Teen Shares Risk-taking Behavior; Now What do you Do?

Teen Shares Risk-taking Behavior; Now What do you Do?

I overheard a mother and her teenage daughter talking to each other recently. Some important issues were being addressed and while both mother and daughter were struggling with these issues, neither seemed to realize exactly what was going on in their discussion – or their relationship.

The surface issues had to do with communication, morality, discipline, and trust. But, the age-old problem of redefining the relationship between parent and adolescent was also lurking underneath their conversation.

In this discussion, 16-year-old Charlotte wanted to be honest with her mother and she said she wanted to let her mother know that sometimes she drank beer with her friends.

“And you expect me to just say, okay and let you do that?” her mother asked.               “What else can you do?” Charlotte responded.

“As a parent,” her mother replied, “I have an obligation to tell you it is wrong. Maybe I should even try to stop you – or forbid you to hang around with your friends.”

“You can’t do that,” Charlotte said. “How would you do that anyway?”

Although there was a defiant edginess in this question by Charlotte, it was actually an excellent question. At the same time, it revealed the conflict that often takes place between parents and adolescents. Parents may realize they may need to continue to set limits, but how exactly do they do that with a girl like Charlotte who drives, spends time with friends, and is away from home a good part of every day?

Although the conversation started out as Charlotte’s attempt to be open with her mother about her behavior, her mother was concerned about Charlotte engaging in a risky behavior – drinking. And her mother wasn’t sure what to do with this knowledge. Should she try to stop her daughter from drinking? If so, how would she do this? Should she repeat again (for maybe the 100th time in Charlotte’s life) that drinking alcohol at her age is illegal and that she — her mother — thought drinking was wrong?

Would anything her mother said or did have any significant effect on Charlotte’s future behavior in regards to drinking alcohol with her friends?

Charlotte and her mother were visiting a classic struggle that countless other parents and teens have faced. The problem seems to be about drinking, but the conflict has much more to do with the relationship between parents and teenagers.

Parents worry that they are losing control and that they have a diminished ability to play a significant role in what their adolescents do. On the other hand, teens may seek out a more equal relationship with their parents and they may want to be able to share things about their life in an open, adult-like manner.

Yet, a parent doesn’t stop being a parent – certainly not with a 16-year-old daughter or son. So even though a child may reveal things that are of concern, how is a mother or father supposed to handle it?

In this conversation, Charlotte’s mother was not ready to say what needed to be said. However, based on my experiences with teens, here’s the way I believe parents need to respond in this kind of situation:

Mother: “I appreciate you being honest and open with me about your drinking. I’d like to believe that we have an honest relationship with each other and I hope that continues.

“However, as you are aware, I can’t offer my support for you doing something that is illegal and maybe even dangerous. But I also have a lot of confidence in your ability to make wise decisions.

“I prefer that you not drink with your friends. You know all the reasons why I’m against teenagers drinking. And you know I love you and worry about your health and safety. However, I also know I can’t stop you from doing things when you are with your friends that are risky.

“But, again, I trust that you will make good decisions that will make me proud of you. I’m willing to discuss your decisions any time you want. And if I can help you make the right decisions, you know I’m always here for you.”

Dads Get the Empty Nest Blues, Too

Dads Get the Empty Nest Blues, Too

When my youngest child was ready to go to college, I drove him 1200 miles to Oklahoma, helped him get settled in his dormitory, and said goodbye.

Before leaving Jason, I made plans to come back for parent’s weekend and for a football game.

And that was that. Or so I thought.

I didn’t count on experiencing the fabled “empty nest syndrome.” I didn’t expect to miss him or feel such a great sense of loss. But it made sense that I would have those feelings. After all, I had devoted my weekends for about 25 years to my two children. I vowed when they were young that I would never be too busy to spend lots of time with them. Which I did. But with both of them gone, now what was I supposed to do?

It was at that point that I had to admit that dads suffer from the empty nest syndrome just like mothers. Traditionally, or so I thought, it was supposed to be moms who experienced this syndrome. They were the ones who supposedly devoted their lives to raising children and nurturing them as they guided them from play groups to sleepovers to soccer games to dating. Giving all of that up, so the traditional thinking went, leaves moms often feeling the blues when the nest is suddenly empty.

If your child is world-bound this fall – to college, a new job, or some other adventure – you may be a prime candidate for experiencing the feelings of being adrift without the structure of taking care of a child and doing all the tending that goes along being an involved parent.

But the empty nest syndrome doesn’t have to catch you unawares. You can be prepared and ready to cope with a new life; a life that will generally mean less conflict and commotion as your life with a teenager gives way to an existence with more peace and a lot more privacy.

It may be important to first look at how you’ve weathered other transitions in your life. If you’ve dealt fairly smoothly with other major changes, then there’s a good bet that you’ll do okay with the child-leaving phase of your life. On the other hand, if major changes tend to throw you a bit, be prepared to feel shaky when your last (or perhaps only) child is packing to leave. That means you can count on being sad for a while and feeling – like I felt – as if a big part of life is changing.

So, if you’re experiencing the empty nest blues, try to pamper yourself and give yourself some room to experience those sad moments.

Also, look at the other parts of your life and see how firmly grounded you are in your other roles. How are your roles as wife (or husband), friend, or employee? Can you focus on strengthening those roles now that your role as dad or mom is coming to what feels like an end? How can you be better at those roles? What’s your vision for the future?

A satisfying marriage will provide emotional support through most of life’s transitions, but this transition involving the departure of your child can be weathered best if your marriage is a good one.

Of course, your marriage could crumble if you were staying in it for the kids. Nothing will expose the rotted foundation of an unstable marriage like not having kids around. That could mean you may need to schedule some counseling sessions to figure out how you’re going to cope with both the loss of your child and a not-so-stable marriage.

Finally, for the immediate future, make some specific plans for the first days you’re going to be childless. Plan activities with your spouse or your friends. And if you haven’t done anything interesting with either spouse or friends lately, now’s a good time to change that.

Adrian Peterson Pleads No Contest to a Child Abuse Charge

Adrian Peterson Pleads No Contest to a Child Abuse Charge

The Adrian Peterson case has been resolved. Well, sort of.

That is, the Minnesota Vikings running back who was charged with a felony for disciplining his four-year-old son with a wooden switch which caused cuts and bruises agreed to a plea bargain.

Peterson said he wasn’t trying to harm his son. He was, however, disciplining him in much the same manner as Peterson himself was disciplined by his father. .

While this case resulted in lots of media attention, it did spark debate about spanking and corporal punishment. At the same time, it raised some important questions about the criminal justice system, punishment, and how best to handle child abuse and child maltreatment.

In the plea deal, in which Peterson pled no contest to a misdemeanor charge of reckless assault, he received a sentence that essentially gives the football star probation, a fine of $4,000, 80 hours of community service, and required parenting classes.

Our criminal justice system often prescribes jail or prison time for most serious offenders. Certainly this is true for child abusers. If Peterson had gone to trial and been convicted of felony child abuse, he would have been sentenced to two years in prison in Texas — where this case occurred.

When the charge is some form of child abuse, how does jail or prison time lead to someone becoming a better parent?

My understanding of the research on the effects of punishment is that while people when they are incarcerated maybe unable to commit future offenses because they are removed from their child and have little or no contact with their child, neither do they learn alternative behaviors. Punishment teaches what you’ll get in trouble for; it does not automatically teach you to be a better parent.

Peterson has been ordered to participate in parenting classes. That sounds great. Just what he needs since he grew up with corporal punishment, right? But, wait. As someone who has taught parenting classes both in and out of court systems, I know there are parenting classes and then there are parenting classes. That is, there are a wide variety of so-called parenting classes available in every state and big city. Some are very good, teaching parents appropriate forms of discipline that teach moms and dads how to raise a child without hurting that child. There are, however, parenting classes that condone spanking and other coercive approaches to parenting. There are also parenting classes that are simply lectures about aspects of raising children, and classes that provide parents experiences in a wonderful learning environment in which they can be trained in how to handle challenging behaviors.

Few, if any, judges in pronouncing such sentences tell the offender which kind of parenting class they should take. Although some juvenile and family courts run their own parenting classes, most do not. If the judge doesn’t specify what kind of parenting class to take, neither do they ask for a report confirming that the parent learned alternative forms of discipline. Typically, they may ask for a report that gives details about attendance and whether they “completed” the course.

I hope for Peterson’s son’s sake that Adrian Peterson gets in a good class with an experienced instructor who will help him learn to use alternative forms of positive discipline that will help him find positive ways of teaching his son self-control. And that Peterson learns that he doesn’t have to use weapons and hitting to teach his child valuable lessons. Unfortunately, as is evident in Adrian Peterson’s family, such lessons get handed down from one generation to the next.

National Study Identifies Which Teens Involved in Violence

National Study Identifies Which Teens Involved in Violence

 A national study reveals that nearly 7.8 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 — almost one third of teens — participated in one of three violent behaviors over the past year. The study, conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), showed that 22.6 percent of adolescents reported having participated in a serious fight at school or work; 16.1 percent reported involvement in group-against-group fighting; and 7.5 percent reported attacking others with the intent to seriously hurt them.

With nearly one in three youths engaging in at least one of the violent behaviors in this SAMHSA report, it is clear that youth violence remains an ongoing public health problem.

For those of us who have worked with adolescents, this is not surprising. In my work with teens in the juvenile justice system, I almost exclusively worked with teenagers who had been violent. Their violent behavior ranged from hitting or slapping a family member to attacking an antagonist with a knife or a firearm. For many of these youth, some as young as 11 or 12, violence is a way of life. The only way they know how to solve conflicts is with their fists or a weapon.

While violent behaviors occur among youths in all economic circumstances, the recently-released SAMHSA research report indicates that rates are highest among young people in families with lower incomes — regardless of their age or gender. Also, having lower grades in school is strongly associated with higher rates of violence, and for those with a “D” average or lower, income made no difference in the percentage who engaged in violent behaviors.

Overall, male adolescents were more likely to engage in violent behaviors than females (34.6 percent versus 27.0 percent). Yet, key factors relate to family income and grades at school.

Adolescents from families with higher annual incomes are less likely to engage in violent behaviors than those from lower income families. For example, adolescents from families with annual incomes of $75,000 or more are far less likely to be involved in violent behaviors than adolescents from families with annual incomes of less than $20,000.

And academic performance is also associated with risk for participating in violent behaviors. Adolescents with “A” averages in school were less than half as likely to be involved in violent behaviors as adolescents earning “D” averages in school.

Low academic performance even seems to transcend the association with family income as a risk factor for violent behaviors. Among adolescents with “D” averages, those coming from families with annual incomes of $75,000 or higher had nearly identical rates of violent behaviors as those who came from families with annual incomes of less than $20,000 .

“Youth violence has long lasting, devastating consequences — the alarming rates of violence found by this study reinforce the importance of our efforts to prevent violence,” SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D., is quoted as saying on the SAMHSA website. “These rates also underscore the need to treat the psychological trauma that can result from youth exposure to violence. Community leaders and school officials can use this vital information in making decisions about creating safe learning environments, and effective treatment programs which can rebuild young lives and promote safer communities.”

Given the results of this study, it seems that for community leaders, youth in low-income families should be targeted for programs that promote positive youth development. Such programs can promote positive relationships with peers, emphasize youths’ strengths, and provide opportunities to learn healthy behaviors.

As parents, there are things you can do as well. As Pamela S. Hyde suggests in her quote, if your child has been exposed to violence, then he or she needs help to cope with that experience. Research is very clear that when young people are exposed to violence, even if they appear healthy afterwards, their risk for being violent themselves soars.

Furthermore, since academic grades appear to be a major factor in youth violence, it’s important that you be very involved in school and your youngster’s education. Parental involvement in education is shown in dozens of studies to be the key factor in academic success. However, given the relationship to violence, it’s even more imperative that you get involved in your child’s school life – and stay involved throughout high school.