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Addressing the Challenges of a New School Year
School has started, and along with a brand new curriculum, your child may also be facing challenges outside the classroom. If you are the parent of a pre-teen or teenager, chances are your son or daughter is beginning to deal with certain issues for the first time. From drugs and alcohol to sex and violence, today's teens have some tough decisions to make. The question is, how can your influence steer them towards the right choices? To shed some light on the subject, YOU Magazine sat down with family psychologist, Dr. Charles Franklin.
According to Dr. Franklin, a big problem for most kids entering either middle school or high school is the overall adjustment to a new environment. Many times the new school is much bigger in size, creating an even greater need for the child to establish his or her identity amongst classmates. To lessen the potential negative ramifications, it is helpful to first understand your child's developing mind.
Dr. Franklin says that the transition years typically begin when the child reaches 7th or 8th grade. During this phase, interaction between parent and child begins to change dramatically. Dr. Franklin thinks of the pre-teen's mind as "a loose collection of islands" referring to the different aspects of their personality which are beginning to define them, but still lack total cohesion. He says it's during the pre-teen years that the children begin to view their lives much differently.
Prior to adolescence, a child defines his or her life within the context of their own "idealized" family. At the 7th or 8th grade level, however, children begin viewing themselves in comparison to other families, as well as the outside world. Up until this point, disciplining the child probably consisted of statements like, "Those are my rules", and "Because I say so." These tactics once worked because your rules and your opinion were all that mattered.
Once the child's world begins to open up, you as a parent become extremely vulnerable. Franklin says it's at this point that any inconsistencies or hypocrisy in your behavior will cause your child to ask, "Why should I listen to you?" Compounding the issue is your child's innate desire to satisfy you on an emotional level. This may result in the child telling you what you want to hear, but doing otherwise, or in simple English – lying, either through storytelling or omission.
By age 15 or so, your child's "islands" are becoming more cohesive, forming what Franklin refers to as "the emerging sense of self". He also says this is when the rebellion can really begin as your child will seek out friends who they identify with emotionally. Franklin says, "The draw for the child is less about any negative activities which might take place and more about the friends themselves." These "friends" are fulfilling an emotional need for your child. Franklin adds, "Any power struggles at home may lead to teens acting out by making poor choices."
Franklin says that if he had one word to describe the ideal parenting model during the teen years, it would be "collaboration". Instead of assuming your child will automatically respect your rules, Franklin suggests that parents back off a bit and learn more about what's on their child's mind. He says this is easier said than done because most parents remember the risky behavior of their own adolescence. He advises, "Hold on to your paranoia," adding that as parents we need to allow our children to make mistakes. "Try to see the world through their eyes and, when asked, offer them the wisdom of your years."
In addition to collaborative parenting, Franklin says an essential ingredient to rearing an adolescent is the concept of mentoring. He says effective mentoring is when a youngster is mirrored by a secure and trusted adult who does not impose judgment. This can be anyone from a relative or a family friend, to a coach or a teacher. The key ingredient is that the adult has the ability to "actively listen" to what the teen tells them. He says it's less important for the mentor to hand out advice than it is to lead by example. Franklin says the mentor can, however, initiate conversations with the teen on broad topics such as "living a balanced life" or "forming your own opinion".
Dr. Franklin says the main job as the parent of a teen is to delegate. In other words, an effective parent is one who seeks out as many secure attachments for their child as possible. Remember, it's not about the activity in which they participate as much as it is the emotional connections made by the child. He says many times a great coach or teacher can push your child to the brink of frustration but then reconnect with them emotionally, simultaneously teaching and challenging them in a safe and thoughtful way. This, he claims, is nearly impossible for a parent to accomplish when acting alone.
Dr. Franklin says there are many upsides to the practice of mentoring. For one, you as a parent are not inundated with every frightening aspect of your child's world. He says quite often this barrage leads to anxiety within the parent and, in turn, ineffective parenting. Franklin also claims that mentoring allows the parent to occasionally be "the good cop", referring to the subsequent conversations you can have with your teen. This is the chance for you to listen with compassion and "collaborate" regarding the "right" answers with the objectivity you've gained.
For those who may question the concept of collaborative parenting, Franklin suggests that you may have less control over your child than you think. The idea of experimentation is normal for any human being. So, while it may be a scary prospect to allow your child to try new things and fail, this is all a part of the learning process. If you're too controlling, your child will be more likely to rebel against your wishes.
Supervising teens requires the same minor steering you provided when helping them master riding a bicycle or driving a car. Now, stand back and enjoy their success…your success.
Dr. Charles Franklin has practiced family psychology for 25 years. He holds licenses as a psychologist and marriage and family therapist. He has designed programs for teens ranging from school prevention programs to adolescent psychiatric treatment. He lectures at the L.A. Superior Family Court and practices in Sherman Oaks, California.
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