We are so pleased to welcome to Her Mentor Center today authors Susan Morris Shaffer and Linda Perlman Gordon who will be chatting with us about How to Connect with Your iTeen; A Parenting Road Map. Their book provides a guide for parents of teens in the digital age – and if you’ve been around teenagers lately, you’ve likely noticed that they seem to be more connected to their electronic devices than to their families.
As parenting experts Susan and Linda have consulted with families of teens about the complex issues facing them in these challenging times. They’ve been interviewed extensively by print and electronic media, sharing their techniques and guidance. Today it’s our pleasure to host a conversation with Susan and Linda. So let’s begin!
HMC: The journey of growing up was once personal; now it is so public. How does a parent begin to counter all the outside influence—the separate world our children live in?
Today, the media has an unprecedented influence on teenage development. Teens spend much of their day juggling between various forms of media, often at the same time. A new nationwide survey from Pew Research reveals that 24% of teens ages 13-17 say they are online “almost constantly,” and 92% go online daily.
It’s up to parents to provide an anchor to counter the barrage of information and manipulation by helping their teens develop critical thinking skills.
Parents must be tech savvy in order to become familiar with the places their teens go online. Think of social media as a virtual playground that requires the same scrutiny as any other place your child may visit. Parents should engage their teen in conversation about the lack of filters and boundaries in cyberspace. Teen postings are public and have an infinite lifespan. Remind teens that any posting can have unintended consequences. Teens don’t foresee these consequences. Parents have to be their teen’s frontal lobe and help them anticipate and visualize the pitfalls social media.
HMC: In your book you talk about the six behavioral characteristics of maturity. What are they and how can these help parents guide their teen towards maturity?
Think about the teen years as an apprenticeship. Ask yourself, what teens need in order to become resilient and successful adults, however they choose to define success? Identifying these characteristics helps parents to better cultivate and measure maturity. Be mindful that maturity is incremental, learned over time in small steps. These behavioral characteristics of maturity are: persistence and grit, self-management and impulse control, personal responsibility and self-reliance, empathy and self-awareness, boundaries and setting limits, and cultural competence/accepting differences. These characteristics build resilience in teens enabling them to better handle an increasingly demanding world and inoculate them so they are better equipped to handle inevitable challenges.
HMC: There is a running debate about being friends with your teen. In your opinion, can parents be friends with their teens? Should they be?
Currently, many parents want to be friends with their teens. This new desire dilutes the essential and unique role parents play. Parents can’t be friends with their teens. This doesn’t mean that parents can’t enjoy the same activities and share much in common, but parenting is very different from a friendship. While there is certainly less of a generation gap today, what remains constant is that friendship requires being on a level playing field. This can include the same age, interests, and experiences. Parents can have “friendship” like experiences with their teens. They can enjoy activities together, play sports, enjoy similar music, TV and movies, feel the same passion about various issues, but the parent role remains unique. Parents must have unconditional love for their children; friends do not. Parents are responsible for their children’s well being; friends are not.
HMC: What is happening in the teenage brain and why is it important to understand this? Are teens hard wired to take risks? Why?
Children’s brains are very pliable and are not exclusively programmed at birth. The fact may seem pretty daunting, but parents can actually affect the circuitry in their children’s brains. Each experience in a child’s life leads to new neurological connections. The ability of the brain to mature and change throughout childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood is called plasticity. The brain grows to 90 percent of its full size by the time we are 6 years old. Later, between the ages of 12 and 25, our brains undergo a massive reorganization, pruning away unused connections and strengthening those that remain.
Risk taking is both normal and developmentally appropriate during adolescence, and this puts parents of teens in a difficult position. A natural inclination for many parents is to try to put cotton batting around everything to protect their teens. But there is only so much hovering parents can and should do. Parents would be wiser to recognize that not all risk taking is bad and perhaps even anticipate this behavior. It’s precisely this need to push the edge of what’s acceptable that helps teenagers mature and grow into healthy adults.
Most teenagers get pleasure from taking risks and pushing limits. The changes that are under way in the adolescent brain have an important function because they help your child stretch and take risks as a way to get ready to leave the comforts of home.
Knowing about the science of the brain may not enable you to change your children’s behavior, but it helps you to better accept and respond to their angst, their sense of invincibility, and their risky attraction to experimentation.
HMC: How do you encourage persistence, grit, and independence to create resiliency in teens?
Parents should keep their Focus on the process rather than the outcome. You can achieve this by letting your teen know that no one is asking for perfection. There are no perfect children or perfect parents in our world—just the old college try, the gentleman’s C, the good-enough striving.
Teach your teens positive self-talk. Suggest that when they’re feeling frustrated, they can say to themselves a phrase like “I just need to do my best,” “Every day I’m getting a little better,” “I can do it; I’m determined!” or “This is going to need my best work.” Define success as believing you gave it your best effort.
Teach your teens how to tell the difference between harmful and helpful stress. When they see stress as an opportunity to grow, they are able to reappraise the situation, change their mind-set, and increase their opportunities for success.
Communicate to your children that no matter what life brings them, when they stumble and when they soar, they’ll be acceptable not just to you, but to themselves.
HMC: Thanks so much, Susan and Linda, for sharing your time with us today – and for agreeing to answer questions from our readers as well as us. Readers, here is your chance to weigh in on the important discussion about How to Connect with Your iTeen. We encourage you to participate by using the “Leave a Reply” box just below the post. You can pick their brains with your own questions about how to parent – or grandparent – a teen in the digital era.