Watch the Red Flags
No question about it parenting teenagers is a tough job. This is a crucial time to make a huge impact on their lives. During adolescence, there is a natural tension between parent and child. The teen is trying to separate themselves from the parents and establish their own independence. While at the same time they want you to do their laundry. There are some specific things to watch for to make sure your teen is on the right track. These are the red flags!
Watch out for age discrepancy. Typically teens like hanging out with kids their own age. Most teens like being around a slightly older kid but you should ask yourself “why does the older kid like hanging around the younger ones?” Sometimes these friendships are normal. Maybe they are all in sports, the band or a church group. I am not saying an age discrepancy is always wrong I am just raising the red flag of caution. When it comes to dating the red flag should be waving loudly. When I have a pregnant teenage patient, one of the things I want to know is the age of the father? So often it is an older guy. It turns out about 60 percent of teenagers that have sex for the first time are dating an older guy. If your child is dating an older person please be cautious. It is time to bring them in for a visit and a discussion.
Encourage extracurricular activities
Encourage school and outside activities. Get kids involved in their world. Keep your teen busy. One of my favorite questions to ask teenage patients is about their involvement in school. I want to know where they go to school and what they are involved in. When a student talks about their sport, musical instrument, dance team or anything else that they are passionate about their body language changes. They become more open, more animated and more engaged. Studies show that involvement in outside activities is a predictor of success later in life. If your teenager is not involved in any activities this is a red flag. Everyone needs a group and a mission— something to care about that is bigger than themselves. Teens need to experience both success and failure. They need to be challenged. They need to push beyond their comfort zone. Help your child find their passion. What does your teen care about and how can you help nourish that passion?
Know their friends
Your child’s friends are a key resource to lots of information and insight. Your child may not tell you certain things, but their friends will tell you everything. Know their friends. Watch the friends. Engage the friends in conversation. How do you get one of the teenage friends to talk with you?– Easy– Ask questions and let them talk. Resist the urge to interrupt. Remember everyone has a favorite subject —-themselves. Ask them questions and be interested in the answer. Over time the friends will become your ally. Learn which friends you trust and which ones you don’t. When I was in high school I had a friend named Terri. Whenever my group of friends went to her house her mom always made cookies and desserts. One day I asked her mom why she always cooked for us. Her answer made me laugh, and I still remember it. She said “teenage boys are like puppies. You feed the ones you like so they will keep coming back.”…..I guess she liked us because we ate a LOT of cookies. #Smartmom
Trust but verify
Network with other parents. In today’s world, this is so easy. Get to know the friends’ parents. Exchange phone numbers and even become Facebook friends. Text each other. Trust your children, but verify the plan. If your child is going to a friend’s house or a movie make sure you have verified the plans with the parents. The other parents will appreciate it and you may end up with some new adult friends.
Trust your Instinct
When you feel something isn’t right trust your gut. Watch for changes in your child’s grades or a sudden change in the way they’re behaving in the family. A sudden change in friends or a change in their lifestyle is a red flag. Too many families ignore the early warning signs only later to find out the child is experimenting with drugs, alcohol or in an unhealthy sexual relationship. Early intervention is key. Doctors are are here to help with you navigate these challenges. If your instinct is something does not feel right then bring the child in for a visit.
In our next post we will discuss specific conversation tools to help engage teens in dialogue.
Parenting Teens, Part 3– Create an Environment of Openness
Great book for your teen: