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  • Effectively Raising Teens

    by Richard Gallagher, Ph.D.

    Maintaining a close, positive relationship is one key to raising adolescents who thrive. This has to be enhanced by effective parental control through guidance and discipline for true success.

    Guidance requires that caretakers set reasonable and clearly-described expectations. Pre-teens and teens need to know what actions they are expected to take in school, at home, and in social situations. For the four main health risks in adolescents—sexual activity, substance use, violence, and car use—parents need to spell out clear rules. For example, teens should refuse rides from people that are impaired or are dangerous drivers.

    Discipline requires several steps. First, we know that parents need to be aware of their children’s actions. This has been described as “monitoring” teens’ actions. One step involves knowing where children are. Requiring that children inform parents of their whereabouts is a powerful step in decreasing risky behaviors.

    Second, parents need to maintain appropriate supervision. Caretakers often confuse the adult appearance and the adult talk of adolescents as indicators that teens can be left on their own. However, adolescent judgment is not fully developed. As a result, teens need supervision. One example highlights this need: Adolescents get into the most amount of trouble with delinquent acts, sexual activity, and drug experimentation between the hours of 4 and 7 o’clock on weekdays. Why? Probably because many of them are not supervised during those hours. It is important to develop some modern form of “chaperoning” in the family.

    Finally, discipline requires both positive and negative consequences. Pre-teens and teens need to know when they have done well and they need mild forms of punishment to know when they have engaged in problematic actions. There is no way to avoid mistakes, so there has to be a method to help motivate change in the course of actions. Restricting privileges for reasonable periods of time, i.e. grounding, is a very effective method.

    Of course, exercising control will result in negative interactions and disruptions in the parent-child relationship. However, the disruptions will not be permanent as long as parents maintain positive contacts on other subjects and the family continues to have regularly scheduled, conflict-free interactions.#

    Dr. Gallagher is Director of the Parenting Institute, NYU Child Study Center, website

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