Communicating With Your Adolescent
HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL FAMILY HEALTH GUIDE
Harvard Medical School, Copyright ©1999

For many parents, it is an understatement to say that communicating with your child can be difficult during adolescence. It is essential that you keep the lines of communication open. Your child's healthy transition into adulthood can hinge on a trusting and open relationship with a parent or parents.

Even if you have different views, you can express your respect and trust in your children, and in this way build their respect and trust in you, by listening to what they have to say. One approach to differing views is agreeing to disagree.

Try to include adolescents in important decisions that may affect them. Discussing your individual suggestions and sharing responsibility for decisions contributes to the connection you have with your child, and to his or her self-confidence.

One powerful way to influence your adolescent is to be a role model, particularly regarding the use of tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs, but also as it relates to seat-belt use, problem-solving, and respectful resolution to disagreements with others.

At the same time, it is important to set limits, especially regarding issues such as curfews, activities at home or school, privileges, and responsibilities.

Even as adolescents outwardly protest your rules and interference, they inwardly rely on the security of the strong base you provide. It is important to act as a parent and not as a peer.

Problems With Your Teen
It is common for adolescents to be somewhat rebellious. In fact, a certain amount of rebellious behavior is considered healthy because it helps the adolescent establish independence, acquire self-esteem, and learn how to make decisions. Be aware that most teens experiment with new behaviors; those that may appear unusual to you — such as unique haircuts or hair color, or body piercing — may be a form of self-expression.

Sometimes adolescents engage in dangerous, self-destructive behaviors, which can be symptoms of conflict, depression, abuse, school problems, or unhappiness. If you are concerned about your child's behaviors, seek help from your child's pediatrician, school counselors, or a local mental health clinic.

School Problems
School problems can manifest themselves in a number of ways--poor school performance, skipping classes, or reluctance to go to school. If you suspect your teen is having problems, start by asking him or her about it directly. Sometimes the problem is relatively straightforward, such as falling behind in schoolwork, and can be resolved by talking to teachers, arranging for a tutor, or helping your child organize study hours.

Talking to your child's guidance counselor or physician may also be helpful. They may advise a more complete evaluation to determine if your child's problems are due to depression, substance abuse, learning disorders, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Violence
From an early age, children are exposed to violence in the media, and the images they see often present violence in a positive light. Children also may be exposed to violence at home or in their school or neighborhood. Inadequate conflict-solving skills and alcohol and other drug abuse contribute to violent behavior in adolescents.

Encourage discussion as a way to resolve conflict and monitor what your teen watches on TV, sees at the movies, and encounters on the Internet. In addition, ensure that your own behavior sets a standard for nonviolent action.