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Staying Connected to Your TeenagerReview - Staying Connected to Your Teenager
How to Keep Them Talking to You and How to Hear What They're Really Saying
by Michael Riera
Perseus Publishing, 2003
Review by Patricia Ferguson, Psy.D.
Mar 25th 2004 (Volume 8, Issue 13)

Even though I work with teenagers alone and with families, I never assume I can be objective when it comes to my own family. Therefore, my husband and I have taken parenting classes, taken our children to psychologists when necessary and both gone to therapy alone. Right now we are raising our second of two children, a teenager in the throes of high school drama. Since the first child was a girl, and had completely different personality issues as well, I asked to review this book so that I could remind myself of some of the problems and the normal aspects of raising a teenager.

Sometimes it seems as if teenagers are a species unto themselves. Riera, the author of this book, does an excellent job of reminding the reader that for the most part, whatever is happening in your home with your teenager is "normal," and he gives us tools for handling whatever comes up.

First, he talks about the different sleep-wake cycle of teenagers and how we can use this information to engage with our teens when they are most able to have a meaningful conversation. I am amazed that my son stays up so late and yet makes it to school by 7:30 every day. But as Riera points out, by the end of the week, a typical teenager has "accrued a sleep debt of thirteen and one-half hours." He points out that teachers should really have tests on Mondays rather than Fridays to catch them at their best time sleep-wise. But as Riera says, and my experience shows, teachers typically do what is convenient for them, which is to give the test on Friday so they can have the weekend to grade the tests. Also, since late night is when teens are most awake, a wise parent will find times to connect with their teen when the occasion presents itself.

Riera goes on to talk about the inherent narcissism in a teenager, as they grow away from their parents and toward their peers. They are the center of their universe. Some people never leave this stage, but it is important to know that it is normal for a teenager to think of himself in the world this way.

Next, lectures and advice fall on deaf ears. There are many parenting books that deal with this issue throughout a child's life but if a parent hasn't nipped it by now, it is really time to find other ways to communicate. Some of those include, according to Riera, the family car--an opportunity to address other concerns when working on "car deals" as well as time to talk while in the car.

Riera reminds us that the developmental stage of the teenager is mastery over compliance. They want to have mastery in and over their lives, and would prefer to handle this themselves without the help of their parents. However, they are not really ready to live on their own, and their only real job is to go to school and so whatever chores their parents ask of them. Much of this discussion is about the role of the teacher and the parent in the life of the teen. Riera points out that while we may feel that the teenager doesn't want our presence, if we really think about the little things, like when they are just about to kick the soccer ball on the field and they catch our eye, we will remember that they really do want us to help them, but they can't be open about it.

Riera then goes on to talk about gender differences, and this is the part that at this time in my life I most notice. I often turn to our older daughter for help in understanding, and she is always there for me, reminding me of how she was when she was only fifteen. But there were significant differences, and these are the differences addressed by Riera.

The next section--self-esteem through integrity, is one that I really can relate to. Especially with our son this is evident. It is an issue we work our way around all the time, and one that I feel is closest to what he is dealing with. So reading Riera's words here were very reassuring. Indirect communication is the next topic, similar to some of what I have already mentioned, and from there he goes into the notion of it takes a village to raise a child. Just this weekend I spoke to two parents about our children and about how we would or would not communicate about their choices. I really do believe it takes a village, and especially with divorced or overworking parents I notice a huge gap in how much the parent knows about their own child.

My husband and I refer to this book often and whenever we are stressing out about things, we send each other back to the book. Nothing is as simple as a book, but it is a starting point from which parents and the parents of other teenagers' parents can communicate. We both find this book to really helpful at times when we feel somewhat at a loss.

2004 Patricia Ferguson

 

Patricia Ferguson is a freelance writer/editor/publisher, as well as a licensed clinical psychologist. She is a co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Apolloslyre, an online magazine for and about writers of all genres. She is an editorial reviewer for The Writer's Room, and a book reviewer for several venues, including, among others, Absolute Write and Metapsychology Online. Her most recent publication was in Girl Wars: 12 Strategies That Will End Female Bullying by Cheryl Dellasega, PhD and Charisse Nixon, PhD. She and her husband and son live in northern California.


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