Adolescents have the most difficult situation in childhood. They are weary of their seemingly endless period of dependence. Adults have been dictating to them since birth - what to eat, what to wear, how to study, what friends to have, how to behave, etc. On top of all that, they now have two new preoccupations of major dimensions; sexual development and impending entry into responsible adulthood. Taken together these influences can produce an adolescent who is moody, rebellious, sloppy, unpredictable, withdrawn, obsessive, violent and, all in all, a handful. The question is, how can we help our children through this trying period?

The best way to help children avoid unwholesome activities is to guide and encourage them into wholesome activities. Team sports can be character builders, as can individualized sports, like running or swimming. Hobbies, like photography, painting, writing, or stamp collecting are constructive. Usually there are school clubs organized to help students get started in these activities. Music of all kinds is an excellent pastime for adolescents, whether learning to play an instrument, singing, or just listening with others in a music appreciation club.

Working, for pay, on a part-time basis, especially during summer school recess, is a good way for young people to learn responsibility and the value of money. It will also increase their self-respect. Finally, volunteer activities, e.g. tutoring a younger child or helping the elderly in a nursing home, may be the most constructive of all.

During their adolescence, as earlier, we should try to meet and chat with our children's friends. We should offer to host their parties (in person), and welcome them to just "hang out." We should show respect for our children by consulting with them about family entertainment and vacations. They will appreciate being treated as individuals.

What about negative behavior? We must keep an even temper and not yell or hit. As adults, we must explain to our children why we are worried, even when it seems obvious. Offering to listen to our children's explanations and trying to understand their problems is so critical. If they won't talk, we must go ahead and try to understand what is going on and how it must change, including punishments if deserved. Even if your child does not respond, your fair-minded treatment, calmly explained, will be better understood and accepted than an angry outburst. Your body language and tone of voice should show you are still supportive and caring, even when reprimanding or disciplining.

Distinguishing between minor problems, e.g. messy room, and serious problems, e.g. signs of drug abuse or undesirable friends, is crucial. Instead of repeated battles over clothing strewn on your child's floor, just keep the door closed. It's part of growing up.

If you feel that something bad may be going on, follow your instincts. If your child is withdrawing progressively from family contact, looks unwell, keeps unusual hours, won't discuss his friends, skips school, won't eat, then you must discuss whether there is a serious problem. Keep pressing on, caringly but insistently. Do not retreat. It is your responsibility not to give up on your child's problems. He may be actually aching to unburden himself, but needs to know you are seriously committed to helping him rather than merely finding fault and punishing. You should emphasize that right or wrong, he is still your child and will always have your love and support.

Finally, we should praise and reward positive behavior and accomplishments by children of all ages. For a child to hear her parents are proud of her is a confidence builder, at any age.

The above information is an excerpt from "Parenting Through All the Ages and Stages" (2000), a Massachusetts Citizens for Children publication.

Some Resources & Links:

Parents Helping Parents offers free and ongoing self-help groups to support families and prevent child abuse. Groups meet throughout Massachusetts and are open to all parents. Also runs a 9AM-5PM hotline for parents 1-800-882-1250.

Some parenting tips from Circle of Parents

Talking With Kids About Tough Issues - talking to your kids about sex, HIV & AIDS, drugs, alcohol, and violence

Under Fire? guidance for parents of teenagers, from the Covenant House

Parents' Guide to Preventing Gangs, from the Memphis Police Dept.

Children with Disabilities web site providing information & resources for parents and other caretakers.

Family Concerns: The Parenting Resources for the 21st Century online guide is an initiative of the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (the Council)

Talk With Tour Kids Tips for discussing difficult topics with your children - talking to your kids about sex, HIV & AIDS, drugs, alcohol, and violence

Families First promotes the secure and nurturing parent-child relationships that are the foundation of every child’s well-being and future success.