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What To Do To Stay Connected To The Teenagers In Your Life

10 Ways to Make Your Children More Resilient

The Hurried Child

How To Say It To Teens: Talking About The Most Important Topics Of Their Lives

by Susan Ginsberg, Ed. D.

How should parents respond to their expressed and unexpressed feelings about events such as those that occurred on September 11, 2001?

The needs of teenagers change dramatically between ages 13 and 17. Like younger children, teens¡ reactions to stress depend on their age, temperament, level of maturity and personal involvement.

Teenagers may express their anxiety through a range of behaviors that seem unrelated to what¡s going on, and they are likely to Àpush the envelop” and take more risks than they normally do.

š       In an effort to be Àcool” or get a rise out of their parents, some teens (preteens too) may make inappropriate jokes, downplay scary events, refuse to discuss their feelings and immerse themselves in the Àpopular culture.”

š       Many teens try not to let on that they are scared. ÀMy kids are able to talk about their worries with their friends but not with me, so I¡m trying to connect them with other adults they can talk with,” says a mom with two teenagers.

š       Older teenagers are more likely to worry about the future†being drafted or the impact of a recession on their families. ÀThere¡s a lot of talk about this being the test of out generation,” says Lizzie Tannen, a 17-year-old college student. ÀI guess we¡ve wanted something to fight for, something to define us-and this seems to be it for right now.”


š       Stop what you¡re doing and really listen to what your kids are saying. Hug them more, touch them more and eat together, even if it means adapting your schedule or giving up some other activities.

š       Maintain family routines, rituals, and rules. It¡s more important than ever to set limits and be clear about your expectations. ÀAdolescents¸want to be around safe people in familiar situations,” says Dr. Anne Marie Albano of the New York University Child Study Center.

š       Watch for changes in mood, sleeping or eating patterns or in relationships with friends. Teenagers will likely experience some of the same difficulty with concentration that many adults have reported, so don¡t be surprised if there¡s a dip in grades when November report cards come out.

š       Help teens translate their concerns into positive action. Wonderful volunteer projects have been launched since September 11th. Many creative efforts have gone beyond fundraising, such as teleconference between a group of teenagers from Oklahoma City and a high school in New York City.

š       Recognize that many older teenagers will be talking to each other¡s about more abstract concerns such as the morality of the bombing and the balance between security and civil liberties. You may not like what your children are saying, but it¡s important to provide them with a zone of comfort in which they can freely exchange their views. Dr. Robert Needlman encourages parents to Àsupport connections with school groups, religious institutions and community organizations that provide safe structures in which teens can deal with these tough issues.”

š       Take advantage of this Àteachable moment.” Most of us have a lot to learn about the people, history, religion, and geography of the Middle East. And while the current situation is unique-the first time we as a nation are facing this kind of terrorism, there are still similarities to stressful events that we have dealt with over the years. ÀTalking to people who lived through Pearl Harbor, the assassination of President Kennedy or even the Gulf War can help put current events into a larger perspective,” suggests parent educator Fretta Reitzes.

š       Use this as an opportunity to also discuss the human tendency to fear and distrust people who are not like us. Teach children that hate-based violence usually starts with words, then escalates. Point out when ethnic groups are stereotyped on television, in music or in books. Address and biased comments children make and help them understand that these words are unacceptable under any circumstances.

š       ÀIt¡s important for our children to see that we care about people, about justice in the world and about bringing an end to people hating people,” says Patricia Wipfler, founder of the Parent Leadership Institute.

(adapted from Work & Family Life newsletter, edited by Susan Ginsberg)

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