Wednesday, August 25, 2010

How to Minimize Arguments with your Teenagers, Part 1

My wife and I raised 3 children so we were always outnumbered. Nevertheless, I think we minimized our battles with our children. Without pontificating, I think it is a matter of being reasonable, drawing clear lines about safety, requiring respect for one another, and realizing that not all children have the same drive (or ability) to do well in school. Our children all went on to college, got married with no divorces yet, and seem to be reasonably happy in their jobs.

Of course the first two things we all do when we become parents is to stop smoking grass (or at least hide it very well), and start attending a church or synagogue. So immediately we are telling our children (even before they know it) to "do as I say, and not as I did". This should not be a problem until the child reaches high school or bar mitzvah or confirmation age and starts to ask embarrassing questions about drugs, sex, and religion, but that is off in the future for new parents. But you should start to think about how you will convince your children to do as you say, and not as you did, and what to say when they ask you if you ever drank alcohol under age, let alone used marijuana.

"Because I said so", and "because it doesn't feel right to me" are both perfectly valid veto messages to your children (e.g. your child from Bergen County, N.J. wants to drive to Provincetown, Cape Cod on the night of her senior prom and stay over there with some friends).

It is "obvious" to most teenagers that older people deliberately discriminate against them and not "for their (sic) own good". The most egregious example is the 55 years old and older housing developments in Arizona and Florida. If the development's founding compact stated that Blacks or Jews could never buy there, and only live there for two weeks out of 52, there would be an immediate outcry, and the courts would rule it was a 14th amendment violation, or somesuch. But if the discriminated against group is under 18 (for living) or under 55 (for buying), the courts have upheld it. I guess older people and builders have a lot of voting clout, or donate more money to politicians than do younger people.

Please make sure your teenage daughter sees her own gynecologist before she goes off to college, and do NOT go in to the consulting room with her, or ask her what she discussed with the doctor. If your daughter wants you to know, she will tell you. It is reasonable as a responsible parent to ask her if she has any questions, but also to reassure her that the doctor is forbidden to discuss or reveal anything your daughter said in private.

Since no records are ever kept totally secret, tell your teenagers that if they are asked to fill out a form as to whether they ever drank under age, drove drunk, used illegal drugs, etc., the answer is always never. The penalty to the releaser of privileged information is never as great as the embarrassment or job prejudice that a teenager would suffer from such release. And be sure to remind them that ANY electronic information they send or receive, such as e-mails, voice mails, twitter, smart-phone photos, etc., can and probably will be viewed by someone else. Most teenagers are relatively innocent, naive and trusting, and they think that if they are upright and honest, then anyone they meet will also have these traits. This was somewhat true in the days of personal introductions, but certainly not over the internet.

In the same vein, too many teenagers and young college adults have sex without protection (and one is really too many). I tell all my patients of either sex never to have the first sexual contact with a new partner take place without a condom. Rather than warn them about accidental pregnancy or AIDS, I have found it much more useful to talk about herpes and venereal warts and how they are spread by direct contact by people who may not even know that they are infected or are carriers. And, as I have said before, if they are starting a new relationship and want to be tested for AIDS, I suggest instead their donating a unit of blood to the Red Cross, who will test the blood for many STD's.

The real problem, of course, is that for most children, teeenager seems to be a time of natural rebellion "all me friends are doing in" They are simultaneously pulling away from you and scurrying back for safety. In the mall. they don't want to walk next to you (not "cool"), but they do want to know where you are (!).

To most male teenagers, school is a form of jail. (And on a little reflection, I am sure you will agree that school is run for the females, and the business world is run for the males (topic of a future blog). I think you have to admit this, and point out to your (usually male teenager), that in the real world they will have to shovel an awful lot of crap, so they better learn about how to do it now. (My teacher insisted on a script "Q" rather than a printed "q". They both conveyed the same meaning, but she was the boss. Explain to your teenager that work rules make even less sense, but he/she has no chloice but to follow them.

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