Family Magazine

17 Questions Why!

By Joanigeltman @joanigeltman
h   When my book was first published, I was asked by my publisher to answer these question to use while publicizing my book.  I forgot I had done this, and when I saw it today I thought hmm I think this will be helpful to my readers. So grab a cup of coffee, it's a bit long but worth the read!



1. What are the most challenging part to parenting a teenager?
For most parents, trying to understand why their teen does so many “stupid” things, makes so many “stupid” decisions, and doesn’t want to listen to their advice gained from so many years of experience is crazy making! Without understanding what drives their teen’s behavior, parents just go from one crisis to the next, throwing around consequences and punishments hoping that something they do will stick and change their teen’s terrifying ways. But alas, just saying don’t do it or you better not, and then grounding them when they do, does not change behavior. Many parents of teens feel an enormous loss of control. “Because I said so” is no longer an effective parenting tool. You cannot parent a teenager the same way you parent a younger child. It is this redefining of parenting style that most parents of teens are unprepared for.
22. Which subjects freak parents out the most – discussing sex, alcohol and drugs, social media, school, or issues like depression?
I think the issues like drugs/sex/social media are front and center because parents are forced to deal with them on a daily basis. They are “in your face” kind of issues. Many many teens are dealing with depression and anxiety these days, but they are good at masking them with…. drugs/alcohol/sex and social networking. Parents then are dealing with symptoms of possible depression and anxiety, doing too much of all those other things which are avoidance behaviors. Also parents worry that drugs/alcohol/sex and social networking will negatively impact their kid’s success in school. PS, it will!
3   3. What can parents of pre-teens do to prepare for what will be required of them, as parents, to help and control their children that will turn into teenagers?
Take the blinders off. Many parents assume that because their kids were easy and obedient during the elementary school years that they will dodge a bullet heading into the teen years. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard; “ I never imagined that MY kid would ever…”from parents of newly minted teens doing the things teens do. As ALL teens enter adolescence they are faced with an amazing number of “firsts” for which they have absolutely no experience. They have a new brain and new body to boot; so all bets are off thinking just because their kids were easy, they will continue on that path. When you can anticipate rather than be surprised by some of the normal teen behavior there is more opportunity to use thoughtful strategy rather than be reactive, and in crisis mode.


4. Doesn’t every stage of parenting present hurdles and roadblocks? What’s so different about the teen years?
Teen brains are experiencing enormous growth. This means that they are literally seeing the world through a new lens. Additionally in adolescence, the emotional part of the teen brain is in higher activation than their thinking brain, which is completely opposite from the way an adult brain functions. This means teen behavior is driven by emotion and impulse rather than by the rational and the thoughtful. Except for the first 18 months of life, there is no other time in life when there is such extreme brain change. It’s biology baby! For parents this is scary because just as their teen’s brain sees the “awesomeness” of it all, they are exposed to experiences that carry tremendous risk.
5. Let’s discuss real-life issues.  How do you advise parents of teenagers who are being bullied online?
The first issue is availability. Teens can be gluttons for punishment. Get them off the sites and apps where bulling occurs and block the kids who are taunting them from those sites. If a bully doesn’t have access to his/her victim than that can take all the fun out of bullying. But in order for that to happen parents have got to be on top of what apps and sites their kids are on in the first place. Many parents stay way to hands-off with their kids phones and computers. Monitoring a teen’s phone and computer use is a necessary evil. There may always be some trash taking between teens, but when the line is crossed by threats and serious emotional abuse, transcripts should be presented to school administrators. 
7    6. How should a parent talk to their child about sex, sexting, and dating?
With understanding and honesty. Parents should really try to stay off the lecture circuit. Telling teens how they should behave will fall mostly on deaf ears. Saying: “ I get you are going to be interested in sex. I know I’ll have to get used to thinking about you in this new way. I know you will be in situations that you have never been in before with boys/girls. I also know kids talk to each other in very sexy language, and I’m guessing that can be pretty fun, but it can also get you into real trouble. Here are some of the things I do not want to see on your phone or computer.” Parents should say all those “dirty” words they do not want on their kids phone. Saying “inappropriate language” just won’t cut it. Kids need to hear what “suck my dick” sounds like out loud!.
7. What can a parent do to keep the lines of communication flowing with their teenager, to ensure honesty, openness, and forthrightness?
The biggest barriers to open communication are words that criticize and judge. For example when parents see their teen wasting time online and texting when they are supposed to be doing their homework, they are more likely to say: “Stop being so lazy, and get off that damn phone.” Rather than: “ I get how important your friends are to you, and how important it is for you to check in with them, but homework is important too, and we need to find a strategy that gives you time for both.” Now, instead of teens feeling like they have a character flaw, which pushes them into arguing and defense mode, they can work on solving a problem.
9    8. How can parents keep their kids focused on excelling in school and preparing for college?
Contrary to what most parents think, it is not to focus on the grades. Sometimes parents set up unrealistic expectations about the grades they expect from their teens. Starting in middle school parents start saying: “if you want to get into a good college, you better start working hard now.” Talk about getting on the worry train too early. Anxiety inhibits learning. Instead parents should focus on the learning part of school, not the report card. When parents engage with their teen about what they are learning, by reading the same books, and sharing insights; or engage in discussions about subjects their kids are studying; the message given is that being a curious learner is what is valued not the grade. Good grades will happen naturally when the process of learning is valued. And of course provide structure and get them off their phones for 2 hours every night, even if they have no homework!
1   9. Some teens just give off a lousy attitude – defiance, laziness, entitlement – what can a parent do to combat this?
Teens give off that attitude because they could care less about the things that most parents think are important. Teenagers are by nature narcissistic…just temporarily thank god! Friends are #1, chores, cleaning their room, laundry, those don’t even make the list. Every request from a parent to a teen then becomes a power struggle. My best advice is to stop yelling and badgering. When there is a demand from a teen a parent can say: “Is there a question in there?” Or if a teen needs a ride and a chore isn’t done: “I’d be happy to drive you to X’s house, let me know when you’ve emptied the dishwasher and we will be on our way. Attitude should not beget attitude!         10.What do parents need to understand about what their teen child is going through psychologically and physically?
Puberty absolutely sucks! This wreaks havoc in a teen’s life; too tall, too short, big boobs, no boobs, acne. From the second a teen wakes up in the morning and looks in that mirror, and sees live and in person their perceived inadequacies, the mood for their day is set. One pimple can ruin a day. Because of new brain growth, teens are now hyper-aware of what other people think about them. This self-consciousness can be paralyzing. Unfortunately parents get the worst of it. When teens are with their friends they have to be “all good,” but at home the stress of this new body and brain shows in sullenness, and attitude. The most difficult part of this puberty business is there really is no way of making it better; you just have to wait it out. Parents can’t “make it all better.” For the fix-it parent this is a tough slog.
2  11. What are four typical mistakes or assumptions parents make about their teen children?
1.Parents think that their teens do not want to spend time with them. WRONG. In a survey I did with teens 9-12th grade, almost all the kids said they wish they could spend more time with their parents. Just don’t do it on a weekend night! 2.  Labeling their teen. Many parents see their teens doing bad things, and label them as bad. Not true!! There is a huge learning curve during the teen years. Part of the process of leaning is making mistakes, and making bad choices. Making these learning opportunities rather than just punishing “bad behavior” is what changes behavior. 3.  Over thinking and over problem solving. Many times teens come to their parents to just vent about a situation they are having trouble with. They aren’t looking for a fix, just a shoulder to lean on. Parents like fixing, and go right to the “here’s what I think you should do…” Teens then react with anger, and “you just don’t understand.” And the lovely moment has gone ugly. 4.  Unrealistic expectation. Not all teens are meant to be honor roll students. Some have strengths in other area that as life goes on will be equally if not more important in the long run of adulthood.
12For blended families or single parents, how much harder is it for the parents to raise teenagers?
Blended families can be extremely stressful during the teen years. It’s hard enough to do the job of “separation/individuation” from your own parents, but then to have to deal with another set of people you don’t know, may not care about, and did not choose to join your life can be unbelievably stressful. For single parents, there is of course the stress of having to do it all, but also the reality of not having another person to share the physical supervision that teens need. Also the relationship between parent and teen can be intense without another adult as a buffer zone.
4 13What do parents of teen boys need to watch out for vs. parenting teen girls?
Boys are much better at masking emotions than girls. They tend to be more closed-up, especially if the men in their life do not provide a model for using emotional language. Boys face the same issues of body image, social standing, crushes, etc as girls. Girls feel permission to rant and rave about this stuff where boys often keep those feelings of insecurity hidden and may be prone to depression because of them. I am extremely worried about boys and pornography. Because most kids get smartphones in middle school, boys now have easy access to porn away from any prying adult supervision. Research has shown that this early introduction to sometimes violent and misogynistic sex has given boys unbridled permission to sexually harass girls they know. Parents need to be extremely proactive in discussing this issue with their sons.
6   14. How do parents manage a teen’s amount of screen time, not to mention the specific activities or type of content accessed by their children?
First, parents have to stop being afraid that their kids will get mad when they start to set limits on this. Teens will get mad, very mad, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t need help. Iphones, Ipads, Itouch, laptops without supervision equal addiction. Most smartphone companies now offer plans that put parents in the driver seat. Parents should be the only person allowed to download apps, no devices at bedtime and phones should be shutdown during school. There are many social networking apps that are just time sucks. Teens spend hours posting on multiple sites, and responding to other peoples posts. There are too many sites that encourage bullying, and sexting. Teens DO NOT have the controls to be smart and disciplined….yet. It is a set up to expect teens to shut off and shut down on their own.
15. Let’s face it.  Parents cannot monitor everything and don’t have the time or energy to get involved in every aspect of their child’s life.  Should parents just trust their child and give them independence and be free to make mistakes?
Making mistakes is a good thing, when it comes to natural consequences. Not getting up on time for school and getting detention; waiting till the last minute and failing to get a paper or project in on time and getting a bad grade; staying out past curfew and missing out on going out the next weekend; forgetting homework and leaving it at home and getting a zero; these are all things kids should and can be responsible for, and yet these are the things that most parents rescue their kids from, worrying that it will affect their grades or chances to get into honor classes. Monitoring technology until a teen brain has matured enough to manage dangerous impulses is worth that energy. Serious mental heath issues, and legal consequences, these risks are just too steep,
16How do parents teach kids about money management when they are in debt or living paycheck to paycheck?
Parents rarely share the nuts and bolts of the family financial situation with their kids. With teenagers, this can be a really useful life lesson. Teens do a lot of magical thinking, and nuts and bolts bring them back to earth. I would sit down monthly with teens and set out the family budget; money in money out. This is a good reality check for teens who think they are entitled to what everyone else has. Where there is a shortfall for things the teen may want or need, than it can become a team problem-solving event. Also equally as important is for a parent to understand that their financial situation is hard for the teen. Teens are very self-conscious and may be embarrassed about their family’s financial situation. Parents should acknowledge, and understand their teen’s perspective, but never apologize for the family circumstances, life is what it is. 
1    17. What are the rewards to investing time and attention to your child’s well being during their tumultuous teen years?
The most exciting part of raising teen is watching this new person develop, like seeing your baby walk for the first time. They are now capable of seeing all that the world has to offer. They are at the buffet of life, and they will need to try out different offerings to see what is right for them. Everything a parent has taught, and nurtured up till this point is all in the mix, and parents need to trust that. A parent’s greatest gift to this emerging adult is to let go of their own expectations of what they want their teen to become, and let their teen become who he/she is meant to become. Why not share these with a friend!!

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