ours/

Often, the difficulties that come between parents and their defiant children can be reduced by the parents if they will make the effort. One of these difficulties is anger, an emotion that throws up more road blocks to relationships than any other entity.

I receive a lot of email from parents. Anger at their children is a common theme. I’ve also seen it in my office. Anger is extremely counterproductive to the process of healing and the re-establishment of a working relationship. Anger verifies and often “feeds” defiant behavior, making it worse.

I understand the anger; I can identify with it as a parent. But anger is like a huge tree that has fallen onto a railroad track. It’s going to stop trains in both directions. All progress comes to a halt until someone gets the tree off the track.

Who’s going to move the tree? You can wait on your defiant youngster to move it. (Good luck on that one.)

Psychologist Dr. Hew Len teaches about “limits” that exist between individuals and serve to choke out the relationship. (Limits, and how to manage them, is a central theme in my new book, The Changing Behavior Book.) Staying angry is one huge limit. Here are three components of resolving anger (and other limits as well) I compiled after learning of Dr. Hew Len’s work:

  1. True peace and change begin with me. Anger ultimately destroys the vessel that carries it. Although anger has short-term benefits, it produces devastating long-term pain and difficulty. No one should wait for others to ease their anger.
  2. I cannot pass off in blame what is my responsibility to change. This takes a ton of courage and self-examination, but it’s so powerful.
  3. I must clear away (clean) the limits that exist between me and others. In other words, it takes more than recognizing the limits are there and that I created many of them; I must take the active step to remove as many of them as I can.

Reference: Vitale, J., Hew Len, I., Zero limits. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2007.

As a child and adolescent psychologist and former Special Education teacher, Dr. James Sutton has great compassion for young people, especially those who struggle. He is in demand for his expertise on emotionally and behaviorally troubled youngsters and his skill for speaking, writing and training on this subject. His monthly publication, the ODD Management Digest, is available at no cost through his website, www.DocSpeak.com.

And…She’s OFF!

Well, it’s finally happened. My daughter turned 18. The age of consent. The age of responsibility.  She can vote, go to war, pay taxes – do pretty much whatever her little autonomous heart desires, as long as it doesn’t hurt her or anybody else.

18th bday cakeWhen you ask the parent of an 18-year-old how it feels to have one, you’ll get a myriad of answers – and you’ll hear different answers from the same parents, depending on the day.

Speaking as a seasoned mother of 18 years, so far it’s been a heck of a ride.

Since the Big Birthday, I’ve run the gambit of emotion: excitement, relief, disbelief (“Jeez, I’m old!”), tears, and celebration.

Then night falls, worry sets in, GPS tracking is activated, and the confusion about exactly how much control I have over this new “adult” begins.

“Mr. Google” and I have done much surfing on this topic of late.  My house=my rules seems to be the usual parental mantra.

But everyone makes that sound so easy. intellectually, it’s a simple concept to grasp: when someone lives in my home, they follow my rules. But throw a rebellious teen into the equation and all bets are off.

So, I wrote them up – the newly-revised expectations of my daughter — rules for when she’s in the house and rules for when she’s not.HouseRules 

And since she’s primarily OUT of the house, there they stay – the House Rules – posted prominently on the fridge being completely ignored (read unseen) by my new vagabond.

But she’s 18, so my only recourse is to tell her to get her own place, right?

But what if she can’t afford her own place? And there’s the fact that I’m still unsure she’ll even keep herself safe in the world, because she’s made some really unwise choices in the recent past. What if her inexperience makes her vulnerable and she puts her life in danger?

Welcome to my world at 3 a.m.

After much agonizing (come to me, Advil), I realize my angst and sense of powerlessness are the result of fear and sadness — fear that I can no longer keep my daughter safe, and sadness that she doesn’t need me to.

The reality is, she has taken flight, and I’ve got to let go.

It’s more than a transition – it’s a paradigm shift – no longer seeing my kid as a child but as an adult, responsible for her actions, her time, her job, her future. I’m more or less out of the loop. And that’s really, really weird.

earth in hand (usage)But as emotional as it all is, she’s doing remarkably well for a “newborn.” She has not one but two jobs, her own checking account, a healthy sense of self-confidence, and is sailing with (what I hope is) a strong moral compass.

She also has a safe car with GPS, AAA, and a bottle of pepper spray  – all compliments of Mom and Step-Pop.

We’re helping her build a safety toolkit, knowing once it’s in place we’ll rest easier as we watch her successfully “launch”.

But these dang mood swings are running me. Naps, bubble baths, and the basketball Finals (NBA, take me away) are helping soothe this savage Mom-beast, but I think the only real antidote will be seeing her survive and thrive over time.

And, independent or not, with the help of satellite technology, Big Mother will still be watching.

Coffee

 

Best Kept Secret – Middle College High Schools

“The world is yours, as well as ours, but in the last analysis, it is yours. You young people, full of vigor and vitality, are in  the bloom of life, like the sun at eight or nine in the morning. Our hope is placed in you.” – Anonymous

apple for the teacherWe recently attended a presentation by the school district on middle college, a topic I think important enough to share with parents of teens.

A middle college high school (or MCHS) is a secondary high school located on a community college campus.

These schools are the greatest thing going, developed in part thanks to funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (always did LOVE Windows.) Their primary mission is to prepare kids for college, beginning as early as the ninth grade – at no cost to parents!

Students attend tuition-free college courses while simultaneously completing their high school credits, with full access to all facilities on the college campus.

A student entering middle college high school in the 9th grade can graduate from high school with over 30 completed college units, walking off into their bright, shiny future with  a diploma and well on their way to a college degree. Talk about getting a head start!

college gradwsAnd did I mention tuition-free classes?

MOM LIKE! MOM LIKE!

Middle college high schools have relatively low enrollment numbers, usually less than 100 per grade level. This creates a smaller student body and a more focused, nurturing academic environment – one that may not be as readily found on a high school campus.

Once an application is submitted to the MCHS, an assessment is conducted for each applicant to determine college-readiness. GPA, focus, enthusiasm and academic commitment are all taken into consideration.

My 15-year old recently applied to an MCHS in our area. His 4.2 GPA (yep, really), among other notable characteristics, qualifies him for admission. This past weekend, we attended his initial interview with the middle college staff.

I will write about his interview in my next post. It was really quite something…

For more information on middle college high schools in your area, click on the link below:

http://www.mcnc.us/our-schools/


Coffee

When Did They?

Last night, my 18-year-old daughter walked into my room wearing a backless, red velvet evening gown. She stood in front of the cherry wood swivel mirror, admiring and critiquing the color and style, idly tugging at the material in an attempt to make it fit better. She walked back and forth, twirled, stood with her back to the mirror,  and asked what I thought.

What I thought was, “Oh my God, she’s a woman.”

Of course I already knew this, but this was one of those pivotal moments where it hit me with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

One of the things I’ve recognized about being a parent is that you see the passage of time through your children. As Reb Tevye sings in Fiddler on the Roof, “I don’t remember growing older, when did they?”

The thing that made this moment even more powerful was the fact that the dress she wore belongs to me.  There she was, beautiful, with curves and everything, wearing one of the sexiest gowns I own.

Isn’t having a grown-up daughter something that only happens to other people?

Many of my recent posts have been related to feelings of sadness and transition, in part because my children are now young adults and my role as Mom has all but disappeared. But with every hurdle cleared, I’m closer to letting go, and more proud than nostalgic. I’m seeing clearly how well I’ve done as a parent, because the reality is, I’ve raised two exceptional human beings.

And perhaps as importantly, I appreciate the freedom that accompanies having children who cook their own food, do their own homework, and drive themselves to school.

Actually, on most days, life’s pretty bitchin’.

So, this Saturday night, my daughter will attend her Senior Prom, wearing my velvet dress, inking a significant page in her personal history. 

As I watched her glide around the room, marveling at her youthful beauty, I envisioned the day when she’ll longingly think back on this prom weekend as she watches her daughter model her sexiest gown.

Even though that day will be years from now, it’ll be here as fast as you can sing Sunrise, Sunset.


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On Most Days

Cool Trees

“I’ve been a little out of sorts lately. I had some sorts, but then I ran out.” –Friend and author – John Shore

I’m in the middle of a life transition. Uncertainty, nostalgia, fear of the unknown – they’re all here.

Big changes are seriously messing with my head. There are so many things in flux that gaining solid footing has been about as easy as eating a single Lays potato chip.

My  emotions are teeter-tottering all over the place, mostly because of my changing Mom role and my omnipresent anxiety about how the hell we’re going to keep the lights lit in these uncertain economic times.

In the summer of 2009, my 23-year, six-figured technical job was outsourced to India. Just like *that*, my established, well-respected career ceased to exist.

Tough luck, huh?

Yeah. But after the initial shock (and tears) subsided, I realized that I’d been given a “do over.” Now, I had a brilliant opportunity to ask myself honestly, “What do I want to do? What am I passionate about? What am I doing when I feel really happy?”

Joseph Campbell describes this process as following your bliss. The idea has always resonated with me, but life had never thrown quite the right “curve ball” to motivate me into action.

…until August of 2009. Since then, I’ve been watching a high-and-insider rocket towards me at breakneck speed. As thrilling as the process can be, reinventing myself is taking patience and a lot of faith that I’ll somehow land on my feet.

I’m working to put Campbell’s idea into action, and find that getting in touch with what I love to do is helping me set some real goals for myself. Having a plan has gone a long way towards creating my map for personal success.

So, the Plan. The first thing I did was take stock.

An exercise I use to help gain perspective and self-confidence is to list some of the personal hurdles I’ve already cleared.

I would highly recommend everybody write up a list like this. I’ve found it helps to see how strong you really are. You may find you’re holding your head a little higher and thinking you’re a pretty impressive human after all, just like I did:

1) 1985- Left my hometown in N. California to start a new life 400 miles away 2) 1986 – Eloped to Hawaii, 3) 1994 – Endured a miscarriage, 4) 1992 – Bought a house, relocated to a new community, 5) 1993/1995 – Gave birth to two healthy children, 6) 1986 – 2004 – Underwent multiple surgeries, 7) 1998-1999, Survived the deaths of three of my closest friends, 7a) 2002-2003 – Went through a really tough divorce, 9) 2005 – Remarried (my soul mate)  10) 2009 – Lost my job of 23 years, 11) 2008 – Helped my teenage daughter through a painful depression and drug rehabilitation, 12) 2011 – present – Approaching empty nest, reinventing myself…and still smiling.

Wow, look what I did. Yay me!

Then, I got into motion.

When I feel I’ve lost my way, or am insecure about how things will turn out, I force myself to do anything – even the smallest task – related to my goals. It’s my experience that taking the tiniest step in the direction of my dreams will open unseen doors.

When I followed my bliss, I discovered a passion for history, and a newfound love for creating websites. 

To indulge these interests (and possibly grow them into paying careers,) I began volunteering as project manager and website designer for a historical society.

Additionally, I set two goals. The first was to work more closely with my husband as we pursue our mutual love of history. By helping edit and market his books, promote his lectures and book signings, and help conduct his tours and classes, I’m building a whole new career identity for myself.

And because I set this goal, we were recently able to co-create and host our own silent film festival. How cool is that?

My second goal was to bring in some dough by helping new business owners design and create their first websites. In a short period, I’ve attracted an impressive list of clients, who, so far at least, seem to really like my work!

See what can happen when you move in the direction of your dreams?

I taught myself how to knit hats and scarves, and read over 100 novels–two pursuits I would otherwise have never had the time for.

I’ve also started two blogs – this one (teenparentcafe) and a recipe/cooking blog called Aunt Kim’s Kitchen. I’m becoming re-acquainted with my “inner writer,” who I haven’t heard from in years (who’d have thought that following my bliss would lead me to wordpress.com?)

So, ultimately, losing my job has given me a new circle of friends, a chance to pursue more satisfying careers, and time well-spent doing things I really love to do.

Though I still have my anxieties, on most days, I’m optimistic. I haven’t replaced the income from my technology job yet, but I’m working on it – and having a pretty good time doing it.

Since I’m still in the midst of transition, the final chapter (or blog post) on this topic has yet to be written. Check back to this URL for further updates.

Looky there! I just got some of my “sorts” back.

Free Girl (usage)

Catching Fireflies

IF I HAD MY LIFE TO LIVE OVER…

I would have talked less and listened more.
I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded.
I would have eaten the popcorn in the “good” living room and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted to light a fire in the fireplace.
I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather rambling about his youth.
I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed.
I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose before it melted in storage.
I would have sat on the lawn with my children and not worried about grass stains.
I would have cried and laughed less while watching television, and more while watching life.
I would have gone to bed when I was sick, instead of pretending the earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren’t there for the day.
I would never have bought anything just because it was practical, wouldn’t show soil or was guaranteed to last a lifetime.
Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy, I’d have cherished every moment, realizing that the wonderment growing inside me was the only chance in life to assist God in a miracle.
When my kids kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, “Later. Now go get washed up for dinner.”
There would have been more “I love you’s” and more “I’m sorry’s”
. . . but mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute . . look at it and really see it . . . and never give it back.”

–Erma Bombeck  

 

I’ve shot tons of video of my kids, but I’ve always known I wouldn’t watch them.  Because theoretically, the people on the screen no longer exist, and that makes me really sad.

Earlier tonight, my 15 1/2 year old played an old video of himself and his sister as little towheads, catching lightning bugs with their cousins at their grandparents’ house.

God, they were beautiful.

Their excitement was so genuine it brought tears to my eyes. They were completely immersed in the moment.

I listened to the younger version of myself talking to them, giggling when they squealed, and laughing as they screamed with delight when Mom caught a firefly, too.

As I watched, I found myself wondering if, on that beautiful Midwest summer night, I had appreciated the magic I witnessed. Did I realize how lucky I was to be able to pick up those beautiful babies, kiss those sweet cheeks and swing them around until they begged me to stop?

I cherish my children at every age, but I deeply miss when they were small. I’ve always known how fast they would grow, and made the effort to BE PRESENT at every moment. I’m grateful that I did, because the only emotion I hate more than nostalgia is regret.

I move through the sadness by discovering what I love outside of motherhood, what I’m passionate about, and what I want to accomplish in the second half of my life. I’m also grateful to bear witness to the emergence of two talented, compassionate, amazing young adults. There is Life After Mommy.

Tomorrow, perhaps I’ll write about how often my now-teenage children have me reaching for my gi-normous bottle of Advil.

But tonight, I think I’ll cry and catch fireflies. 


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