Walk into any bookstore or library in the US, and head toward the parenting section. What will you find there? Books on pregnancy, childbirth, infants, and toddlers almost spill off the shelves. Shoved in among the books of baby names and potty training hints are usually a few books on parenting older children, often geared toward helping parents handle serious problems such as depression and eating disorders. The tell-all manuals that teach parents everything they need to know about their babies just aren't available for parents of preteens.
It isn't the fault of the bookstores, though, that parenting books are geared toward parents of infants rather than parents of older kids. The book industry follows trends in consumer interest, and the bulk of the interest lies in parenting very young children. New parents are filled with questions, and are looking for instructions on bathing and diapering. They're unsure of how to be parents.
After the baby makes it into early childhood, parents often take a step back. They're more comfortable in their roles as mothers and fathers, and are able to focus on areas of their lives that don't revolve around their kids. They feel like they have the job of parenting under control.
But when their kids turn into adolescents, parents often feel blindsided. They knew that the teenage years were tough, but they didn't expect them to start so early. The preteen years are critical to helping adolescents grow into strong, motivated, self-aware teenagers and young adults, but parents often need to brush up on their skills in order to know how to help their kids move into and through this difficult time.
Dangers of Being Uninformed
When parents expect the casual parenting style that works so well with six- to ten-year-olds to work with their adolescents, they're headed for trouble. Children need guidance more at this age than ever before, but they're less likely than ever to ask for it. Parents who try to control their adolescents run into even bigger problems, as their children are more likely to rebel and less likely to bring tough questions to parents who they think will assert their parental will instead of listening to adolescent problems without handing down judgment.
Our modern lives are much too complex to send our kids into adolescence without careful guidance. As life becomes more hectic, more stimulating, and less focused, teen problems are becoming all too common. Teen violence, drug abuse, and mental health problems are all on the rise, and teen suicide has tripled in the past 25 years. Clearly, our adolescents desperately need our support and guidance.
The dangers of being uninformed about how to successfully parent teenagers are great. Imagine a preteen who's always been a good kid, but who doesn't have great decision making skills when it comes to choosing friends. He falls into a crowd that his parents don't approve of, and his parents try to limit his time with these friends through their typical methods--they tell him he's not allowed to spend time with these friends, and refuse to drive him to their houses. These tactics would have worked when he was nine, but at twelve, he's more likely to feel resentful and try to find ways to sneak around his parents. The friends will still have the opportunity to exert their negative influence, but by issuing demands without taking the preteen's feelings into account, the parents have lost their chance to exert an opposite, positive influence. If they continue handing down edicts and demands, they'll continue to lose their influence on their son.
Staying a Step Ahead
In order to learn more effective parenting techniques by the time you'll need them, begin preparing for the teen years before your child starts having double-digit birthdays. Start by scouring the Internet or bookstores for books on how to parent older children. Look for books that emphasize parenting as a type of coaching, rather than a strict system for controlling behavior. Especially in the teen years, parents find more success when they use collaborative communication methods, helping teens enhance their natural strengths, empowering their teens to grow, and protecting their teenagers' individuality.
Most importantly, develop a network of people whom you can turn to for help, guidance, and support as you navigate this path. Parents can't work in a vacuum; it truly does take a village to raise a child. Heart-centered teachers, family with well-adjusted grown children, friends who use a coaching approach with their kids, spiritual leaders, and even sports coaches are people who can be effective sounding boards.
With good guidance, parents can help their teenagers develop strong self-images that will help them avoid the problems that plague modern teenagers. Parents who start early on their quest to find support will know enough to confidently parent their adolescents-while there's still time, and will be able to lovingly guide them toward becoming healthy, happy adults.
© 2006 Barbara McRae, MCC
Barbara McRae, Master Certified Coach, Parent/Teen Expert, and Founder of www.teenfrontier.com, "A Neon WhispersTM Company", is the bestselling author of Coach Your Teen to Success. Barbara coaches internationally, facilitates workshops, and has been featured in various media outlets, including radio, TV, national magazines, and newspapers.
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