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Written by:  Dr. Mary Faison Knox
Date: September 1, 2013

Adolescence is a time when children are establishing more independence. They accept more influence from peers on personal style, social behaviors and pop culture to establish an identity of their own. The shift is normal, and it is an important process in developing self-confidence.

Parents should allow this process to occur while also providing enough structure to avoid  undesirable behavior. Research suggests that adolescents are more likely to engage in risky behaviors when they feel their parents are too controlling or not involved at all in their lives.

Experts recommend a technique called problem-solving training. This involves one or both parents discussing the specific conflict with the child. Follow these five steps to handle a difficult situation:

1. Define the problem and its effect on parent and child. What emotions caused the conflict? Allow the child to explain why he or she chose certain behaviors without parental judgment. Teens need to feel respected for their feelings, even if you disagree with them. Together, develop a variety of possible solutions and consider and record the positive and negative effects of each.

2. Choose the best solution from the list, preferably the one with the most positive effects.

Determine who will enforce the decision. What happens if the solution is not followed? What are potential exceptions to this solution?

3. Be open to renegotiating a new solution if needed. Here’s an example of how this may play out at home in a situation where a child sends excessive texts and rings up large overage charges. Let your child tell you how it makes him or her feel when you put restrictions on how much they can text message their friends. Acknowledge you have heard them, and even repeat what you’ve heard them say. Explain why and where you see there is a problem, and why you are concerned about how much they are texting.

Together, agree on reasonable amounts and reasonable times to text message. The child should take the lead in making a list of possible solutions to this problem, but parents can contribute. Put positive and negative effects of each option in columns next to the solution.

4. Pick an option that seems most positive for both parent and child. For example, texting is only allowed after homework is complete until 9 p.m., but there is no restriction on texting frequency.

5. Decide what happens if the parent notices the child isn’t following the agreed upon option. Is there a time when the child may be allowed to increase his or her texting privileges? It’s important that this is clear when defining this “solution.”

Though this approach to negative adolescent behavior may not always work, it’s important to remember that effective parenting requires consistency in enforcing consequences, allowing adolescents the freedom to show responsibility and therefore earn privilege. It requires a loving and supporting environment. It also requires parents to serve as good role models. Using a consistent loving approach during time of calm and conflict will help our children demonstrate more positive behaviors.

Dr. Mary Faison Knox lives in Charlotte and works at Novant Health South Park Family Physicians. She has two children. 



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