Posts Tagged ‘Teen Problems’

“Duncan has taken to helping in the kitchen! He’s four and yet he can really do things! He made his own scrambled egg the other morning. I told him how impressed I was, and he made one for me!”

What fun it is to impress your parents! Duncan loves to help with cooking, doing a little on his own and having his parents say how great he is. One woman counselor I know speaking at a PTA meeting said every child, teen, and adult longs to hear their parent say, “You are the fine son/daughter I always hoped for; you’re doing a great job!” There was not a dry eye in the house. Evidently many had never had the experience.

Since parental approval is such an emotional high point, it is a shame some parents often begrudge their children “too much” reward. Reward and reinforcement are terms that may sound too mechanical because the words imply a contrived influence on behavior. But the most frequent reward children receive is the admiration and appreciation expressed by parents. Parents who are generous with these “rewards” are more effective.

Yet many are still uncomfortable with the notion that selfish benefit is required to get children, or anybody else, to do the right thing. “They should do it because it’s right, shouldn’t they? They know it’s good for them! They had better be glad they have a good home and a chance to learn and get ahead!”

Isn’t this the way we all feel sometimes? It seems unbelievable that kids would pass up an opportunity for personal growth or fail to contribute to the family out of appreciation for the care they get.

It’s children we’re talking about, of course. Employees who are asked to work a little longer or teachers asked to carry a larger load deserve rewards for their extra work. And our boss who expects something for nothing just doesn’t understand our personal economic situation!

As a matter of fact, the higher you go, the more reward is expected for any effort – managers and school principals don’t feel respected unless they make more money. Corporate officers and members of Congress worry that lower salaries for them would bring in people less competent than themselves; and CEO’s demand golden parachutes of stock options so they will have the “proper incentive” to do a good job up there on top. So the higher ups commonly get more money and appreciation while both money and appreciation become scarce for the “less deserving” and, of course, for the kids.

Some parents object to the idea of rewarding children because it might spoil them. But remember a spoiled child did not get that way because too much was provided. Many children in families with small incomes are spoiled, and many children with the benefits of wealthy families are not spoiled. The parent’s routine reactions to the child’s behavior determine the habits. Parents who pay attention to the highlights in what their children do, will find plenty of opportunity to provide a deserved compliment. But if obnoxious behavior is “required” to get attention, then obnoxious behavior will be the rule.

Dr. McIntire is the author of Raising Good Kids in Tough Times and Teenagers and Parents: 12 Steps to a Better Relationship to be published on September 15, 2016.


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High school students looking forward to their senior year cannot easily get excited about more school work after that. Yet for those considering college, the choices after high school require attention now.

As associate dean for undergraduates at the University of Maryland, I met many students who at first resisted this idea of visiting colleges saying, “I don’t even know what I want to do.” But your student shouldn’t put off college visits because no main field of study has come to mind. Most entering freshmen are only aware of a dozen or so of the 100-plus programs most colleges offer. College is for learning about yourself and how your own special talents fit the possibilities.

Few students stick to their first career notions. Over 90 percent of college students will change their major during their college years. Half will change more than once as they explore the details of subjects in college courses.

Other students may resist these first steps toward college by flatly stating, “I don’t want to go to college,” just to put off parents’ questions or because they have only a TV view of what college could be.

To get enthusiastic about college, your high school junior needs some first-hand information. The spark of excitement won’t come from just talking with Mom or Dad about the choices of work, local college, or a school far away.

This summer is a good time for soon-to-be seniors to visit colleges. In the fall, it will be time for applications so chances for visiting will be nearly over.

Driving down to a college to “just look around” can be frustrating for both student and parent if no arrangements have been made in advance. Have your budding college student call ahead to the college admissions office and set things up. A parent can help a balking 16-year-old by providing a short list of things to say:
1. Tell them you are going into your senior year and you would like to visit the campus and talk to an admissions person.
2. Mention the major subjects you are interested in.
3. Ask what events are going on that weekend. Special events may make it difficult to see facilities and faculty, or the events coming up might give you a special reason to make an effort to go on a particular date.
4. Ask about visiting a dorm.
5. Ask about talking to someone about financial aid programs (next week’s topic) and filling out the required Student Aid Report while you are there.

Your student might also ask about meeting with students in majors that are of interest. If the admissions office can’t help with that one, you or your teen may know someone you could look up during your visit.

Ask your college-bound student to begin a summarizing chart so that both of you will have a good review sheet when the time for the final decision comes. Include places for his ratings of the programs and courses, the college town, dorms, and job opportunities. What do students say about the different meal plans available and the size of the classes? How convenient is the traveling from home to campus?

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“Hey, don’t talk to your mother like that!” can be a high moment in a family day. It’s not a happy one but the parent on the firing line gets the message she is supported and the child needs the message that the divide and conquer strategy won’t work. Parent abuse will not be tolerated.

Kevin: I’m going to watch TV now.

Mom: How about your homework?

Kevin: Later, I’ve got plenty of time.

Mom: Didn’t you say your history paper was due tomorrow?

Kevin: Mom, you don’t know anything about how long the paper will take.

Aunt Eileen: Be careful how you talk to your mother. She’s had many years of school; I think she knows.

Kevin: I’ll do it when I’m ready.

Aunt Eileen: Well, I can’t ride you over to your practice until your mother says you’re ready.

Kevin: You didn’t even know about the history paper until Mom brought it up; what do you have to do with it, anyway?

Mom: Don’t talk to your Aunt Eileen that way; she’s concerned about you, too. Now get to that paper so you can make your soccer practice.

Your best protectors are your own relatives, friends, or spouse who come to your aid when it seems parent abuse is likely. They should provide parent protection when their best friend is being mistreated, even by a child.

Jenny: Mom, tie my shoe!

Mom: Just a minute. I’m talking.

Jenny: Do it now!

Eric: (Mom’s close friend) Take it easy, Jenny, let your Mom finish.

Two adults can be stronger than one and they can provide a model to children about how the members of the family should treat each other. Eric wouldn’t let a stranger barge in and make demands of his friend at a restaurant and he’s not going to sit by when her child does it at home either.

How does the parent abuse habit get started? Of course a child’s attitude
comes from many sources, but again the relatives, friends, spouses and extended family play a role from the beginning. They can make the effort to help, or, if they don’t, they can be part of the problem.

Eric: You can’t find your keys? I can’t believe it!

Jane: Just a minute, here they are.

Eric: I swear, you would lose your head if you didn’t have …

An adult game of “I-can’t-believe-you’re-such-a-klutz!” can be easily absorbed by the kids and it’s no help to have an adult friend or relative show the children how to abuse or show disrespect for their parent.

Eric: This car needs some work.

Jane: Why don’t you take it in Monday.

Eric: Me? You’re the one who drives it most!

Jane: I have to get to work early. You just lounge around until 8:00 anyway.

Eric: Hey, that cushy job of yours…

Jane: Wait, wait, let’s get the car fixed, OK?

You may think this argument is about car repairs and who should see that it gets done. But a child listening on the sidelines doesn’t understand – doesn’t care to understand – the details of dropping a car off for repairs. As with their own conversations, children have their “antennae out” and are more interested in what the conversations say about how the people feel about each other than in the content of the conversation. They often get it wrong.

So after a simple disagreement on the car, Eric may be surprised to hear Jenny say: “You don’t like Mommy, do you?”

“What! Of course I do, whatever gave you that idea?”

The misunderstanding can be corrected, but the temptation to imitate the attitude they heard will linger on. The impression will only be corrected by future examples from you – and from the Erics and Aunt Eileens of your child’s world.

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We all hope this problem turns out to be simple and not too serious—maybe a tough homework assignment or a fellow student with bad social skills. We hope it is not the forever life-changing announcement. But you might have a moment of fear since May is Teen Pregnancy Month.

A conversation too short, too fast or with too many family members chiming in is not likely to help. Pick a good time when you can go slow with time to listen in a one-on–one situation.

Make sure your teen gets the facts straight. One teenaged girl told me, “I want to be safe. If I have sex, I always take one of Mom’s pills the next day.” Your daughter has a 1 in 20 chance of becoming pregnant, and both sons and daughters are at three times that risk for sexually transmitted diseases. This is not just a “girl problem.”

Fathers who cause teen pregnancies are usually long out of high school, so caution your teenager daughter about these not-quite-adults and supervise your 18-and-something son on this temptation.

Alcohol is the most common excuse young women give for making the big mistake.

What attitudes should a parent model on this subject?

Take your time on this subject, it may be the most important part of your influence on your son’s or daughter’s future. The New York Times reported last week that the introduction of the pill in the 50’s did not reduce dangerous sexual habits as was first predicted. National rates of teen pregnancies, births, and abortions did not peak in the 50’s but continued upward until the 90’s. Even now West Virginia averages 60 teenage girls per week who have babies.

The pregnancy rate is actually higher than that because many pregnancies end before they are reported and aborted pregnancies (about one third) are not included.

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