Building kids who are resilient - and don't need to rebel

Friday, January 06, 2012

Anyone who has a 10 or 11 year old has heard the warnings - adolescence is coming and it is awful.

Your once affectionate kid who used to want to talk about everything all of a sudden has gone radio silent, usually as they stay in constant tech contact with their friends or listen to music. And if they are talking to you, it's usually to yell at you that you don't understand.

Dr. Ken Ginsburg is an expert on adolescents at CHOP. He's got a new book on the topic, called "Letting Go with Love and Confidence." And he says ignore those people. "Adolescence can actually be sort of the richest and most wonderful year of parenting. Your kids are becoming more intelligent, they have this witty sarcasm and they care about social justice. "

But, as with everything in life, it's all about how you do it. "Do as I say," is an old attitude and saw of parenting. And it is often a dismal failure. Ginsburg says kids interpret this stance as an argument over control. "That's what a kid's job is: To become independent, to figure out who they are and they're not you. And when they feel that parents are standing in the way of their independence, they're going to pull away. When they understand that we're on their side and our goal is for them to master all the issues that come up in life, that all we care about is their safety, they know we're on their side, they're not going to pull away."

Indeed, Ginsburg says a smarter path is to let your kids know you are most concerned with their safety. He says contrary to the myth that kids think they are invincible; they actually care deeply about their well-being. Once they know your directives are meant to keep them safe, not to tell them what to do, the conversation shifts.

Ginsburg also recommends evaluating your kids separately and setting milestone - like time alone at the mall or with friends, a Facebook account, driving - on where your child stands, not on a set age. That may mean one child gets to milestones earlier or later than his siblings. That's far better than holding back a mature kid or giving privileges to a kid who is not ready for them, just because they hit a birthday.

Ginsburg also suggests creating a plan of action and including your kids, letting small steps lead up to big leaps. For example, if the goal is getting a car, lay out a roadmap with your kid. Let driving you to the store in the family car lead up to driving for short amounts of time alone lead up to a nights out alone driving lead up to - finally! - their own set of car keys.

"So instead of seeing the roadmap as a mountain they can't imagine getting to the top, you just have a bunch of hills. And they're going to succeed at each hill. At each hill they're going to say "I can do this" and you're going to say "Hey, they're safe and they can go one step further."

And Dr. Ginsburg says this approach can also help with the things that scare the bejesus out of parents, like substance abuse. He says when your kid gets into alcohol, drugs, gambling or other vices, it's all a stress release. If you teach them better ways to deal with stress, they are less likely to turn to the bad stuff. And your best teacher may be yourself. If they see you come home and say "I had a tough day" and reach for a beer, it sticks. If they see you come home and verbalize it's been a tough day, go for a run, take a bath or something, and then talk it out, you've left a big impression, that's how you handle a bad score or a break-up.

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