By Trish Pannuto
Over the Thanksgiving weekend I read a Wall Street Journal article, The Right Way for Parents to Question Their Teenagers. With two kids home from college and as someone involved with PEP for 18 years, I was intrigued. The article begins by pointing out how difficult it can be to get teens to open up and goes on to cite the evidence supporting the notion “that maintaining open communication with adolescents is crucial to their mental health and well-being. Teens who disclose their daily activities and inner feelings to a parent tend to have lower levels of anxiety and depression and are less likely to engage in risky behaviors.”
Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, quoted in the article, states, “The parents who know the most and who have the most influence over their child’s academics and behaviors aren’t the ones who ask lots of questions. They are often the ones who are the least reactive and who express warm, unconditional love and support.”
Initially I thought about how we might use this article to promote PEP’s Thriving with Teens class, which begins in January. But that class rarely needs much in the way of promotion – the fall classes were filled to capacity with a waitlist. That’s not surprising. I suspect it’s human nature to wait until we’re in real pain to seek help – medical, emotional, or otherwise.
If you have ever pondered taking a parenting class but haven’t jumped in yet, I offer two more ideas to consider:
1. Being a less reactive parent to a teen and expressing “warmth, unconditional love and support” while in the midst of fear, anger, and frustration is not a switch that can easily be flipped. There are tools and strategies to becoming that parent, and PEP’s Thriving with Teens class will absolutely help.
2. More importantly, I believe the article missed the opportunity to point out that you don’t have to wait until the nth hour – when you’re stressing over peer groups, drugs and alcohol, SAT prep, and AP’s – to cultivate that relationship. As a matter of fact, you’ll be better served to start your journey to positive parenting much earlier. In our Free Introduction to PEP, “Why Don’t My Kids Listen to Me?” we point out that our goal as parents is to be invited to the Thanksgiving table that our kids are hosting at age 30. Having a place at that table is a privilege, not a right. To have that privilege presumes that you have a good relationship with your kids.
To be the approachable parent of a teen, one who “disclose(s) their daily activities and inner feelings,” takes practice. Whether you’re parenting a preschooler, a third grader, or a tween, begin now with the end in mind.
Parent Encouragement Program
10100 Connecticut Ave.
Kensington, MD 20895