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Montreal Families

Parenting teens: books that will save your sanity

Lately I’ve been feeling very sympathetic towards new parents carrying their tiny babies and looking at them with a mixture of deep love and utter bafflement. I’m sure they are experiencing sleepless nights, zombie-like states during the day and a wide array of emotions. As a parent of a teen (and a tween), I feel like I’ve been thrust back to those early days when I worried about everything and when my emotions were up and down like a rollercoaster. It seems that parenting teens has a way of destabilizing moms and dads.

Suddenly you’re being drawn into prolonged discussions about why a giant cross tattooed across your child’s chest might not be a good idea. Your once-loving offspring no longer hesitates to criticize your lifestyle, work ethic and clothing. And just when you are convinced that your child hates you and you are a complete failure as a parent, your teen will surprise you with a quick hug and a kiss, or say something so deeply moving that you’re left flabbergasted.

As I move through this period with my kids, I’m grateful to a number of book authors whose insights and reassurance I turn to when things get difficult. No one should parent a teen alone, so here are books that offer the hard-earned experience and thoughts of
parents who have been there and survived.

How to talk so teens will listenHow To Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk
by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (Harper Collins, $19).

The authors of the perennially popular “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen” parenting book have turned their attention to teens with a book offering communication strategies based on workshops with real families. Readers get a fly-on-the-wall view into a series of meetings where parents discuss the problems of communicating with teens. The topics include getting homework and chores done, curfews, music, drug use and sex. Each chapter includes a series of quirky, hand-drawn cartoons illustrating key points like “Describe the Problem Instead of Attacking the Teenager” or “Instead of Dismissing Thoughts and Feelings, Put Thoughts and Feelings Into Words.” The authors encourage families to problem solve together, rather than having adults impose solutions. For example, a young man wanting to attend a rock concert writes out answers to his parents concerns, like how he and his friends will get there, what they will do if someone offers drugs, etc. The examples and dialogue are realistic, showing parents how to put these strategies to work in their own families.

Yes Your Teen is CrazyYes, Your Teen Is Crazy: Loving Your Kid Without Losing Your Mind
by Michael J. Bradley (Harbor Press, $14.95).

This is a book you will turn to again and again, not only for advice on issues like drugs and sexuality, but also for the author’s straight talk on what it takes to parent teens (hint: it’s less about rules and more about honesty, good listening skills, patience and a willingness to apologize when wrong). Dr. Bradley has been counselling teens and their families for 30 years. He guides readers through information about the changes happening in the adolescent brain, which helps you understand the word “crazy” in the title. The teen years truly are a time of chaos in a child’s brain. But Bradley’s best work comes in the section entitled “Understanding Your Role and Accepting Your Challenge.” Here he lays out why adults and families have a huge impact on teen behaviour and why grown-ups need to be good role models, even when teens sneer at their efforts. Adults who are caring, steadfast, patient and able to keep their tempers (most of the time anyway) provide the rope that will pull a teen to the safer shores of early adulthood.

Get Out of My LifeGet Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl To the Mall?
by Anthony E. Wolf (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $18).

If you’ve ever wondered what your teen is thinking, you can find out by reading this book. Wolf has an uncanny ability to get into the minds of teens, lovingly re-creating and then analyzing the internal dialogue a teen is having as well as what he or she might be saying to a parent. So, for example, when a parent innocently asks “so, how was your day at school,” a teen is likely to be thinking “you’re always on my case about school. I bet you’re going to ask next if I passed my math test. Why can’t you leave me alone?” So the teen sullenly mutters “nothing” and the parent feels hurt.

Wolf provides plenty of insight into why teens think and feel the way they do. He also tackles tough subjects like sex, drugs, divorce and suicide. But his main point is that parents need to outline and stick to rules even if a child argues and tests the limits. It’s not an easy process or a quick fix to family issues, but Wolf provides compelling evidence that parental rules and values eventually do have a huge influence over teens.

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