Dear New Shrink,
My husband and I are having a difficult time of it these days with our teenage son. One minute he seems like he can’t be close enough to us and he is almost like a young child. Then he turns into this big little man who is very rejecting and wants us to leave him alone. He acts as if we know nothing and have gotten it all wrong. We don’t think he is doing anything really bad or dangerous yet, but he will soon be of age to drive and we fear he may be more vulnerable to drugs, sex and decisions that can be deadly if he doesn’t choose well.
We are very worried and are not at all sure what to do or what not to do. Sometimes we think we are just worrywarts but then we see some horror story on the news and get worried all over again.
But the worst part is that sometimes he doesn’t even seem like our son. It’s very weird. Can you suggest books or give us some advice?
The teenage years are indeed turbulent and dangerous and I think most parents worry.
There are so many changes, situations that adolescents are exposed to, decisions that they have to make; it is a scary time for all. One wrong decision can cost them their life or change it forever.
When puberty hits, it is not just bodily changes that occur, which we all know are extremely difficult for teens. Complete changes in what the body looks like, what the voice sounds like and of course, sexual changes that can be extremely difficult to manage. However, the brain undergoes structural changes as well so that now your teen can think abstractly. This new found cognitive ability is what makes teens think that they know more than anyone else and because they can hypothesize the ideal, you will probably fall short. They do not have the experience and wisdom to know that the ideal is just that and nothing more. With a know-it-all attitude and all the new urges and experiences available, it is a time where they can be impulsive and one dangerous move can alter their life.
It is important that teens know ahead of time all the risks of potential pregnancies and what that really means and also the horrible risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. The other is that most young people today think that sex is intercourse only, nothing else. I cannot even begin to tell you how many young people have told me that they made out and fooled around but didn’t have sex, yet when I pin them down it turns out that oral sex is part of fooling around. It’s not considered sex; and truly smart, even college educated young people have not known that the spread of STDs is possible through oral sex as well as intercourse. Sex education about the use of condoms has led many to think intercourse is the culprit, use a condom and there is nothing more to worry about.
Drugs are something that most young people experiment with and you just hope that they are the lucky ones who don’t get addicted, and who do not have a bad life-changing experience from it.
Driving is scary too because we all know stories of good kids driving or being in a car with a friend who drives recklessly and a tragic accident occurs.
So what can you do other than worry? The best thing you can do is solidify your relationship with your kids before they become full blown teenagers. You mentioned the push/pull nature of your relationship with your son. This is a time of identity formation and psychological separation from parents, so this is basically normal. This is all the more reason to solidify and strengthen your bond.
Have open, honest discussions about all the things mentioned here. Do not try to scare them because they won’t listen to scare tactics. The truth is that most teenagers get through these years fine so forget scare tactics. Just discussing possibilities and making sure that they know that they can talk to you is the most important thing you can do. This type of rapport with your child should start early on and keep building, but if you want extra support now or do not feel you have a strong enough bond with your son, you should seek some family counseling. You might want to try the short- term groups that are intended for the expressed purpose of strengthening these bonds as the potentially dangerous years begin.
These groups can be found around town, ask your schools, churches or temples or call my office. I have two doctors who work for me that do this kind of work because we really believe in making the best of these years and preventing unnecessary tragedies.
Dr. JoAnne Barge is a licensed psychologist and licensed marriage and family therapist with offices in Brentwood. Visit her at www.drbarge.com or send your anonymous questions and responses to firstname.lastname@example.org. Got something on your mind? Let us help you with your life matters.