When Teens Reject Religion

teens rebel1


Rebellion is a normal part of adolescence. As children morph into pre-teens and then teens, they seek greater independence, push boundaries, oppose rules, argue more, reject authority, and detach from the people who love them most. You, mom and dad. The parents.

And everything you believe in, everything you’ve been teaching your darling daughter or son is now subject to argument or outright rejection. Even religion, the family rituals, customs, traditions that have been part of your family lore for generations are under attack. All those family memories engrained in your family’s history are also subject to invalidation. That can be difficult for any parent and you might be wondering why? Why is my darling child attacking the very core or essence of what we believe in?

There’s a good reason and it’s based in cognition and development. According to David Elkind, PhD, author of All Grown Up and No Place to Go, your child’s brain is under “construction.” The area of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex is developing rapidly, neurons are multiplying wildly and firing it seems all at once or in an illogical order.

The prefrontal cortex of the brain is responsible for thinking, judgment, self control, and regulation. In adolescence, kids are developing their own ideas. Suddenly, your children see everything more realistically. They’re acutely aware of unfairness, injustice, of rules that shouldn’t apply to them because they’re practically grown up. Kids are also seeing their parents as flawed beings too.To define herself as a separate entity, your daughter must question who she is and that means questioning who she is in relationship to you. The reason why she questions is part of brain anatomy and development.

The result is that your teen is seeing you through a whole new lens. It’s a reality that awakens your child, scares them, can anger them. Don’t worry. They still love you and they certainly need you. But suddenly, you aren’t the ideal, the larger than life parents who brought your children comfort, who could solve every problem, who uttered the absolute truth. You, the parents, when compared to other people’s parents just aren’t that cool. When compared to the television parents, you’re kind of dowdy. And compared to what your child thinks? Well, you mom and dad simply fall flat.

If you’re not who they thought you were, then everything you taught them must be subject to question. Your teen, while moving through adolescence must scrutinize what you’ve taught them.

Your child is suddenly more aware of his surroundings and beginning to ask what’s real and what is truth?

And that can include religion, your religion. Though your child knows no other customs, was raised in the values and ideals since birth, a.nd seemed perfectly content, embraced, and fulfilled by your faith, by function of your child’s development he or she must question.

And that can be very difficult especially because things don’t right themselves for a long time. A very very long time until your child completes passes through development and develops their own sense of identity as an adult, separate and detached from you.

While this development is occurring, your child might argue with you. All. The. Time. According to Elkind, that’s also because of the changes in the prefrontal cortex at work. “As a child evolves into a teenager, the brain becomes able to synthesize information into ideas. Teens want to exercise their new skill — and they tend to practice on their parents. “It may seem that they argue for the sake of arguing. But really, they’re practicing their new abilities.”

It can be trying time for parents. It’s especially trying if what your child is rejecting is so much a part of your family traditions, rituals, and habits. If your adolescent child reject your religion, the practices he or she was raised with since birth, it’s not just difficult. It can create family discord and personal heartache.

But rejection of your religion, opposition of practices, questioning doctrine and whatever else a teen does to disrupt the status quo are really all a part of developmental rebellion. As Dr. Carl Pickhardt explains it, around mid-adolescence (13 to 15 years), your teenager might “declare that religiously believing and participating is no longer for them. He may argue that religious practice is restrictive, that he doesn’t believe in a god, that practicing the religion without believing is hypocritical. Your child might refuse to attend holiday dinner or worship services. He may criticize other family members who choose to remain observant. He may become belligerent. And you, well, you will be the target of his rage, opposition, debate, and defiance. While you might feel under a personal attack, keep in mind. This stage of adolescence is a period when teens question authority—parental, professional, spiritual, etc; and it’s completely age appropriate.

During adolescence, your teen might reject religion and other values you taught them.
During adolescence, your teen might reject religion and other values you taught them.

But even the rejection of religion is part of developmental rebellion common in adolescence. How you handle it depends in large part on your child age and developmental stage.

According to Pickhardt, psychologist and author of Surviving Your Child’s Adolescence, there are four stages of adolescent rebellion. How you address the rebellion is based on your child’s age but also on their emotional maturity. Some kids hit stage later than others.

Between the ages of 9 and 13, “rebellion… is primarily a process through which the young person rejects the old child identity that he or she now wants to shed to clear the way for more grown up redefinition ahead. Rebellion at this early adolescent age proclaims: “I refuse to be defined and treated as a child anymore!” Now he knows how he doesn’t want to be, but he has yet to discover and establish how he does want to be. Pickhardt recommends firm insistence. Set up the guidelines and work your budding teen down through attrition. At the same time, try to help them verbalize objections through dialog rather than action.

  1. Set up some firm family guidelines for your rebellious teen, guidelines that are non-negotiable that clearly defined expectations and consequences for not meeting those expectations. While your child is rebelling, some of the acts of aggression might be destructive—self destructive. You want to keep your budding adult safe. Setting up a behavior contract with clear expectations, goals, and consequences for failing to meet expectations should be included. There should also be a reward section of the contract. If your child complies, he can go to that swimming party.
  2. Keep in mind that your teen is really still a child in a developing body. Some behaviors aren’t going to change through discussion, punishment, or head-to-head combat. You have to keep your child safe and relatively compliant until he developmentally works through some of the internal confusion he has with religion or whatever else he’s objecting to. If a young child was threatening to jump out of a moving car, would you discuss it? NO! You implement rules and consequences to keep them safe.
  3. Make yourself available to talk. Make it clear to your child that you want to listen to his objectives and you need your child to help you understand. Listen without commenting. Validate his complaints by mirroring his sentiments. “I can see how you might feel that way.” At the same time, give him constructive ways to verbalize his anger, frustration, and internal struggle.

When a child moves into the next stage in mid-adolescence (ages 13 through 15) Pickhardt describes rebellion as a need for differentiation of identity from the parents. It’s how teens develop identities. In order to do it, they have to develop a resolve and determination to break off and differentiate themselves from the expectations.

While the teen might seem oppositional, he still needs to know that he can depend on the parents and that they still love him.

This is a good time to challenge a teen. Instead of confronting them which drives them to do the opposite, empower them with a creative challenge, one that teaches them lessons about personal responsibility and consequences. It also challenges the teen to explore some of his notions about the world and how he thinks it really works. This is a good time to address questions or objections your child. Perhaps take your child to a learning group, one where a moderator can address questions and objections with liturgy and its application to real life. Involve your child in a learning quest where he’s forced to learn more about his religion. Learning frequently brings about internal change and helps a child discover answers independently. Make yourself available during the learning process and show your teen that you respect his or her questions, objections, and decisions.

In later stages of adolescent rebellion, your teen is demanding greater and greater degrees of freedom. It might mean pushing back on expectations you have of your child. Perhaps your child no longer wants to worship with you or no longer wants to join family holiday dinners. The key during the 15 to 18 year period is to set firm guidelines and expectations. You should make it clear what responsibilities are commensurate for privileges of independence. For example, you can make it clear that while you appreciate your child’s decisions and personal opinions, there are standards to adhere to in the family. As long as your teen lives under your roof, you expect him to attend a religious service. And then you give him a choice, two or three choices that are satisfactory to you. You can also solicit suggestions from your teen and include them in the options if they’re reasonable.



Road Rage And Teens: What Every Parent Should Know

road rage and teensRoad rage and teens is a match made in Hell. As parents, we know that teens sometimes have judgment issues. We also know how emotional they can get. And still, kids are eligible to apply for a driver’s license at the age of 16.

Now isn’t that every parent’s nightmare?

So you’re wondering: is there anything at all you, as a parent, can do, to have a positive influence on your child when he’s far away from you, out on the road, and behind the wheel?

Sure there is. Let’s start with you. Are you always cool, calm, and collected when driving? Congratulations, then. You’ve been a wonderful example for your child.Angry woman driver2

He’s watched you be courteous to other drivers. He’s never seen you grumble curses under your breath or flip another driver the bird for cutting you off. That means you’re halfway there for modeling the sort of behavior you can only hope he’ll emulate now that it’s his turn in the driver’s seat.

Of course, that’s not the whole story. Teenagers are a (road) raging mass of hormones and their brains are in a very active stage of development. They may find it hard to keep their emotions in check and their stress levels tolerable. And of course, if they get overemotional or stressed out, it’s likely those emotions will express themselves as aggression toward the dude on the road that’s really messing with their brains.

That is exactly how road rage starts.

Angry Male Driver2

Road Rage And Teens: The Hallmarks

So how can you know if your teenager is going to be able to keep it together while driving? You take a look at his overall behavior and see if any of the hallmarks of the typical road rage personality are there. Let’s take a look shall we?

  • When your kid is along for the ride and you’re driving does she sometimes make cutting comments about other drivers?
  • Does she become irritated over the mistakes of other motorists on the road?
  • Is your teenager quick to anger?
  • Is she sometimes rude?
  • Does your teen often criticize others’ behavior?
  • At home, do discussions often turn into emotion fests with (her) yelling and screaming?
  • If your teenager does something wrong, does she take responsibility for her actions?
  • Have you set a good driving example for your teen—are you always calm, cool, and collected while driving?
  • So let’s say you’re not the greatest in terms of keeping your cool behind the wheel. When your teenager rides with you and you lose it, does she look happy to watch you “give it” to the other driver? Does she encourage your angry reaction?
  • Does your teen tend to be a bit of a show-off? Will she do anything to get attention?
  • When your teen drives and you’re along for the ride, do you see her taking too many chances?


Okay, so let’s say your kid doesn’t test too well. She gets a seven out of the above eleven possible hallmarks for road rage. Now what?

Be ready to take action, that’s what. You need to DEAL with this. In fact, let’s assume your teenager has already shown signs of road rage—what should you do?

Car Keys

It’s very simple:

Take. Away. The keys. To the car.

You might just save her life.

Harsh, huh?

Don’t really care. And you shouldn’t either. It’s your job to protect your kid. If she’s a menace behind the wheel, take that wheel away from her.

Now naturally, she’ll scream and cry and want to get you to change your mind with all manner of unpleasant behavior. Reassure her that she can get the key back by proving she knows how to drive like a normal human being. Talk about what that will entail. Be totally firm and unyielding.

The bad driving behavior is not something she’ll grow out of. It’s not a phase in her development. It’s life-threatening and will remain a habit and a temptation until you nip it in the bud for good.

Begin by telling your teenager that she can drive, but only with you in the car alongside her. Once her driving behavior convinces you beyond all doubt that she has learned her lesson, you can return the keys to her eager little hands. Of course, you need to let her know that having driving rights is a privilege that must be continuously earned by stellar driving behavior.

If you see that despite your willingness to ride alongside her until she models good behavior, she remains angry and confrontational behind the wheel, don’t be a fool. Don’t give her the keys even for a short drive to the drugstore to buy toothpaste. Just don’t do it. No.

No keys until she’s learned her lesson.

(photo credit: OlegD / Shutterstock.com)
(photo credit: OlegD / Shutterstock.com)

Does it seem like she’ll never be calm enough to regain those keys? Get her counseling with a mental health professional. And then withhold those car keys until the professional clears your teenager for active driving duty.

If you only suspect your child might be prone to road rage, don’t be afraid to ask others to let you know what they observe when they see your teen driving. Talk to other parents, your child’s teachers, and any other adults that are close to your family and ask them to watch and observe how your child drives.

Make sure they know you want to hear if there are incidents of erratic, angry behavior while your child is behind the wheel. You’re not asking them to rat your child out: you’re just asking them to help you keep your child (and the other motorists on the road) safe.

Core Values

As a parent, always model good driving behavior for your children. Children learn their core values from their parents. In that sense, you are responsible for the bad behavior your children learn from you.

Don’t let anyone shake your resolve in taking action to prevent your child from driving if you suspect she has an issue with road rage, or is susceptible to developing such an issue. You are keeping your child alive. She won’t always be a teenager. And someday she’ll be all done with the crazy hormones that cause her to take risks. Your job is to keep her safe until that day arrives.

It’s a difficult job but someone’s got to do it.

And that someone, as your child’s parent, is you.

This month, Kars4Kids is running a campaign to draw attention to road rage and safe driving. Check out our Beep-Off App. You won’t want to leave home without it!


Getting Kids to Think About the Future? Fuhgeddaboudit

Getting kids to think about the future is probably an impossible dream. Kids can’t think about next week, let alone how getting a poor grade in algebra is going to impact their adult lives going forward. Kids, and more specifically, teens, just aren’t wired to care about anything beyond their own, narrow little worlds TODAY.

Okay, to be fair, let’s admit they can think about the coming weekend, what they’re going to do, and what they’re going to wear while doing it.

What brought this home to me? A call last night from my 16 year-old son’s English teacher. My son, quite frankly, refuses to get out of bed as long as he is still tired. That means that if school starts at 8 AM and said son is tired, he won’t get out of bed to go to school. Even if there is an exam at that time on which 80% of his grade depends.

That’s what happened yesterday morning. It was 8:10 and he still hadn’t gotten out of bed, though I’d been going in and out of his room from 6:30 AM, begging him to get up and get ready for school. So he missed a test. He got to school two minutes after the exam started and the teacher didn’t let him in.

He Doesn’t Care

I told my son’s teacher that I can’t get my son to think about how his attitude and the way it plays out will affect his future, his ability to get into college, or make his way in a profession. He just doesn’t care.

I can punish him. I can say, “No more computer time until I hear a good report from your teacher.”Teen Dreams During Study

But it doesn’t work. He’ll lay in bed with the blanket over his head and drowse and dream. And he still won’t get to school the next morning.

He is completely apathetic to my entreaties, to his teacher’s entreaties. We put him on speaker phone. We asked him, “What are you planning to do when you finish high school?”

He wants to go to acting school.

His teacher says, “So let’s say the school has to decide between you and another kid of equal talent who has better grades. Who do you think they will pick?”

His answer? A shrug.

I decided it was time to turn to Dr. Google in an effort to understand how I can help my son improve his performance. What I discovered is that teens should not be expected to think about the future. The adolescent brain is undergoing a type of transformation known as “synaptic pruning.” At the same time, the prefrontal cortex is still slowly changing and developing.

Getting Kids To Think About The Future? Surely You Jest

Rephrased, the teenager’s brain is, if you’ll excuse the expression, going haywire with so much going on at once. This stage of neural development will not be complete until the child is somewhere in his twenties. And it is only with the full development of the prefrontal cortex that the child, now a young adult, will be able to take his future into account when making plans beyond a weekend jaunt to the mall.

Sure, they can picture consequences. They understand that poor grades translate to slower advancement in life. But it’s all terribly abstract when it comes to seeing themselves inside that reality, as in the case of the boy who gets turned down by Harvard because of a poor grade on an English exam. It’s abstract, he’s emotional. He can’t really apply what he knows to his own reality on the ground.

So if you, like me, are falling into despair regarding how to reach your teenager, does this mean you should forget all thoughts of having expectations of your teenager? Not really.Teen Offering Cig

What it does mean is that we have to be more precise, more patient, in delivering the messages we want them to grasp. One way to illustrate this concept is by examining the concepts of school, on the one hand, and drugs, on the other.

As a parent, we see school as a prerequisite for a successful future. Getting into a good school means getting good grades in high school. Getting into a good school means getting a good job. Getting a good job means having the ability to support a family.

So your teenager knows this in theory. But it doesn’t motivate him. What motivates him is that new message on Whatsapp and a photo posted to Facebook by a friend. His textbook is sitting next to him, at his elbow, but he just doesn’t care enough to review the material within. All he cares about his life online, his friends.

Tip #1: Aim for excellence, not outcome. By aiming for a job well done as opposed to a future way down the road, you give your child permission to enjoy the present. At the same time, you’re guiding your child on a forward path by ensuring he does the best he can in the here and now. With an attitude of doing the best they can, they’ll be opening up a world of choice for that time in the future when it comes to choosing one life path over another (choosing between Harvard or Yale is a dang sight better than having to choose between community college or a blue collar job straight out of high school).

It’s too abstract for him to think about that now, Harvard or a blue collar job. So don’t put that on him. He can’t make that decision now. Instead, ask him to think about the fact that hard study yields better options when the time comes to make decisions.

As for drugs, what parent doesn’t want their teens to avoid them? But it’s Saturday night and your teenager is at a party and gets swept up in the mood. Someone offers your child a joint and she isn’t thinking about getting arrested or what the effects of the drug might be. All she’s thinking about is not being a bummer at a party. Everyone else is getting high. She really has no choice. It’s the way it is. So she partakes, gets higher than a kite.

You can't expect kids to break away from the herd mentality.
You can’t expect kids to break away from the herd mentality.

Now as parents and as former teens, we know exactly how that is. So how do you slow your kid down to think about the future and how smoking that joint will affect his life going forward?

The answer is you don’t. Because you can’t. Her brain can’t take it in. She can’t think beyond the now.

So what can you do to help your child in the face of strong peer pressure?

Tip #2: Encourage your child to develop friendships with quality peers. You can’t really stop your child from getting high at a party where everyone is getting high. What you can do is encourage her to hang with a better class of kids—the kind of kids who aren’t smoking up. It’s not that teens want to engage in risky behavior; it’s that they don’t want to be seen as different from their peers. By being friends with quality kids, you eliminate having to worry about the effect of peer pressure as an impetus to risky behavior.

Tip #3: Work on strengthening the family—where there’s trust, there is influence. If your child knows you are solidly behind him and he can talk to you about the important stuff, it means you have a fighting chance at imparting your norms. More importantly, it means that occasionally you can ask your kid to do something because you want him to do it. For instance, he may want to smoke that joint, but since you told him never to smoke a joint, he may just say no, since he respects, loves, and trusts you.

Tip #4: Impart your core values. Talk about your values on a regular basis and explain why they are important to you. Talk about why education is important to you, for instance. With time and repetition, your core values will become your child’s core values. You can’t make him see why the grade he gets now will influence his ability to get into a decent university later. But you can make him see that education is important.

The bottom line is that you can’t make kids look to the future. Physiologically speaking, they won’t be capable of this sort of forward-looking thinking until at least their mid-twenties. But what you can do is encourage them to make solid friendships with trustworthy people, build your own relationships with them to inspire trust, and teach them about the important things in life. In so doing, you make it more than likely your child will make good decisions now: the kind that will insure him the brightest of futures.

What core values are you imparting to your children to help them make the right decisions now?

Dogs: Decisions, Decisions, and Teens

Dogs may be man’s best friend, but what about teens? Can a dog help teens navigate the stormy waters of adolescence? Or would a dog be just one more responsibility for your teen to shirk?

This is the sort of mental debate a parent goes through after a teen asks for a dog. The parent wonders at the wisdom of bringing a pet into the family circle. For one thing, caring for a pet is a responsibility. Will the teen take charge of the dog’s feeding, grooming, walking, and depending on the age of the pet, housebreaking? Who will be responsible for finding a good veterinarian and making sure the dog receives its shots and appropriate care?

Many parents get stuck on this point, never getting past these very relevant questions, which is a shame. Bonding with a pet can make a huge positive difference in a teenager’s development. Writer Suzanne Alicie describes how a dog brought her son back from the brink after her divorce and a move to a new neighborhood. The boy, 13 years-old at the time, was experimenting with drugs. He was sullen, withdrawn, and uncommunicative.

We found a place to live with a friend, and lo and behold there was a dog. Not only that, but a dog that was shy and a bit insecure, and more often than not could be found hiding under a bed. This dog was Bear. This wonderful patchwork dog that didn’t seem to fit in anywhere and lived on the fringes of the family became part of my son’s salvation.

My son instantly began working with Bear to get her to be more sociable, even when he wanted nothing to do with other people himself. He took on the responsibilities of taking care of her, and before I knew it everywhere my son was there was Bear. They formed an intense friendship, he talked to her and he petted her, and Bear? Well she listened to him, she didn’t judge and she loved him no matter what. She absorbed the love that the troubled teenager had to give but couldn’t find a way to express to people.

The boy and the dog formed their own unit of support and love that was a doorway to my son learning to express his emotions. Because of Bear’s nervousness, my son learned to express anger without yelling or throwing things; he learned to keep his composure because of his love for this dog. It was a friendship that helped him see the future instead of the destruction in the past. In many ways Bear helped save my sanity by being a source of unconditional love and understanding for my teenage son.

Imagine that! The dog, Bear, was also withdrawn. Well, he certainly understood the pain and loneliness of that existence. So he took it upon himself as his personal mission to coax this dog back to a fuller life. And as he did so, the boy too, came back to himself. He found hidden sensitivities and modulated his tone so as not to frighten Bear and make him nervous. He discovered that he could make all the difference for an animal, that someone could depend on him and that he would be dependable.teenager skateboarding in the park

Alicie’s son also found that Bear had something to give in return. Bear would listen to the boy and never judge him. The boy could pet and hug Bear to his heart’s content without feeling awkward or ashamed for needing cuddles and affection.

Alicie illustrates a beautiful example of how having a dog can make or break a teen’s troubled existence. It seems then, that the wise parent, when having that all-important mental debate on whether or not to get a dog, should consider more than the basic responsibilities implicit in having a pet. Parents should consider the positive emotional benefits that a dog can afford a teenager.

Then again there are other benefits to having a dog that parents may not take into account when musing on the subject of acquiring a pet. Among children ages 2-19, 31.8 percent are overweight or obese, while 16.9 percent are considered obese. A healthy, active dog needs exercise and play. Having a dog encourages teens to move and spend time out of doors rather than remain indoors, glued to their computer screens with junk to nosh by their sides.

Kids need exercise and fresh air, but encouraging them to get out and walk never works especially well when that encouragement comes from parents. What does work is having a dog that depends on your teen for taking brisk walks outside. Wonder why that is? It’s this:

When you, as a parent, urge your teen to go outside and get some exercise, he’s bound to see this as nagging and in the spirit of independence and rebellion, absolutely refuse to cooperate.

Teenager cuddling a lapdogWhen there’s a dog in the picture on the other hand, things are completely different: your teenager comes home from school and the dog goes running to the door, barking and wagging his tail with all his might just begging to go outside. What teen can possibly refuse that canine request??

Now that we’ve looked at the positive benefits of getting your teenager a dog, it’s time to take a look at the other side of the equation. Dogs represent an expense. Is your family struggling to pay the bills and stay afloat? There’s the food dogs eat, and visits to the vet for shots and maintenance. If a dog becomes ill, it’s your responsibility to get the dog quality care and in some cases, have the dog put to sleep.

This leads to another issue: what happens when a beloved pet dies? Dogs don’t live as long as humans. It’s likely that having a pet means watching a pet die. This is painful to be sure, but only because you’ve developed a bond to the animal. Isn’t it better to have had that bond and lose it then to never have had the bond in the first place, or as Alfred Lord Tennyson put it, “’Tis better to have loved and lost, then never to have loved at all.”

Who Assumes Responsibility?

Last but not least, what happens if your teenager becomes bored with the dog? What happens when there’s a snow storm and the dog needs to go outside? Who assumes the responsibility? This is best addressed by discussing the issue openly with your family before acquiring the dog. This works better than bringing the dog home as a surprise, because as nice as it is to see your child’s happy response, he can always come back at you later and say, “I never wanted a dog. You never asked me. You walk the dog.”

Having a dog isn’t right for every family or every teen, but the benefits can often outweigh the disadvantages. A dog can ease a difficult adolescence and help make your teen more active and healthy. It’s something to consider, at the very least.

Have you bought or adopted a dog for your teenager? If so, tell us about your experience. The Kars4Kids blog would like to hear about it!

How You Can Ease Your Teen into Using a Smartphone

After having used a smartphone for a few years, it’s hard for me to remember what life was like without instant access to this technology. As I raise my tween boy – now 12 years old and in junior high – it can be difficult to remember what my childhood was like without carrying around a cell phone as he does now at his age.

My tween has just started using a cell phone: a temporary prepaid phone with no bells and whistles. Providing him with this simple technology has increased our communication and provided him with a new “cool factor” among his tween friends. Even though none of his friends use smartphones at this point, that eventuality is approaching quickly. Here’s how to be ready to transition your tween into smartphone use.

With Privilege Comes Responsibility

Your tween needs to understand that having access to a smartphone is a privilege that needs to be taken seriously. And as Uncle Ben (and Voltaire before him) famously explained to us, with great privilege comes great responsibility. Tweens need to show that they are ready for the responsibility and the privilege of using a smartphone.

tweens, chores, using a smartphone

Ways that your tween can demonstrate responsibility include:

  • Keeping up on homework. My tween didn’t have a hard time doing homework, but he was majorly challenged when it came to actually turning in the completed work. Responsibility is both doing the work and turning it in on time. This will be reflected in their grades each quarter.
  • Completing assigned chores consistently. Each member of our household has certain chores that he or she is responsible for on specific days. Following the chore list is an important skill and shows responsibility.
  • Logging those completed chores consistently. We use a free program called My Job Chart to both assign consistent chores and log whether those chores have been completed. Kids can earn points for doing chores that can translate into customized rewards, including allowance or smartphone use.

Let your tween know that once he or she shows consistently responsibility, the additional privilege of smartphone use will be rewarded.

Monitor Your Tweens Use of Electronic Devices

tween smartphone, using a smartphone

Regardless of what electronic devices your tween is using, he or she needs to be closely monitored. Charge the devices in your room at the end of the day and then go through them, looking at web activity, texts, and social media interactions.

To get alerts regarding your tween’s online actions, install a program like Qustodio. This software allows parents to monitor all online activity, including social media and web browsing. This program also has time limits for internet access and helps keep kids safe online. Plus, it lets you know whether or not your tween is being responsible online.

Give Tweens a Cell Phone to Use

tweens, cellphone use, using a smartphone

Handing over a smartphone to a tween requires an enormous amount of trust. Let your tween show that he or she is worthy of that trust by starting off with a basic, no frills cell phone to use. This cell phone is not a smartphone, which means that your tween will be able to talk and text without worrying about web or social media activity.

This simple step will ease you both into the idea of your tween using this kind of technology, giving him or her a chance to show trustworthiness and giving you less to monitor right off the bat.

Create a Smartphone Agreement

A written smartphone agreement is an important way to lay out your expectations for your tween’s smartphone usage. While there are templates online, some ideas for your agreement can include:

  • Who buys the smartphone and who pays for the usage
  • Whether or not the phone goes to school
  • What times of the day your tween is allowed to use the phone
  • Appropriate online behavior, discussing at length cyberbullying, photos, videos, and dangers of contact with people you don’t know
  • What monitoring software will be on the smartphone, and that this is non-negotiable
  • The smartphone can be taken away as a consequence of behavior changes
  • What happens if the smartphone gets lost or broken

Using A Smartphone

Using a smartphone is a privilege that requires a great amount of trust and responsibility. Help your tween transition into using a smartphone so that you can both be ready for this big developmental shift.

When Your Teen’s BFF Is A Bad Influence

There’s this boy in the neighborhood, you know the type, reverse Mohawk streaked green, an earring, and a dangerous look in his eyes. He’s a bad influence. And your son is attracted to him like iron filings to a magnet.

So what’s a parent to do? If you forbid the relationship you’ll only be driving your son to this boy.  Forbidding a teen to do anything is like daring him to do it. In fact it’s tempting to suggest you actually urge your kid to hang with this bad boy. Reverse psychology, you know?

Sarcasm aside, how do you keep your child away from a dangerous relationship without alienating your own offspring?

1) Begin by embracing the enemy. That’s right. Invite this child over. Talk to him. Get to know him. Draw him out.

It won’t be easy. Kids like this tend not to be exceptionally talkative. You’ll be lucky if you get a grunt or two.

What you want to do is build a relationship with this child and become a positive influence on him. By guiding the behavior of your child’s friend, you may end up influencing the behavior of your own child. Your child may be pleasantly surprised at your easy acceptance of his friend so that in the worst case scenario, your efforts at being reasonable will be noted and appreciated.

When Your Teen’s BFF Is A Bad Influence

2) Never attribute your own child’s poor behavior to an outside cause. It’s easy to lay blame on an outside influence for your child’s bad behavior. But there is never a good outcome to, for instance, blaming your child’s messy room on “that kid with the belly ring.” All you’ll do is cause your child to become defensive. And his room will still be just as messy only now it will be a messy room plus slamming doors and loud protests.

Instead, address the primary issue (the messy room) and offer helpful suggestions. You might say, “Your room is pretty messy. Looks like it will be a lot of work to clean it up. For now, how about putting your dirty clothes in the hamper?”

3) Build your child’s self-esteem. Most of the time, a teen’s inappropriate behavior is related to self-esteem issues. If you obsess over your child’s piercings and tattoos you’ll push him further to the dark side because you’ll end up reinforcing his notion that he doesn’t fit into normative society: he’s not acceptable as he is. Instead, make a point of making positive personal comments to your child. Caveat: the complimentary things you say to your child must be true. He’ll know if you’re lying. And that won’t do a thing for his self-esteem.

If your child feels good about himself, he will feel free to choose friends he rightfully enjoys for their talents and personalities rather than for a buzz of danger and excitement.

When Your Teen’s BFF Is A Bad Influence

4) Understand that it’s peers before parents and other family. When it comes to teens, fitting in with a group is the end all and be all of their existence. The friendships they have with the peers take priority of their relationships to their family members. In part, this is due to the fact that family will be your family no matter what, but friends must be cultivated and maintained. Kids want to feel they belong, that they are part of a tribe.

Acceptance by their peers is the mirror for how teens gauge their own normalcy. If they have friends, they know they are normal. In the teenage mind, a lack of friends implies a devastating defect. Any friend will be welcome in this case, including a not-so-good influence of a friend.

Just knowing you understand all this, can make a big difference in how your child builds relationships and with whom.

What Every Parent Should Know About Teenage Drinking at Home

Teenage drinking at home: are you under the impression that within reason, this is a good thing?

I know my parents thought so. They felt that if given sips of good liquor, we would relate to alcohol as something delicious to be had in moderation. That’s as opposed to tippling large quantities of drink for the sake of getting wasted.

Not that my parents were into drinking. They totally weren’t. In fact, I don’t even think their friends were into drinking, except for one woman they murmured about in low voices punctuated by the occasional tsk.

But my parents prided themselves on being good and generous hosts, so when there was a party, the liquor cabinet would be unlocked and there, revealed in all its glory, would be the four-tiered built-in, pull-out well-lit bar, with all the different sorts of glasses, swizzle sticks, and soda dispensers a tippler could desire.

Back then, there was none of this single malt scotch snobbery. Chivas Regal was considered top of the line. Ditto Bristol Cream Sherry, deemed  shutterstock_169020203elegant and therefore more appropriate to the ladies. Both these classics were present in my parents’ liquor cabinet, but there between them were such oddities as the tall-necked bottle of Galliano liqueur with its distinctive yellow color, and a wonderful chocolate liqueur from Switzerland with yummy cocoa nibs, to be drunk in small glasses as an aperitif. Whenever there was a party in our home, my siblings and I were given a choice of what we would like to drink and we could each have a modest portion of whatever we chose.

The liquor cabinet had a lock but we always had access to the key, because we also stored treats in the liquor cabinet; the kind of treats you eat while watching TV. It was understood that our parents trusted us not to abuse the privilege of access to liquor. For the most part, we never did.

Except once.

I was the youngest child at 11. My sister Margery was meant to mind me. She was 14.

Margery decided that my cultural education would remain incomplete until such time as I tasted a Harvey Wallbanger, which is basically vodka, Galliano, and orange juice. She mixed up two tall ones then and there. The next memory I have is of being passed out on the floor only to have my left index finger impaled by the spikes of my mother’s golf shoes. My sister had decided it was a necessary skill to learn how to walk in golf shoes, indoors on my mother’s new linoleum flooring. And since I was so rudely unaware of the importance of her learning experience, she decided to pretend I was simply part of the floor.


I have the scar on my finger to this day.

Interestingly enough, my mother came home right at that moment and found me crying and bleeding on the floor. Naturally, I wanted to lay the blame on my sister who was, after all, supposed to be taking care of me. “Margy made me drink Harvey Wallbangers and walked on my hand in your golf shoes,” I sobbed.teenage drinking at home

My sister did get in trouble, but not in as much trouble as one might have imagined. It was deemed that we had learned our lesson about drinking and could now be trusted to never become crapulous again.

Now I won’t say we never got tipsy after that, but certainly not at home, and certainly not until we were grown-ups. We enjoyed the taste of liquor and yes, the pleasant glow of having a buzz on. I won’t deny that this is true.

All this occurred to me as I tried to formulate a policy vis-à-vis how I would handle the subject of alcohol with my own children. On the one hand, genetics were on my side. I didn’t come from drinkers, nor did my wife. So that eliminated one risk factor for my children. Happily so.

On the other hand, I wondered about the parenting theory my parents subscribed to: allowing children to drink in moderation in the home. Did this serve to foster “a healthy attitude about alcohol?” And what does that mean, anyway, a healthy attitude about alcohol? Is there such a thing?

So I looked into the issue and found that there is a preponderance of evidence against the practice of allowing children to drink in moderation in the home under supervision.

Studies On Teenage Drinking At Home

For example, one study of children in the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades whose parents let them drink at home had the steepest rise in drinking compared to their peers. See: Komro, K.A.; Maldonado-Molina, M.M.; Tobler, A.L.; et al. Effects of home access and availability of alcohol on young adolescents’ alcohol use. Addiction 102(10):1597–1608, 2007.

A second study found that teens allowed to drink at home will drink more than their peers when outside the home. See: van der Vorst; H., Engels, R.C.M.E; and Burk, W.J. Do parents and best friends Influence the normative increase in adolescents’ alcohol use at home and outside the home? Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs 71(1):105–114, 2010.

A further study, showed that teens will drink less outside the home if their parents forbid drinking from an early age and who take care not to overindulge in drink themselves. See: van der Vorst, H.; Engels, R.C.M.E; Meeus, W; and Dekovic, M. The impact of alcohol-specific rules, parental norms about early drinking and parental alcohol use on adolescents’ drinking behavior. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 47(12):1299–1306, 2006.

Lower Drinking Risk?

I came across only a single study that suggested that teens allowed a sip of a drink at a family gathering may have a lower risk factor for heavy drinking. See: Foley, K.L.; Altman, D.; Durant, R.H.; and Wolfson, M. Adults’ approval and adolescents’ alcohol use. Journal of Adolescent Health 35(4):7–26, 2004.

Taken as a whole, the literature on the subject is persuasive: teenage drinking at home is something that is best forbidden by their parents. Mom and Dad did a good job raising me. But the evidence suggests that my kids might not be as lucky as me and my siblings were in relation to drinking habits. The key to the liquor cabinet is therefore going into hiding.

I’d rather not take the chance.



I’m The Good Parent In Our Home

I’m the good parent in our home. The one the kids actually listen to. At least that’s the case with our teenage daughter Sarah.

It’s a constant refrain in our household, “Dear, can you talk to Sarah about 1) doing her homework 2) cleaning her room or 3) taking out the garbage?”shutterstock_84264385

For some reason, when my dear wife asks Sarah, our daughter, to do—why anything at all—the girl balks, sulks, and sometimes yells epithets or slams doors (sometimes all of the above at once). But when I ask Sarah to do exactly the same thing—nay TELL her to do those things—not a peep out of her. Not a protest, not even a sigh at being forced to leave her iPad and Facebook for the duration of the chore.

The wife and I have explored why this is so. Sometimes I think it’s because she asks Sarah instead of telling her to do whatever it is that needs doing. Like she’s too polite, or perhaps MEEK.

Maybe if she just laid down the law: “Put away the groceries,” instead of, “Oh, Sarah, would you mind putting away the groceries, please,” Sarah would just do it. Instead, it’s like my wife is inviting our daughter to protest. After all, it’s the nature of teens to rebel and create conflict with their parents. By asking instead of telling her to do things, my wife is giving Sarah an opening.

Naturally, the wife disagrees. From her perspective, it’s just semantics. She’s just being polite. She doesn’t really expect Sarah to say no so every time it happens, my wife is surprised anew.

Good Cop/Bad Cop?

Carey (why yes my wife does have a name) suggests that it’s something about our personalities. For some reason, people just want to say no to her and yes to me. Much as I’d like to accept the compliment, I’d also like to think that my beautiful, brave, and courageous wife is also a likable person in general and in particular—else why would I have married her in the first place?? Love me love my, um, wife.

Our son Robbie is still at that youthful stage of idolizing the both of us. He thinks we’re both perfect. His rebellious teens are still far away. So maybe it’s premature to suggest this without seeing how things will be between Robbie and Carey when Robbie hits his teens, but the bottom line is I think Sarah’s receptiveness to me and hostility toward Carey is a gender thing.shutterstock_47615263

I mean, we all know about the Oedipus and Electra Complexes in which there is just a natural rivalry going on with the same-sexed parent: a sense that both compete for the ultimate love of the opposite sexed parent/spouse. Like I said, Robbie is too young to test the theory. We have a good several years before he morphs into a pimply teenager. But I really think that’s what’s going on here: Sarah is just going to be this way: it’s innate, this issue of coming to conflict with her mother.

Whatever the reason, we do know that with Sarah and her mother, there’s going to be conflict. That’s our current reality. So at least for the meantime, I’m it when it comes to laying down the law on things we need Sarah to do.

I’m okay with that. And hey, who knows—Carey may need to do this for me with Robbie, somewhere down the line.

Just in case it’s really about me, I mean my personality or parenting style, as opposed to the opposite gender thing, I thought I’d give over some of my best tips for talking to and with teens so they’ll really listen. Here goes nothing:

1) Don’t ask, tell. Asking for chores to be done leaves an opening for protest. Just not smart. If it goes against your nature to be giving orders in a non-threatening manner, practice when no one is around to hear, until you get your tone down pat.

2) Watch and listen to how others do it. Do you know an adult who making effective contact with teens? Find opportunities to watch this pro in action. Go home and write down your observations. Review your notes before any important discussion with your teen.

3) Keep it light and casual. You don’t want to sound all polite and whimpery. Nor do you want to come down the heavy. Make like it’s no big deal. It’s what it is, no more and no less. Keeping your perspective intact will help your teen focus on what her perspective should be in relation to the task at hand.shutterstock_50689402

4) Always listen when they talk. Sometimes kids need to ramble on about stuff. Just listen. Even if they’re not saying anything that sounds particularly important and you’re busy or in a hurry to go somewhere. When there is an appropriate moment for you to say something, ask an open-ended question that shows you’re really listening and that you really care. For instance, “So Shelly wanted to see that action film but you don’t like action films. What kind of films do you like? What movie would you rather have seen?”

5) The eye-contact thing. Don’t hyperfocus on your child. Kids don’t like to feel like you’re examining them with a magnifying glass. As it is, they’re all self-conscious about looks and self-image. A good trick is to make talking to your child incidental by avoiding eye contact. For instance, you could be fixing a broken picture frame and looking at your work as you speak to your daughter. Or you could be taking a walk together, so you’re standing side by side, only kinda sorta looking at each other. It sounds crazy, but it’s my best trick for talking to and with teens.

The main thing with teens is to keep your cool as much as possible. Blowups will happen. It’s just the name of the game.

Be Her Rock

What a parent should always try to do is be there for a teen no matter what, through bad days and better days and all sorts of days in between. Try to be calm and be her rock. Even if she doesn’t know it, she needs you.shutterstock_47615206

And you know what? She does know it. She just doesn’t know she knows it.

Someday she will.



Childhood Obesity in the Land of Supersize Me

Childhood obesity in the Land of Supersize Me, also known as the United States, should surprise no one. You only need a pair of working eyes to see kids getting chubbier (their parents, too). Still, the statistics put out by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) can make you suck in your breath every bit as much as those size 12 jeans.


Fact #1

Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and has risen four times in adolescents over the past 3 decades.

Fact #2

In 1980, 7% of children in the U.S. age 6-11 were obese. In 2012, 18% of U.S. children were obese.

Fact #3

Of U.S. adolescents age 12-19, 5% were obese in 1980 and that figure rose to 21% by 2012.

Fact #4

In 2012, over one-third of children and adolescents were found to be either overweight or obese.

Part of the problem is that kids no longer use their bodies for play. They’re digital natives. They use devices. Maybe their FINGERS are slim, but their bodies aren’t getting any exercise whatsoever. Not to mention that using devices generally requires one hand only. The other hand can be, um, gainfully employed in shoving snack food into one’s mouth.

The combination of no exercise and a surplus of snack food translate to overweight or obese children. Not to mention our culture in which large portions are considered a virtue. Think about what happens when you order a supersized portion. Most of us don’t like to waste food, so even if our bodies are sending our brains signals of satiation, if we see there’s still food remaining on our plates, we try our best to finish up. The result is overeating, which again, leads to packing on the pounds.

Is your child overweight or obese?

Not sure what’s the difference? Here’s the deal:

Overweight means having too much body weight for one’s height. The excess weight may be from fat, muscle, bone, water, or any combination of these elements.

Obesity is excess body fat.

In either case, both overweight and obesity result from “caloric imbalance” or when more calories are taken in (through eating) than are expended (through activity). That is the simple explanation for something that can be complicated by a variety of factors (genetic, behavioral, and environmental).

Overweight and obesity are a vicious cycle for children. In the past, peer pressure might have led to a greater desire to refrain from overeating. Kids would be teased for being overweight. But now, with one in three children overweight or obese, it’s easy enough to fit in whether one is chunky or slim. Today, excess weight more likely goes unremarked by friends.


That’s a major headache for parents, the lack of peer pressure, because without peer pressure, what incentive do children have to lose weight? Adults understand that health is a gift and that overweight and obesity in children can lead to long-term ill health effects. Kids, on the other hand, think only of the present. If they feel good, they don’t think about how extra poundage will harm them later. And while 70% of obese children were found to have a minimum of one risk factor for cardiovascular disease, that’s meaningless to a child who feels just fine.

Meantime, in addition to risking cardiovascular disease as a result of such factors as high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels, obese teens also tend toward pre-diabetes in which blood sugar is high enough to presage the later development of diabetes. The extra weight also puts a strain on bones and joints and may leave to aches and pains, not to mention actual deterioration of these crucial body parts.

Then too, overweight young people are more likely to become overweight adults. The health risks at this point are undeniable and include stroke, heart disease, osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes, and many types of cancer. One research trial found that children who were already obese at the age of 2 were at greater risk for being obese as adults. Overweight and obesity are associated with a heightened risk for such cancers as cancer of the colon, breast, esophagus, endometrium, pancreas, kidney, thyroid, gallbladder, cervix, ovary, and prostate as well as for Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma.


What Can Parents Do?

  • Make it a priority to educate your child about nutrition
  • Ban high-fat and high-sugar treats
  • Make exercise a family value
  • Take vacations that include hiking and other physical activities
  • Limit time on electronic devices or make it tit for tat: 30 minutes of computer time is earned through 30 minutes of exercise
  • Organize your community and create a walking school bus in which kids walk to school instead of riding the bus
  • Enroll your child in a Zumba class
  • Take walks as a family
  • Aim for a nutrition-dense diet in which only foods that have high nutrition levels are purchased and consumed
  • Put out a bowl of fresh fruit or a tray of crudités (raw veggies) for snacking