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Is your life hectic? Did you plan for it to be this way? Did you sit down two years ago and say, Wow, my life is so relaxed, I have so much time that over the next two years, I want to greatly increase how many things my kidsand weare doing?
The hectic lives that most of us lead are not the result of careful planning. It just happened. With all this activity comes more and more stress, and less time with our kids. Think about it. Often, even when you are with your kids, there is a part of you that is still thinking about where you just left, and another part of you that is thinking about what you will be doing next. It's hard to be fully present for them. We have a lot on our minds, including planning how to get our kids to where they have to be next and how to get ourselves to where we have to be, and we rush around and worry about whether our arrangements will work out. Like it or not, our kids pick up on this. And often their reaction is to believe that they are not very high on their parents' list of priorities.
This is a very demanding time during which to be a parent of a teenager. Maybe the only thing more difficult is to be a teenager! There are more influences than ever on them, and more sources of distraction. James Comer, M.D., a renowned educator and the author of Waiting for a Miracle: Schools Can't Solve Our Problems, but We Can, observes that never before in human history has there been so much information going directly to children unfiltered by adult caregivers. This is more important than it might seem at firstso read it again! It means that parents are now in serious competition for the attention of their children, and ourattempts to influence them are constantly being diluted by numerous messages encouraging them to act and think differently from ways we would like them to.
A parent's time is extremely precious and pressured. Our hectic lives create barriers to entering our teens' "other world"even if they would let us in. As James Comer has alerted us, they are under the influence of their peers, the media, the Internet, and who knows what else. Though we don't have unlimited energy for parenting, it's something we have to deal with in an emotionally intelligent manner . . . and we can!
On the Road to Adulthood
To do so requires that we look carefully at the teenage years, especially at how they are today and how they will be in the foreseeable future. On the journey from childhood to adulthood, adolescence represents the bridge. How are our teenagers going to travel over that bridge? What roads will they take? Given all the demands on our time, what are the best ways to guide our teens in a positive direction?
Adolescence is a process, not an end product or even a stop along the highway of life. Kids pass through it at high speed. Our job as parents is to make sure they get to the real goal of being an emotionally intelligent adult with as few accidents along the way as possible and to help them when they hit a pothole or two and have a problem. You are not trying to raise a Superteen, because a Superteen will not necessarily end up as an emotionally well-adjusted and successful adult. Adolescence is for learning how to become an adult, not for learning how to become a successful adolescent.
Now, let's also be realistic. It is not easy to have an impact on your adolescents, especially if you don't already have a great relationship with them. We are strong believers in realistic simplification. What are the most important things that parents can do, consistently, that can make a very big difference in preparing adolescents for competence in adulthood? Many books give page after page of advice, on many different topics. These often sound terrific, especially to those who have the leisure time to read and think about themsuch as people without kids in their homes! But in our professional experience, there is only so much that parents can do, are willing to do, and can keep track of. We want to make that minimum as strong and as impactful as possible.
What Do We Want for Our Teenagers?
There are certain directions toward which parents want teens to head. We want them to be knowledgeable, responsible, nonviolent, and caring . . . is there a parent who does not want this for his or her children? Not that we have met, but, after all, it takes just this combination of qualities for our children to be able to support us in our retirement years, of course! More important, it takes these same skills for our kids to grow up to be successful, productive citizens of their schools, families, workplaces, and communities.
How do we help our teenagers reach these goals? It's a journey that parents and teens have been taking for years but now must take in a way that reflects our changing times. It's not another "new millennium" thing, but it is the result of forces that got rolling in the 1990s and are not about to stop.
Love, Laughter, and Limits
It requires, on our part, a balance of Love, Laughter, and Limits . . . and another L, which we will mention in a moment. Love, Laughter, and Limits provide a map for parenting our teenagers on a road that has many curves, lots of bumps, but also many miles of beautiful scenery.
Love, Laughter, and Limits. Can parenting of teenagers be that simple? Well, our answer is both no and yes. We say no because we know how much is involved with parenting. We are parents, with children ranging in age from eight to twenty. We work with hundreds of families and dozens and dozens of schools. We see the difficulties and the frustrations, but we also see the joys and successes. Nothing about parenting is simple. But we also say yes because we know that parents today need to have a focus for how they raise their teenagers, and they need to do so with "emotional intelligence." Focus is necessary because most of us lead lives that are packed with activity.
And this leads to our fourth L: Linkages. Teenagers need to grow up at least as ready for interdependence as for independence. They are going to find themselves working in teams and in groups. They are going to find that the consumer pressures in their lives will leave an emotional and perhaps a spiritual void. We, as parents, may find that we are not able to do as much for our teens as we might like, or they might need. Here is our quick summary of these four L's:
Caring relationships form the foundation of family life and cooperation. Without this, parents often have only economic and punitive leverage to use with their teens. And these are not ideal strategies.
Emotions affect how and what we do and are willing to do. Positive emotions are essential for healthy adolescent growth. Humor is not frivolous; it's the ultimate psychic vitamin.
Limits are not about restriction as much as they are about focus and direction and setting boundaries. The skills parents and children possess in goal setting and problem solving help keep teens on course and turn good ideas into constructive actions.
Teenagers need to be contributors more than consumers, and to belong more than to buy. In a world of increasing complexity and sophistication, parents cannot expect to "do all" and "be all" for their teens. Our ability to help them make healthy connections will be at least as important as things we do for and with them directly.
There is a lot more to this that we will go over. For now, we want to give you an overview of some of the main things we need to do with our teens, and why. Then we will spend the bulk of this book with practical, parent-tested, emotionally intelligent ways "how." We don't want to give you more than you can use, but we want to give you enough so that you have choices and can find approaches that fit your circumstances, children, and style. Above all, we want to help you engage in parenting by choice, not by chance.
From the Trade Paperback edition.