Along about junior high, it hits. Kids start asking their parents to drop them off at school a block away. They begin balking at joining regular family bike rides or hinting that a parent might want to lose those worn, faded shorts, or bag those unhip jeans.
Children who once tagged along like cheerful puppies begin disappearing for long phone conversations as relationships with friends grow more intense. They become enveloped by larger, less parent-friendly schools. They begin to develop lives and identities of their own.
All of that may simply be a part of growing up. But perhaps parents and experts in recent years have overemphasized the pursuit of independence at the cost of emotional estrangement. For as a new report from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health indicates, teens do best who have the warmest and closest connections with their parents.
The largest study ever conducted on American teens, this research was conducted with surveys of 90,119 teens and an additional 12,118 in-home interviews. It showed that teens who felt closely connected to their parents were the least likely to engage in a wide range of risky behaviors, such as drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes or marijuana, and having sex.
Raising a teen is not a particularly easy task in the ‘90s, as harried parents juggle work, child-rearing and personal time. Parents may be genuinely puzzled by an adolescent’s behavior, too willing to shrug it off or too distracted to notice. They may extend privileges which provide too little protection for kids traversing these vulnerable years. Certainly teens’ journeys to independence must be supported and encouraged. Children must assume increasing responsibility and freedom as they grow. But teens do best who mature within the context of loving connections.
Lou Sowers, a Spokane psychologist, advises parents to view a relationship with a teen as a dance, which requires the parent to enter the child’s reality, attune emotionally and listen with empathy. He’s a proponent of regular family meals and special parent-child activities. Some busy parents find simple rituals, such as rising an hour early to take a child to breakfast once or twice a week, can improve their relationship immeasurably.
“What is essential is invisible to the eye,” Antoine de St. Exupery wrote in “The Little Prince.” Nowhere is it more true than in our relationships with our children.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Jamie Tobias Neely/For the editorial board
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