Tips for Parents Column

Conversations that Matter with Teenagers

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009
  1. Initiate important conversations early with your child, beginning by listening carefully to what is important to them…bullies in the lunchroom, a commercial on television, a scary story that they heard.
  2. Speak directly using simple language to describe your knowledge, feelings and activities with your child or teen.
  3. Parental self-disclosure can increase communication with young people but it is important to be aware of your relationship role and their developmental age. For example, unhealthy parental risk-taking often slips out in conversation but has negative consequences.
  4. Adults can share what we have learned about risk-taking. A nonjudgmental and non-bragging manner is critical. It is often most important to share feelings and mistakes.
  5. Be aware of how you speak and act with your child even when you are not having key conversations with them. Your feelings, words and behaviors are imitated closely.
  6. Educate yourself about adolescent culture and behavior. This will help you to be less judgmental in conversations with them.
  7. Role-playing your teen’s tough situations with them increases closeness and improves communication.
  8. Recognize that everyone, even teenagers, has a private life which includes fantasies, secret thoughts and hidden actions. Mentioning to your child that you know of and respect this increases their respect for you.
  9. Be willing to share some of your failures and what you have learned from them. This role models acceptance of mistakes and helps them understand you better.
  10. Admitting discomfort and embarrassment and how you cope with it when discussing difficult topics also increases bonds.

Families with Twenty-Somethings Living at Home

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009
  1. Ideally, the return of grown children to the family home is an opportunity for parents and children to grow closer. Approaching the situation with an awareness of the positive aspects is vital.
  2. European families have experienced grown children living at home for decades, in some countries such as Italy, more than 90% of young people. Their strategies for making it work can be examined and role model for the United States where this is a more recent change.
  3. Even before grown children return home it is important to open communication and work out ground rules for the new living arrangement.
  4. An important ground rule to work out is chore distribution. This includes discussion of laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning and meal preparation, among others. Many parents but especially mothers feel burdened with grown children living at home because chore distribution is not equitable.
  5. Another guideline that needs to be discussed and strongly considered before young people return is a drug-free home.
  6. Working out opportunities for privacy is a key aspect for all generations living together. Acknowledging and finding a place for sexuality is a vital part of a successful mutual living arrangement.
  7. The stage of family growth where young people are coming and going, is a time when emotions run high. Jealousy, envy, anger and conflict may be present between generations and siblings as new boundaries are shaped. An awareness of these complex emotions eases the transition.
  8. A discussion of provisional departure dates before a young person returns home can ease the transition for all.
  9. All members of the family need to learn to relax during this period. Factors such as equitable chore distribution promote this but it is challenging.
  10. Traumatic events, such as a recession, are difficult but allow families an opportunity to become closer. Working together as a team instead of criticizing and fighting promotes growth and intimacy.

Recognizing and Preventing Violent Risk-Taking

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009
  1. All teenagers take risks as a normal part of growing up. Risk-taking is the tool an adolescent uses to define and develop his or her identity.
  2. Healthy adolescent risk-taking behaviors which tend to have a positive impact on an adolescent’s development can include participation in sports, the development of artistic and creative abilities, volunteer activities, travel, running for school office, making new friends, constructive contributions to the family or community, and others.
  3. Negative risk-taking behaviors which can be dangerous for adolescents include drinking, smoking, drug use, reckless driving, unsafe sexual activity, disordered eating, self-mutilation, running away, stealing, gang activity and violence.
  4. Parents and teachers need to be aware of the signals along the pathway to violence. Often unrecognized in its early forms, such behavior can easily switch over, such as when an assertive child becomes an aggressive child. Violence assessment and prevention programs need to start early in the schools.
  5. More than half of our middle school- and high school-aged children tell us that they could access a gun in less than an hour. The best way to protect children against gun violence is to remove all guns from the home.
  6. Listen to and spend time with your children. A lack of parental supervision and time is one of the best predictors of children committing violent acts. Since teens need to take risks, help them find healthy alternatives.
  7. There are “red flags” which help parents and teachers identify a child or teen at high risk to commit acts of violence: threats of violence toward oneself or others; psychological problems such as persistent depression or anxiety; problems at school; engaging in illegal activities; clusters of unhealthy risk-taking (e.g., drinking, reckless driving); frequent loss of temper; bullying behavior; cruelty to animals; a history of violent behavior; social isolation; fire-setting; and a recent experience of humiliation or shame.
  8. Violent behavior is not unstoppable. It can be decreased or even prevented entirely if the risk factors are reduced or eliminated. Parents need to address this behavior at home and work collaboratively with schools. Assessments by trained mental health professionals need to take place in schools.
  9. Violence in the media plays an important role. Children and adults alike are flooded with violent images. Parents need to watch and listen to the media messages their children are receiving, and monitor and discuss them with the children, recognizing when children are over-stimulated.
  10. Violence in communities where children and adolescents grow up is everyone’s problem. The solution lies in committed individuals, parents, teachers, and children themselves working together as a team.

Talking with Your Child about Sex

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009
  1. Speak directly to your child, using language appropriate for their age and knowledge level to describe sexual feelings and activities.
  2. Start conversations about sex early (ages 4-6) beginning with discussions about biology, language your child may hear outside the home, and messages around sex in the media.
  3. Remember that sexuality is confusing for children. Talk with them about the extremes in our cultural attitudes toward sex, from embarrassment to sexual exploitation. It is ok to admit to your own embarrassment.
  4. When a child asks a question about sex begin with a concise but to the point answer. As you and your child grow more comfortable talking, expand your answer. At the end of a discussion, always ask them if they have any other questions.
  5. Begin an ongoing dialogue, which will allow you to communicate morals, values, and examples. It is not only one talk.
  6. Understand that all children have sexual lives, whether with others or through fantasies. This is an important part of life that helps them to discover and develop their individual sexual identity, a vital part of one’s overall identity.
  7. Recognize that childhood, like adolescence, is about taking risks, sexually and in other ways. Encourage your teen to talk with other trusted adults about sexuality.
  8. Look out for red flags to dangerous sexual behaviors including repeated access to the Internet or video sex sites, inappropriate touching or sexual name calling, critical remarks about their sexuality or that of others. Other more general psychological problems such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem or eating problems might occur at the same time.
  9. Educate yourself about the spectrum of child sexual behaviors. Enforcing rigid gender roles or sexual orientation can be extremely damaging.
  10. Be aware of how you speak and act concerning sexual and gender issues in front of your children. Children respond best to suggestions rather than directives, highlighting the importance of the parent’s role as guide during these crucial years.

Talking with Your Daughter About Sexuality and Dating

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009
  1. Your discussions with your daughter need to start early, beginning by age 5 or 6. The topics will shift as your daughter matures.
  2. Remember that sexuality is confusing in our culture. Talk with your daughter about the extremes in sexual attitudes, from explicit images in the media to embarrassed silence on the part of many.
  3. Speak directly to her, using simple language to describe both feelings and activities.
  4. For girls, puberty may begin as early as 8 or 9. Many girls begin menstruation at 10 or 11 with physical development occurring two years earlier than it did 20 years ago. Our daughters need our guidance and support with this important stage.
  5. It is not one talk that makes a difference, but many conversations where you both talk and listen, sharing morals, values and examples.
  6. All of our daughters have sexual lives, whether with others or through fantasies and an important part of their growth is thinking about and experimenting with their sexuality.
  7. The wise parent recognizes that your daughter will be taking risks as she grows both sexually and in other ways, and will want her to have safe, healthy options even if she is doing something that runs counter to your values. Encourage her to talk with other trusted adults about her sexuality.
  8. Girls’ and boys’ sexual development and activity is still regarded very differently in our culture, the stereotypical double standard being alive and well. Help your daughter to see her own sexuality positively, recognizing that it is important to acknowledge her own sexual desire in a culture which discounts it.
  9. Red flags that help identify dangerous sexual risk-taking include unprotected intercourse, sexually transmitted diseases, unhealthy sexual relationships, repeated exposure to sexual victimization and other more general psychological problems including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and clusters of unhealthy risk-taking.
  10. Educate yourself about sexuality and sexual issues. You are your daughter’s best ally.

Promoting Healthy Eating

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009
  1. Eat meals together with your children whenever possible.
  2. Provide and make available appropriate, healthy food at home (minimize junk food purchases and high fat desserts).
  3. Be a positive role model for eating and exercise behaviors.
  4. Talk with your child about what a “healthy diet” is, and about how it is different from “dieting” (discourage meal skipping, overeating, fasting).
  5. Limit sedentary activities (e.g. hours of television viewing) and promote physical activities.
  6. Support physical education and sports programs in your school and community.
  7. Evaluate the coaching and supervision for you child’s sports activities with an associated high risk for disordered eating (e.g., gymnastics, ballet, etc.).
  8. Examine your comments to your child about eating habits or appearance (your own or your child’s).
  9. Take the focus of family activities away from food.
  10. Emphasize your support of positive risk-taking.

Understanding Native Youth Risk-Taking

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009
  1. All teenagers take risks as a normal part of growing up. Risk-taking is the tool an adolescent uses to define and develop his or her identity, and healthy risk-taking is a valuable experience.
  2. Healthy adolescent risk-taking behaviors which tend to have a positive impact on an adolescent’s development can include participation is sports, the development of artistic and creative abilities, volunteer activities, travel, running for a tribal office, making new friends, constructive contributions to the family or tribe, and others. Inherent in all of these activities is the possibility of failure. Parents must recognize and support their children with this.
  3. Negative risk-taking behaviors which can be dangerous for adolescents include drinking, smoking, drug use, reckless driving, unsafe sexual activity, disordered eating, self-mutilation, gambling, running away, stealing, gang activity, and others.
  4. Unhealthy adolescent risk-taking may appear to be “rebellion” — an angry gesture specifically directed at parents. However, risk-taking, whether healthy or unhealthy, is simply part of a teen’s struggle to test out an identity by providing self-definition and separation from others, including parents.
  5. Some adolescent behaviors are deceptive — a teen may genuinely try to take a healthy risk that evolves into more dangerous behavior. For example, many adolescent girls fail to recognize the trap of dieting and fall into a pattern of disordered eating, sometimes even developing a full eating disorder. Parents need to be well informed in order to help adolescents with such struggles. Native youth may under-report their struggles to protect others and because they have endured a large amount of trauma.
  6. Red flags which help identify dangerous adolescent risk-taking can include psychological problems such as persistent depression or anxiety which goes beyond more typical adolescent “moodiness”; problems at school; engaging in illegal activities; and clusters of unhealthy risk-taking behaviors (e.g., smoking, drinking and driving recklessly might be happening at the same time, as might disordered eating and self-mutilation, or running away and stealing). It is key to obtain treatment for mental illness, including addiction.
  7. Since adolescents need to take risks, parents need to help them find healthy opportunities to do so. Healthy risk-taking, not only important in itself, can help prevent unhealthy risk-taking.
  8. Parents and tribal members need to pay attention to their own current patterns of risk-taking as well. Teenagers are watching and imitating, whether they acknowledge this or not.
  9. Adolescents often offer subtle clues about their negative risk-taking behaviors through what they say about the behaviors of friends and family, including parents. Parents often stay silent about their own histories of risk-taking and experimenting, but it can be important to find ways to share this information with adolescents in order to serve as role models, to let teens know that mistakes are not fatal, and to encourage making healthier choices than those the parent may have made during his or her own adolescence.
  10. Adolescents look to their parents and other members of the tribe for advice and modeling about how to assess positive and negative risks. Parents need to help their teens learn how to evaluate risks and anticipate the consequences of their choices, and develop strategies for diverting their energy into healthier activities when necessary.

Helping Adolescents After a Disaster

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009
  1. A disaster is frightening to all children and parents alike. It is important to emphasize your ability to cope with the situation but not to try and falsely reassure your child.
  2. Children and adults have both immediate and long-term responses to disaster. A child can reveal responses to a disaster even a year or two years later, sometimes even longer.
  3. A child’s age affects how they will respond to a disaster. For example; preschool children are more likely to show clingy behavior including difficulty separating from parents; school age children might develop problems at school; and adolescents problems with risk-taking. Physical problems (headaches, etc.) sleep disturbance and irritability are common reactions of all age groups.
  4. Children who have had difficulty before the disaster may develop the same problems again.
  5. A parent’s response and mood is important. An open attitude allows your child to express their fears.
  6. In discussing the disaster with your child, it is important to find out what they already know about it. Answering their questions is a good place to begin.
  7. Many children and adults have misconceptions about a disaster. Some of them are specific to a level of development. Talk to other parents with children the age of yours. Find out what they are doing and saying.
  8. Children may believe that something they did “caused” the disaster. It is important to discuss this misconception.
  9. Try to spend more time with your children after a disaster. It help everyone (parents, too) to cope with it.
  10. Hook in to post-disaster programs given by schools, churches and other organizations. Much is being learned about this important area.

Recognizing and Preventing Bullying

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009
  1. All teenagers take risks as a normal part of growing up. Risk-taking is the tool an adolescent uses to define and develop his or her identity.
  2. Healthy adolescent risk-taking behaviors which tend to have a positive impact on an adolescent’s development can include participation in sports, the development of artistic and creative abilities, volunteer activities, travel, running for school office, making new friends, constructive contributions to the family or community, and others.
  3. Negative risk-taking behaviors which can be dangerous for adolescents include drinking, smoking, drug use, reckless driving, unsafe sexual activity, disordered eating, self-mutilation, running away, stealing, bullying, gang activity and violence. Bullying can be verbal, written (online), or physical and involves threats or intimidation.
  4. Parents and teachers need to be aware of the signals along the pathway to bullying. Often unrecognized in its early forms, such behavior can easily switch over, such as when an assertive child becomes an aggressive child. Assessment and prevention programs need to start early in the schools.
  5. More than half of our middle school- and high school-aged children tell us that they are bullied during their school years. Ten percent say they are bullied on a regular basis.
  6. Listen to and spend time with your children. A lack of parental supervision and time is one of the best predictors of children being involved in bullying and committing violent acts.
  7. There are “red flags” which help parents and teachers identify a child or teen at high risk to be a bully. Children or adolescents who bully thrive on controlling or dominating others. Bullies may be upset, angry or depressed about events at home or school.
  8. Bullying behavior is not unstoppable. It can be decreased or even prevented entirely if the risk factors are reduced or eliminated. Parents need to address this behavior at home and work collaboratively with schools. Assessments by trained mental health professionals need to take place in schools. Children who are bullied experience real suffering that affects their lives, some have even made suicide attempts. If a child is bullied, it is important to get help.
  9. Violence and bullying in the media plays an important role. Children and adults alike are flooded with violent and aggressive images. Parents need to watch and listen to the media messages their children are receiving, and monitor and discuss them with the children, recognizing when children are over stimulated.
  10. Bullying in communities where children and adolescents grow up is everyone’s problem. The solution lies in committed individuals, parents, teachers, and children themselves working together as a team.

Talking with Your Teenager about Sex

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009
  1. Speak directly to your teen, using simple language to describe both feelings and activities.
  2. Start conversations about sex early with discussions about biology, language your child may hear outside the home, and messages around sex in the media.
  3. Remember that sexuality is confusing for teens. Talk with them about the extremes in our cultural attitudes toward sex, from Victorian embarrassment to sexual exploitation.
  4. Talk about your feelings and lessons you’ve learned without describing specifics. Explore stories about other teens and ask your child for his or her opinion and ideas.
  5. Maintain an ongoing dialogue, and communicate morals, values, and examples.
  6. Understand that all teenagers have sexual lives, whether with others or through fantasies. This is an important part of adolescence that helps them to discover and develop their individual sexual identity, a vital part of one’s overall identity.
  7. Recognize that adolescence is about taking risks, sexually and in other ways. Encourage your teen to talk with other trusted adults about sexuality.
  8. Look out for red flags to dangerous sexual risk taking such as unprotected intercourse, repeated exposure to victimization in unhealthy or dangerous sexual relationships, or a history of sexually abusing others. Other more general psychological problems such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, self-mutilation, and clusters of unhealthy risk-taking might occur at the same.
  9. Educate yourself about the spectrum of adolescent sexual behaviors. Enforcing rigid gender roles or sexual orientation can be extremely damaging.
  10. Be aware of how you speak and act concerning sexual and gender issues in front of your teens. Adolescents respond best to suggestions rather than directives, highlighting the importance of the parent’s role as guide during these crucial years.