Recently in teenagers Category

     Recently the psychologist Judith Rich Harris passed away at age 80. She was the author of the book The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do, a work which questioned the extent to which parents - as opposed to genetics and environment and peers - actually influence how children grow up.

      I read her book when it came out in 1998 and found that she and I had a lot in common: we both practiced psychology without PhD's (she was asked to leave the Harvard psychology graduate program because she didn't fit their "stereotype" of an experimental psychologist, and  I left the Harvard Ed School to get married); we both recognized the enormous influence of peers (especially on teenagers); we both encouraged parents to lighten up on their own angst and young adults to stop blaming their parents for everything.

In the book Harris cited her own examples of the parental nurture fallacy: children of immigrants sound like their peers rather than their parents; children of deaf parents learn to speak without difficulty; adopted children often do not resemble their adoptive parents in personality.

     How often have you turned to your co-parent and asked "where did we go wrong?" It's time to put things in perspective - genes yes, environment yes, nurture yes, but parenting techniques maybe...It's a mix of everything that goes into the development of an adult.

     What is our role as parents - regardless of our influence?

·         Provide a safe home as free from shame, want, and needless suffering as possible.

·         Allow natural consequences to occur - like falling off a bike when learning how to ride - and encourage learning from every situation.

·         Be an example - "let your life speak" as Quakers like me are likely to say - and go light on the lectures.

·         Make good choices as much as possible as to where your child goes to school and how involved in that school you will be.

·         Provide many opportunities beyond school (houses of worship, community groups, sports teams, service organizations) for your child to encounter peers who might indeed share your value system.

·         Be the grown-up - don't take everything so personally!

·         Relax and realize that we only can influence so much...


     In some ways this re-affirms the concept of "it takes a village to raise a child." When I was growing up every parent on the block in suburban Long Island looked out for everyone's kids: if I got in a fight down the street at David's house my mother knew about it before I got home! And my choice of clothes in high school - button down shirt and khaki pants - clearly came from my best friend Jack and not from my factory worker father. The world is bigger than two parents and their kids.

            As we go forward in 2019 let's all look out for all children and provide the safety and unconditional love that will allow our children to know pour values, experiment with their peers, and yet somehow hopefully land in the right place.

Friends - this is a revised version of the letter I wrote on 9/11/01. I certainly had hoped it wouldn't be needed so often, but that has not been the case. May we all find ways to develop alternatives to violence in ourselves, our families, our schools, our communities, and our nation.

 Talking With Children About Difficult Events

·         Remain available to talk about what is happening. Accept all questions, even if they are repeated over (and over!) again.

·         Be honest. Give facts at an appropriate level for your child's developmental level. Be willing to say "I don't know" if that is indeed the case.

·         Acknowledge feelings - your own and your child's. Unsettling events bring up lots of emotions for us - fear, anger, worry, despair, hope - and that is how it should be. Talking about feelings helps everyone.

·         Let your child know there are people who can help out in difficult situations. Become people who can help. Find ways to help those in more need than you. Helping others creates hope for all.

·         Limit television viewing of news: vivid images can be quite disturbing and can cause long-lasting discomfort.

·          Use drawing as a way to get disturbing images out of your child's mind: have them draw the image and then rip up the picture. This works especially well with nightmares.

·         Recognize that headaches, stomach aches, and sleep disturbances all accompany anxiety and uncertainty. Let your child know that these are natural reactions to stress and will pass soon.

·         Let your children be kids: when they are ready to just go out and play with their friends, let them do so.  Help them - and yourselves - come to terms with this "new normal" in our world.


 Here is the handout from a talk I am giving tomorrow on the challenges for parents when we watch our children struggle with developmental issues:

1.     Welcome: it's good to talk about our roles as parents

2.   Quaker beliefs: growing into goodness/minding the Light in each of us/ integrity in word and deed/experience life on life's terms

3.   Freud - a healthy adult is able "to love and to work"

4.   Developmental tasks to be accomplished:

·        experience my gender and my sexuality...

·        learn the difference between being assertive and aggressive...

·        learn to be more independent...

·        figure out the person I want to be using the traits of the person I am...

·        learn to live in the middle and not be too big or too small...

·        learn to be a critical thinker...

·        establish and maintain healthy friendships with peers...

·        come to terms with my changing body..

5.    Good parenting versus overindulgence: what does overindulgence look like?

·        No firm limits and expectations

·        More concern about child's feelings than family needs

·        Parents emotionally overattentive

·        Too much authority too soon

·        Children expect to have things done for them

·        There is too much emphasis on perfection

6.   Research on overindulgence in children:

·        Poor development of conscience

·        More aggression and non-compliance

·        Lack of assertion skills

·        Lack of self-confidence

·        Less concern for others

·        A sense of entitlement

·        Overly dependent on parents

·        Feel "too big"

7.    Good parenting versus overindulgence in the face of challenges:

·        Separate your pain from your child's pain.

·        Avoid "interviewing for pain" (Thompson).

·        Praise appropriately.

·        Set limits and stick to them.

·        Realize that you are the parent (not their friend).

8.   Respect your child's ability to handle the situation:

·        Empathy: "That must be very hard..."

·        Pause - allow them to experience your kind attention.

·        Turn it over: "What are you going to do about it?"

·        Affirmation: "You are a smart/brave/honest/caring individual. I am sure you can handle this."

·        Keep the door open: "Let me know how this goes."

9.   Raising our children to be adults we'd like to have as friends: what are the qualities of my friends that I admire...

It is my privilege to work with you and your families.

Given all of the uncertainty and worry that being a teenager (and raising a teenager!) can entail, sometimes it's good to know what's supposed to be happening during the adolescent years.

1)      experience my gender and my sexuality: What's it like to be a male or a female in this society? In my school?  In my own body?

2)    learn the difference between being assertive and aggressive: How can I stand up for myself and still respect the boundaries of others?

3)    learn to be more independent: How can I make my own decisions without simply reacting against the rules of adults?

4)    figure out the person I want to be using the traits of the person I am: What are my strengths? What am I good at doing? Where do I want to be in ten years?

5)    learn to live in the middle and not be too big or too small: Am I "right-sized" in my dealings with others? Can I avoid being overdramatic (too big) or invisible (too small)?

6)    learn to be a critical thinker: Can I make sense of the world around me, using my thinking skills to make good decisions?

7)    establish and maintain healthy friendships with peers: What do I look for in a friend? Am I a good friend?

8)   come to terms with my changing body: In a culture that idolizes only certain types of bodies, can I become comfortable in my own?


Quite a list, no? As adults, how do we measure up on these tasks? With all humility and good faith in human nature, may we promote these skills in ourselves and our loved ones.

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