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Parental Tips to Enjoy Your Teen

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© 2013 Anthony Pantaleno, Ph.D.

Elwood-John H. Glenn High School

1. First off, please remember to tell your child that you love him or her every day. Despite the trials and occasional roller-coaster rides of adolescence, these days will pass and your unconditional love as a parent will transcend your child’s GPA, his or her SAT score, and all other challenges and achievements of these high school years. (I will alternate the personal pronoun as we move forward for ease of reading).

2. Become acquainted with your child’s digital world. If you’re up to the challenge, ask for your child’s Facebook password! Be right up front and tell her that you’d like to occasionally see what she’s up to online. This may give her pause before posting anything objectionable online and may alert you to anything which looks suspect. Teens do not always understand that what they post in cyberspace lives on forever and may come back to bite them in the you-know-where in five years. Expect that she will accuse you of invading her privacy, but know that exercising good judgment about online communication is a skill that takes years to develop and does not come as a free pass with the rite of passage to thirteen.

3. Set a time in the evening which you feel is reasonable for all electronic communication to be ended in your home. This will help your teen to set digital communication boundaries, to get the sleep they need, and to avoid the toxic black hole of chatting into the night until 2am. If he misses an urgent text from President Obama, please feel free to blame me and I will accept full responsibility. Otherwise, maybe this time would be better served having a face-to-face conversation with your child about his day, or about your day, or about family matters.

4. Check the high school parent portal on a weekly basis. If you begin to see that your child is missing homework, falling behind in handing in science labs, or scoring poorly on quizzes or exams, immediately have the conversation about how she plans to address this problem. This is the beginning of the transfer of responsibility from your “to-do” list to her “to-do” list. Follow up with her in a week. If the problem persists, you may remove her phone, or computer, or car keys until all independent work is up to date. If she tells you she is struggling and needs help, reach out to the teacher first, or her guidance counselor or the mental health team in your school. They will be delighted to establish a plan with your child. My recipe for a successful academic career in high school is the following:

  • 100 percent attendance (we all become ill from time to time, but our goal is 100%)
  • 80-90 percent homework completed
  • 1-2 hours of study/project time five days per week, Monday through Thursday PLUS Saturday OR Sunday (this does NOT include homework time).

5. After Meet-The-Teacher Night, if you have any concerns, make it a regular habit to check in with your child’s teachers via e-mail every two or three weeks to receive some feedback on your child’s academic and behavior performance and their attitude in the classroom.

Dear Mr. Jones,

Please let me know how John has performed in your class over the last two weeks.

That’s all there is to it! If you do not like the answer you receive, arrange a meeting with your child and his teacher as soon as possible. By the time you receive a report card, it may be too late. Much easier to be proactive than to try and recover from a failing grade later in the school year.

6. Remind your child that participation in extracurricular activities – especially in her freshman year – is key to becoming socially engaged in life outside of the classroom. Participation in school athletics, the arts or music programs, human service clubs or volunteer activities will be as important to college acceptance as will a strong GPA. Don’t allow your child to come home every day and live a virtual life online for ten or twelve hours. It is no substitute for developing people skills – the best predictor of future adjustment and personal success!

7. If you become aware that your child is experimenting with alcohol, drugs, or sexual behavior, here is where you will need your MOST valuable skill as a parent: active listening!

Don’t get sucked into the kneejerk reaction of too many parents to overreact, to judge, to criticize, to blame, or name calling. Ask your child (maybe the next day after YOUR AND HIS emotions have settled) to explain the choice that he has made. Listen carefully to his reply, and remember that , no, – not ALL teens engage in these behaviors. Reaffirm your values and where the boundaries lie in your home in plain and simple terms. Continue to dialogue and check for understanding over the coming weeks. Reach out for professional support when you need it. No sense going this alone. Many parents have been there before you. Do not let these behaviors be the deal-breaker in your relationship. Much of this is normal adolescent searching to establish an identity. You are absolutely your child’s most influential teacher in this domain.

8. Get to know who your child’s friends are. Even though it is a rite of adolescent passage to seek out the opinions of peers over parents, there is no rule which makes the two groups mutually exclusive. Be inviting and accepting of your child’s friends until you get to know them. A well-stocked refrigerator and a welcoming attitude will soon make your home a regular gathering place.

9. As difficult as this next suggestion may become during your child’s adolescence, keep her involved in the spiritual and religious traditions of your home if these have been an important part of her upbringing. This will provide a familiar and constant landscape through the many moral and ethical dilemmas that she will face in the next few years.

10. MOST IMPORTANT - accept your child for who he/she is. With his unique talents, and those areas in need of improvement, he is a work in progress and has been listening to your words and watching your actions as his first teacher in life for his whole life. Let go of what you think he “should” be and enjoy who he is. Finally, accept your own fallibility as a parent. We all make mistakes and we all know that infant you brought into this world did not come with an instruction manual. Learn from your mistakes, and strive to be the best parent that you can. This is all any of us can do. Enjoy!

Dr. Anthony Pantaleno is the 2013 NASP School Psychologist of the Year.

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