Articles for Parents

Everything listed under: independence

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    How to Know What Your Kids Are Thinking

    When state police called science writer David Dobbs to say that his teenage son had been driving 113 mph, he somehow kept from yelling, “What in the heck were you thinking?” Probably just like any other parent, he considered his son’s actions to be reckless. His son, however, refused to take ownership of that title. He said he chose a long, empty, dry stretch of highway on a beautiful day to drive his car that fast. 

    After hearing many parents complain about not being able to get into their teen’s head to understand what makes them tick, Harvard-educated researcher Shaunti Feldhahn and her co-author Lisa Rice took on that challenge. With input from more than 1200 teens, Feldhahn and Rice discovered some interesting insights into teens’ lives. The results of their work can be found in the book, For Parents Only: Getting Inside the Head of Your Kid.

    In general, the culture believes peer pressure pushes kids to rebel and behave in reckless ways without thinking of the consequences, teens don’t care what their parents think, they don’t want rules or discipline, parents don’t listen, and teens give in easily to negative attitudes. Feldhahn and Rice say those beliefs aren’t necessarily accurate, based on their findings.

    What’s really happening is this: Our teens are experiencing the intoxicating nature of freedom and the fear of losing that freedom, and they want to figure out who they are as an individual. When they test their parents’ authority, they really want them to stand firm instead of giving in. Teens want to know their parents are making an effort to understand them even when they make mistakes. They tend to stop talking because they think their parents are poor listeners, and what seems like an attitude problem might actually be a sign of insecurity.

    While the authors do not endorse bad behavior or make excuses for poor choices, they do believe that their newfound knowledge could help parent-child relationships.

    Although many parents believe they lose a lot of influence and that peers become more influential in the teen years, Feldhahn and Rice found that freedom is most influential. One psychotherapist said, “Freedom is like cocaine to a teenager. It’s intoxicating. It’s addictive. And it is often their biggest motivator.” Nearly 3 out of 4 teens surveyed said they were strongly motivated to pursue freedom. Many said they couldn’t get enough of it. However, even though they want their freedom, teens said they understood that too much, too soon wasn’t good for them. 

    When asked which they preferred, a parent who acted more like a friend or a parent who acted like a parent, 77 percent wanted the parent, not the friend. While teens may want their freedom, deep down they realize they need their parents to provide structure and security for them while they figure out the whole freedom thing. Additionally, knowing what freedoms are most important to your teen is essential.

    Rice recalls when one of her teenage daughters called to say she had been involved in a really small accident and that everything was okay. She said her mom didn’t need to come and that she was going on to her friend’s house. Of course, Rice headed to the scene. Her daughter had been on her cell phone while driving, which was against the rules. The first thought was to take away the cell phone as a consequence, but the cell phone was a big part of her daughter’s freedom. 

    After discussing what happened, the daughter asked to pay all of the repair costs instead of having her phone taken away. This meant turning over almost all of her paycheck for four months. As a result, she learned a very important lesson and did not resent her parents for taking her cell phone or grounding her.

    If you want to get inside your kid’s head, this insightful book offers very practical ways to engage your teen during their struggle to separate themselves from you as a parent, and ultimately become a productive, healthy adult.

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    The Teen Years Explained

    Just say the word “adolescent” in front of parents and you will likely get varied responses. Responses range from relief from surviving those years to sheer panic from those who are approaching that developmental stage. Everyone wishes they had a survival guide.

    Several years ago, The Center for Adolescent Health at Johns Hopkins University decided to create one. They pioneered a comprehensive resource for healthy adolescent development for parents. 

    In order to write The Teen Years Explained: A Guide to Healthy Adolescent Development, the guide's authors, Dr. Clea McNeely and Jayne Blanchard, needed to have their fingers on the current pulse of American teens. After culling through hundreds of adolescent development and behavior studies, they came to some surprising conclusions.

    “It was quite refreshing to find that in general most teenagers are developing in a very healthy way,” says McNeely. “There is no question that while the adolescent years are a time of excitement, they can also be very challenging.”

    Though teens give off a lot of cues that parents are no longer relevant or necessary in their lives, McNeely encourages parents to completely ignore those.

    “The two most important people in the lives of teens are their parents, whether they are present or absent,” McNeely says. “Parents must understand that their role in their teen's life is as critical as it was when their child was a toddler. Teens want to know their parents’ values. They want to be educated by their parents, even on the toughest subjects. The parents’ big challenge is to creatively engage their teen while they learn how to function independently.”

    One of the most important things you can do is understand adolescent brain development. 

    “Our children are bio-chemically driven to establish independence,” McNeely states. “The problem is they are not skillful at it, nor are they ready. And they often don’t ask for independence correctly, which tends to make parents crazy.”

    McNeely encourages parents to focus on life experiences that promote confidence and caring, and to build connection, competence and character. Additionally, parents need to nurture social and emotional development. 

    “Expectations, curfew, family meals and household chores are still crucial regardless of what your adolescent thinks and says,” McNeely says. “The key to all of this is making it reasonable. Where there were certain non-negotiables with your toddler, there will be fewer with your teen. The goal is to teach them how to make good decisions versus making all the decisions for them. While you might have a set curfew for your 13-year-old, you might negotiate at age 16.”

    Teens who tend to do well have parents who aren’t afraid to set boundaries and make the tough calls, even at the risk of hearing the words, "I hate you!"

    “Life with a teen can be challenging. But I invite people of all ages to appreciate what a marvel it is to be an adolescent,” McNeely says. “At no other time in life, even in early childhood, do human beings develop so rapidly, in so many different ways."

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    Should Your Child Stay Home Alone?

    When summer approaches many youngsters get excited and look forward to attending camps. And many middle-schoolers are pleading their case for staying home alone.

    But exactly how old is old enough?

    Surprisingly, only three states have laws regarding a minimum age for leaving a child home alone. Basically, the parent decides if their child is mature enough to be unsupervised at home.

    Many parenting experts agree that it is not a good idea to leave a child under the age of 9 home alone, but how do you know if your child is ready for this responsibility?

    For starters, assess whether your child:

    • Is physically and mentally capable of caring for him/herself.

    • Obeys the rules and makes good decisions.

    • Responds well to unfamiliar or stressful situations.

    • Feels comfortable or fearful about being home alone.

    When it comes to safety:

    • Is there an emergency plan and does your child know how to follow the plan?

    • Does your child know his/her full name, address and phone number?

    • Make sure your child knows where you are and how to contact you at all times.

    • Does your child know the full names and contact information of other trusted adults in case of an emergency?

    After answering these questions, if you feel confident that your child is ready, here are some tips to help him/her feel comfortable and confident about being home alone:

    • Have a trial period. Leave your child home alone for short periods of time to see how they manage by themselves.

    • Role-play potential scenarios. Act out possible situations, such as how to manage unexpected visitors or deliveries and how to talk on the phone without revealing that a parent is not home.

    • Establish rules. Make sure your child understands what is permissible and what is not. Be clear about expectations concerning technology, having friends over, going other places, how late they are allowed to sleep, chores that need to be done and exactly what is allowed while you are away. For example, should they bake cookies in the oven when you are away?

    • Discuss emergencies. What constitutes an emergency in your eyes and in your child’s eyes? Would they know that an overflowing toilet is definitely an emergency? Have you established a code word to use for emergencies?

    • Check in. Have established check-in times in addition to random times that you call to make sure all is going well.

    • Talk about it. Talk with your child about staying home alone and encourage him/her to share their feelings.

    Staying home alone is a big deal. Even if you stayed home alone as a child, it is a new day and age. Your child may not be mature or confident enough to handle this type of responsibility right now. If not, look for inexpensive alternatives such as volunteering, community center programs or faith-based organization opportunities. Or perhaps a neighbor or fellow parent would be willing to help out.

    Remember, although your child may seem smart, 9 is just 9, and 12 is not considered a young adult. The executive function of the brain, which is responsible for decision-making and self-control, doesn’t completely develop until the mid-20s.

    While leaving your child home alone may seem like the logical and most cost-effective thing to do, preparing your child for this kind of responsibility takes time. It isn’t too soon to begin the preparation process.

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    Young Adults Living with Their Parents

    Do you remember your young adult years? You know, the times when you ate Ramen noodles and searched for spare change beneath the couch cushions and between the car seats because you were a starving student or just starting a new job.

    There is nothing like knowing you are just barely making it - but still surviving - on your own. Looking back, you may realize those hard years helped you appreciate what you now have.

    The landscape looks vastly different than it did twenty years ago.

    According to a 2016 Pew Research Center report, more 18- to 34-year-olds are living with their parents. Researchers speculate this is fueled in large part by the number of people choosing to put off marriage.

    If you think back to your teenage years, most teens couldn’t wait to be out on their own. Even if they didn't have a job, they were determined to prove they could make it independently. So why are so many young adults choosing to live at home these days?

    In The Many Reasons More Young Adults Are Living with their Parents, Naomi Schaefer Riley, a weekly columnist for the New York Post whose writing leans toward higher education, religion, philanthropy and culture, raises this question: Are parents doing enough to equip their children to leave the nest?

    She surmises that young Americans may be living in their parent’s basement in part because they don’t have the economic or social tools to set out on their own. In a desire to protect and love their children and to shield them from experiencing potential problems in the world, parents may be unintentionally creating more obstacles for them.

    This raises some important questions for parents to consider as they prepare their children to leave the nest.

    • Are you teaching your teens how to develop networks or do you encourage them to rely solely on your networks? Guiding them through the process of building their own network is a powerful step toward independence.

    • Do you allow your child to fail and learn from their mistakes? Or, do you take care of the consequences so they don’t have to experience the pain? Figuring out how to move forward in spite of failure builds confidence.

    • Does your teen understand the definition of and the value of a good work ethic? Employers constantly lament many young people's understanding of punctuality or being respectful and motivated to do a good job.

    • Have you encouraged your teen to find a job without doing it for them? It's important to teach your teen how to look someone in the eye and put their cellphone away. Help them learn how to dress appropriately and what questions an interviewer may ask. These things are far more helpful for your teen in the long run than if you pick up the phone and make a call for them.

    Except for special circumstances such as disability, emergencies or providing care to parents, is allowing adult children to live at home really the best thing for them? Part of launching into adulthood is learning how to navigate challenges and celebrate accomplishments. As hard as it may be, encourage them to learn the meaning of perseverance, relentless pursuit and independence.

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    The Blessing of the Skinned Knee

    Is it possible that a skinned knee, failure on a test and not planning your child's life completely is really a good thing? Dr. Wendy Mogel, clinical psychologist and author of The Blessing of the Skinned Knee and The Blessing of a B Minus, would say yes.

    "The biggest problem I see today is that loving, devoted parents, armed with good intentions, treat their children like royalty," says Mogel. "Parents are putting themselves in the role of butler, secret police, talent agent, ATM and hospital staff member, doing things for their children that they are perfectly capable of doing for themselves."

    Mogel believes this parental behavior is ultimately a bad set-up for kids.

    "I frequently see parents who treat their children like hothouse flowers, who must depend on their parents for survival," she says. "They overschedule, overprotect and overindulge their children to the point that the children end up feeling a combination of entitled, dependent, anxious and like they don't measure up."

    In many instances, these young people head off to college full of hope. Three months later, they return home because they didn't know how to deal with their roommate or the professor refused to spoon-feed them information. Perhaps, they simply don't know how to work through problems on their own.

    If it feels like Mogel is stepping all over your toes, you are not alone.

    "There are many great parents out there with fantastic intentions who get carried away in their efforts to raise a successful adult," Mogel says. "In the end, nobody wins. Boys go on strike, girls become perfectionistic, and parents get angry."

    So, how can parents avoid falling in this trap?

    Mogel provides these words of encouragement to well-intentioned parents:

    • Kids go through phases ... glorious ones and rotten ones. Do not confuse today's snapshot with the epic movie of your child's life.
    • Know the difference between a child's wants and needs. Don't fall for the smooth-talking 15-year-old's line: "Mom, you'll probably want to buy me a brand-new car. It'll be really, really, really, safe ... definitely safer than me driving your big, old van." Privileges are not entitlements.
    • Let them learn to do for themselves. Remember, your child is competent.
    • Listen four times more than you talk. Before you nag, remind, criticize, advise, chime in or over-explain, say to yourself "W.A.I.T" (Why am I talking?)
    • Remember that disappointments are a necessary preparation for adult life. Stay calm when your child isn't invited to her friend's party, gets cut from the team or doesn't get a lead role. Without these experiences, your child will be ill-equipped for the real world.
    • Be alert, but not automatically alarmed. Stop and ask yourself: Is this situation unsafe or just uncomfortable for my child? Is it an emergency or a new challenge?
    • Don't take it personally if your teenager treats you badly. You can't always judge his character on the consistency of in-house politeness, clear speech or degree of eye contact. Instead, notice what teachers say and whether he's welcome at his friends' houses. Also, observe his manners with neighbors, salespeople and servers in restaurants.

    Mogel readily acknowledges that parenting is hard work and that the competition is fierce. However, parents who are intent on raising self-reliant, resilient and accountable young people will gladly put forth the effort.