High school and the teenage years are a very difficult time for many teens and parents. This time of life has become even more difficult with our dependence on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Snap Chat), smart phones and computer technology. In addition to computers, drugs are more prevalent too. Besides the fact it is easier for teens to get drugs, there are more drugs for them to use. Teens are now using Heroin more, they are also using designer drugs such as ecstasy, spice and mollies. Emergency Room doctors often don’t know what is in these designer drugs so they often cannot save a teenagers life when they are brought to the ER after taking a designer drug. Besides designer drugs teens are now using prescription drugs on a regular basis such as Vicodin, Percocet or Ritalin.
Things are advancing and changing so fast that life is becoming overwhelming and confusing for teenagers and for parents too. Not to mention society in general. One thing that has not changed, is that parents are the primary role models for children and teens. However, with the rapid changes in our society, a lot of parents have forgotten that they are their teenagers primary role model.
Since your child was born, s/he have been watching you and studying you so they know how to act and what actions are appropriate. They have been listening to what you have been saying to them about how to act as a responsible, decent member of society. I know many parents feel that once their child starts middle school that their child stops listening to them, but this is not true. They may act like they are not listening or that they don’t care about your opinion but they do.
I have teens come into the office all the time and complain that they feel like their parents do not care about what they do. Often teens make this assumption because they say their parents set no boundaries for them or they feel that their parents care more about their careers than their children. At times parents do focus more on careers or stop setting limits because they feel that their child doesn’t listen to them. Parents often feel this way because their teen will say, “I don’t care what you think or I don’t care what you do”. However, they do care and often they say these things or act this way because they feel hurt. Therefore, we have a circle where teens assume parents don’t care and parents assume teens don’t care. The reality is that both teens and parents care and both feel hurt.
Every child, no matter what they say, wants to know that they are important to you, that you care about what they say and you care about what they do. One major problem that I encounter with parents is that many parents do not practice what they preach. Yes you are an adult and you have a right to drink alcohol or engage in other adult behaviors, but you need to do so responsibly. If you drink alcohol, do so responsibly. Yes you are an adult but driving drunk is illegal no matter how old you are. Also watch how you speak to your teen and others. Do you do so in a respectful manner or are you rude to people? I have heard many teens decide that their parents don’t care and they are not important to their parents because the parents don’t seem to care about the example they are setting for their children.
A lot of parents will come in and tell me that their behavior doesn’t matter and that their child has no idea what they do so they can do what they want. The truth is, your behavior does matter and your children know what you are doing even if you think they do not know.
I have had eight year old children complain that “my mommy drinks too much wine”, or “my daddy smokes pot in the garage” or “my daddy talks mean to people”, or “my parents fight too much.”. When I try to talk to a teen about their behavior after they have said something like this, the teen responds if my parents can do it, why can’t I? This is difficult to argue with if the parents are using illegal drugs or abusing alcohol, how do you tell a teenager no. Teens also notice how often their parents are on Facebook or on their smartphone texting. If a teen is trying to talk to their parent and the parents is texting while the teen is talking it sends a message to the teen that they are not important and it is okay to text while someone is talking. Also I have seen adults texting while driving or out at dinner. They then complain that teenagers text to much. However, they are following your example.
Another place this is an issue is the car. Parents think about how many times you are talking on you cellphone or texting while driving. If you tell your teenager not to text and drive, they are likely to ignore you because you text and drive.
Remember, teenagers brains are still developing so they tend to have black and white reasoning. What this means is they see things as either right or wrong. Therefore, if you can talk on your cellphone and drive so can they. If you tell them they can’t, they decide you are a hypocrite and a poor role model. This is disappointing to your teenager and they tend to stop listening to you because if you cared you would pay attention to the example you are setting.
The bottom line is that as a parent you have the most significant role in your child’s life. If you want your child to grow up to be a mature, responsible adult, then you have to act like a mature, responsible adult and you need to do so from the day they are born.
In this world where things are changing over night, children need to know they can rely on their parents to protect them and guide them. Again given how fast society is changing, this is not an easy job for a parent. The easiest way to sum it up is to remember to practice what you preach.
Dr. Michael Rubino has over 20 years experience working with teens and parents. For more information about his work or his private practice visit his website at http://www.rubinocounseling.com or on Facebook at http://www.Facebook.com/Drrubino3.