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Parenting adolescents through stages of life crucial

Published on -8/18/2014, 10:16 AM

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This is the third article in a series on parenting adolescents.

Q: What are additional dynamics in parenting adolescents?

A: In an article in Psychology Today from 2012, psychologist Carol Pickhardt, Ph.D., addresses the concept of letting go in the various stages of adolescence. In the first stage of adolescence, ages 9 to 13, parents lose their childhood companions who used to idolize their parents, share all they think and do, and spend lots of time tagging along. The passing and loss of childhood emotionally is painful because parents never again will have these wonderful times with young children.

In the second adolescent stage, ages 13 to 15, there is a marked shift from spending social times with family to spending time with friends. There develops an inverse relationship between the importance of friends and communication with parents. In other words, the more important the friends, the less that is shared with parents. During this stage of mid-adolescence, parents can become extremely worried and might respond by attempting to be more controlling of adolescent activities. Parents who become more controlling usually have teens who confide less. This stage is a time when mutual trust first becomes a significant issue.

There are several ways to mitigate the loss of communication. Parents can welcome friends into their homes, include friends in family outings and develop relationships with their teens' friends. However, these measures work well unless teenagers start hanging out with friends parents find unacceptable. Forbidding any contact with friends who present risks generally backfires and causes adolescents to find these high-risk friends even more desirable.

In stage three, ages 15 to 18, there is a lifting of restrictions. These teens can drive, date and work part-time. At the same time, peers are tempting their friends in pursuits such as sex, experimenting with drugs and risky behaviors. In this stage, adolescents must begin to exercise their own judgment and decision-making skills. Letting go is a continuous process in which parents must teach their children age-appropriate skills leading to the independence and autonomy necessary for adulthood.

The final stage of adolescence is referred to as trial independence, ages 18 to 23. The letting go in this stage involves leaving home and living apart from families. One of the necessary tasks for parents in this period of letting go is allowing adolescents and young adults to make their own mistakes and deal with the consequences. Parents' roles change from asserting their authority and controlling youth to mentoring. Youth consult with parents for advice, but parents do not initiate of offer advice unless asked. Many parents believe they are abandoning their children if they don't actively remain connected. The challenge is to stay connected and bonded, while at the same time, allowing young adults the freedom to become independent.

In these years, adolescents and young adults must learn with increasing freedom comes more responsibility and the consequences of making their own decisions. Some parents find themselves wanting to protect their youth and keep them from suffering consequences. If adolescents are to achieve independence successfully, they have to experience increasing opportunities to make decisions. This process of shifting decision making from parents to children actually starts in childhood when parents allow children to make age-appropriate decisions.

In the last decade, additional research on parenting has found parenting actually is an interactive process between parents and children. In a recent article, Kimberly Kopko and Rachel Dunifon, department of policy analysis and management at Cornell University, summarized the most recent research on parenting. First, past research emphasized the importance of parental knowledge regarding adolescent activities but failed to address the fact that what parents know comes mostly from what teenagers volunteer.

Researchers found parents of adolescents who volunteered information knew more about their adolescents than parents who relied upon questions and monitoring adolescent activities. Teens who voluntarily shared information had fewer delinquency problems than peers who shared less information with parents.

In healthy parent-adolescent relationships, parents still are involved in the lives of their teenagers and provide atmospheres in which teens feel comfortable sharing. The willingness of adolescents to disclose information is part of reciprocal relationships with parents in which both parties interact.

There is a positive correlation between how adolescents manage information and how they learn to become more autonomous. Teens manage information in view of how they perceive information management as crucial to achieving independence.

When parents have warm and supportive relationships with teens, they voluntarily share more information. Then parents have a lot of input about adolescent activities, friends and their peer cultures. When teens have parents who still try to control them and tell them what to do, teens will be much more reluctant to share. These situations turn into power struggles and no-win situations for everyone. Such parental attitudes also can foster rebellious and delinquent behaviors in adolescents.

Parents who tend to be helicopter parents and hover over adolescents and parents who are indifferent or detached will not have healthy, open reciprocal relationships with their adolescents. Parents can create self-fulfilling prophecies by interacting with adolescents in ways that produce the behaviors they fear the most.

Parents need to show respect and trust for adolescents, communicate openly and maintain efforts to stay connected. Parents need to accomplish these goals, while at the same time, relinquishing control and affording teenagers age-appropriate opportunities to learn decision-making skills and responsibilities.

* Next week's article will continue with the processes in parenting adolescents.

Judy Caprez is associate professor

of social work at Fort Hays State University. Send your questions

in care of the department

of sociology and social work.

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