Get It Right
Times have changed.Dr. Spock’s classic childcare reference guided novice parents with advice on chicken pox, mumps and thin children—until the age of 12. After that? Parenting bewilderment presumably ended. Spock, who died in 1998, wouldn’t recognize the world today’s teens navigate. The latest edition that bears his name—one of more than 10,000 parenting books on amazon.com—extends to age 18 and covers such topics as “living with the media,” rap music and AIDS.
How can today’s parents sift through so much information to help their youngsters become healthy, responsible and successful adults? To find out, we gave the question a twist and asked instead: What should parents not do? Two area licensed marriage and family therapists, Amanda Nugent Divine, clinical director of El Hogar Community Services, Inc., a nonprofit providing community mental health services, and Marianne Svendsen, with Placer County Counseling, offer these seven commonsense tips that address some fundamental mistakes many parents make.
1 / Don’t be a pal.Teens have friends to giggle and gossip with, and so should you. “Parents who try to be their child’s best friend are exhibiting need, not love,” Divine says, “and that’s a big mistake.” Single parents often use their child as an emotional surrogate, while they should be pursuing their own lives. Don’t worry about not being liked—it’s temporary.
2 / Don’t miss the wonder of childhood.Let your kids have fun, Svendsen urges, and have fun with them. Don’t burden them with so many responsibilities and activities that they don’t have time to just be kids, and don’t demand they always be mature.
3 / Don’t diss your spouse.A teen identifies with both her parents, and when you bad-mouth one—whether you’re married or separated—your teen feels criticized, too. “Whatever is going on between the two of you, keep it between you,” Divine says.
4 / Raise the child you have, not the child you want.Celebrate who your child is. If you hoped for a star pitcher but your son prefers the violin, encourage him and enjoy the music. Celebrate your child’s strengths, Svendsen says, and don’t live vicariously through him.
5 / Discipline with consequences.Instead of issuing orders when your child has broken the rules, Svendsen advises, give her choices. “Ask, ‘what do you think should be your consequence?’” Then make the consequence fit the behavior. For example, if your child has stayed out too late with friends, ground her for a specified time.
6 / Let them make decisions.“Making good decisions takes practice,” Svendsen says. Offer advice, but when you tell them what to do, it becomes about you rather than about them. And don’t rush to save them from consequences—kids learn from their mistakes.
7 / Be steadfast.No matter how many ways your daughter says she hates you; make sure she knows you love her—no matter what. “You can give your kids everything,” Svendsen says, “but if you don’t provide love and stability, if you’re not there for them, everything else is superficial.”
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