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How To Bring Up A Teenager

Notes from an emergency room doctor: Is this a familiar dialogue between you and your teenager?

"Where are you going?"


"When will you be home?"


"What are you doing?"


If so, your kid's going to be lumped into that group of adolescents that psychologists have found to be at higher risk of engaging in "problem behaviors." These "behaviors" include premature sexual activity, substance abuse, cigarette smoking, marijuana use, and school underachieve-ment.

Common sense would seem to support the theory that unsupervised teenagers would be at greatest risk. And, indeed, several very scientific studies confirmed just that. Adolescents unsupervised after school had significantly more problem behaviors than those who were supervised by an adult. They engaged in more substance abuse, more risk-taking, were more depressed, and had poorer grades. Psychologists hypothesized that these kids left "home alone" became lonely and in turn depressed and prone to antisocial activities, were influenced by unsuitable television shows and reading material, or were pressured by peers into engaging in risky behaviors.

"Good parenting" we might then conclude would require that either Mom or Dad, or perhaps a grandparent, be around when young Billy comes home. Ah, how wonderful that would be. But how impossibly nostalgic. These are times when both parents have to work to make ends meet. And a child today is as likely to grow up in a single parent household as a two parent one.

On the other hand, some researchers have implied that too much adult supervision of after-school time diminishes the ability of a teenager to develop their individuality and independence and transition to responsible adulthood. An overprotective parent they theorize can be as negative an influence as an absent one.

But this conundrum of how to bring up our children has a solution. Further research turned up this interesting fact. There was no significant increase in "problem behaviors" among those adolescents who had adult supervision and those who were unsupervised, but whose parents always knew where they were.

So, good parenting does not demand that you quit your job or send your kid to boarding school. And if your teenager has to be "home alone," you need not feel the angst of being a neglectful parent. You must, however, have the strength of will to demand honest answers. To the questions, "Where are you going? "When will you be home?", "Out" and "Later" are not satisfactory answers. All of us who have teenagers know it's not a trivial task to get those answers. Nevertheless, demanding answers is probably the simplest solution to the complex problem of how to bring up a teenager right.