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More how-to guides for life
Tuesday, February 3, 2004
How to's for life A monthly guide

By Stephanie Dunnewind, Seattle Times staff reporter

The teen years are often viewed with dismay but experts — including teens themselves — advise parents not to view adolescence as a black hole their kids will be sucked into, never to return. Instead, they say parents should relate to teens by treating them as what they are: adults-to-be.


Life sentences encourage jailbreaks

• Negotiate. Your teen wants an extended curfew, for example. Explain the purpose of the curfew — to keep him safe — and ask what additional steps he would take to ensure his safety at this later hour. Tie a new responsibility to any added privilege.

• Rely on the favorite parental phrase: "Let me think about it." Insist teens give you at least one day's notice of any request.

• Be emotionally available, but not needy. Give hugs but don't demand them.

• If you can't stay up until your teen's curfew, sleep in his bed.

• See teens as works in progress who are experimenting with everything from hair color to musical tastes. "Often teens go to extremes when they're pushing away from parents trying to control them," said Doug Holwerda, mental-health counselor at the Roosevelt High School Teen Health Center.

• Encourage teens to spend time with other important adults, such as grandparents or aunts and uncles. Sometimes teens will listen to an adult — but not a parent.

• Be clear on expectations but don't disclose exact penalties. You don't want a situation where teens weigh whether partying until 2 a.m. is worth being grounded for a week. Let them assume the punishment is much worse.

• Don't leave teens home alone after school every day. Go to work early, exchange afternoons with other parents or enroll them in organized activities.

• Discourage early steady dating or relationships where there is more than a two-year age difference. Talk about ways teens can handle sexual tension in romantic relationships.

• Don't dismiss puppy love. Most teens don't have an adult's emotional reserves, perspective and sense of identity; "being dumped" is even harder for them.

• Spend an evening in the emergency room of a local hospital so teens see the consequences of risky behavior, such as driving under the influence.

• Tie driving privileges to safe habits. Example: No talking on the cellphone while driving.

• Never say "I told you so."

Sources: "Staying Connected to Your Teenager: How to Keep Them Talking to You and How to Hear What They're Really Saying," by Michael Riera; "Yes, Your Teen is Crazy: Loving Your Kid Without Losing Your Mind," by Michael J. Bradley and Jay N. Giedd; "Teen Tips: A Practical Survival Guide for Parents with Kids 11 to 19," by Tom McMahon; "Healthy Teens, Body and Soul: A Parent's Complete Guide," by Dr. Andrea Marks and Betty Rothbart

Must ... sleep ...

Dr. Cora Collette Breuner sees many teens and parents as director of the Adolescent Medicine Clinic at Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center. Many questions come down to the basic needs: sleep and food.

• Make a good night's sleep — eight to 10 hours — a top priority. Sleeping in on the weekends is not enough to catch up.

Consider making enough sleep a condition for car privileges; drowsy driving causes about 100,000 car crashes a year.

• Help teens schedule their evening, working backward from a decent bedtime (Breuner says 10 p.m.). Cut TV or computer time to half an hour, drop an after-school activity or encourage students to make better use of study-hall time.

• Excessive after-school snacking is a sign teens aren't eating enough during the day. "They should have something fueling their brain other than a double latte," Breuner said.

• Don't use the word "diet." If teens are serious about a more healthful lifestyle, consult a doctor or nutritionist. "If it's not done right, teens can cascade right into eating disorders," Breuner said.

• Know what health-related information teens are gathering from the Internet. Teens can be seduced by quick-fix weight loss or muscle-building products, or even learn how to become anorexic through Web sites.

• Eat dinner together at least three times a week. Breuner goes so far as to make families get out Palm Pilots to schedule this in her office. She also writes the goal on prescription pads. A really good idea: Shop and fix meals together.

• Don't let teens skip breakfast.

Pimples, zits and acne — oh my

Almost 8 in 10 teens have acne — blame hormones.

Encourage teens to use a water-based moisture lotion labeled "noncomedogenic." All cosmetics, such as foundation, blush and eye shadow, should be oil free.

• Show teens how to properly wash. Overcleaning may irritate the skin. Use bare hands and only wash twice a day with a mild cleanser. Avoid harsh cleansers and grainy scrubs.

• Years of studies have NOT discovered any correlation between diet and acne. Don't blame French fries or chocolate.

• Clean glasses and sunglasses to keep oil from clogging pores around the eyes and nose.

• Don't wait for teens to ask for help with acne. They might be too embarrassed. If over-the-counter medication doesn't seem to work, consult a dermatologist.

• Let older teens go to follow-up doctor visits and refill acne-medication prescriptions on their own. This gives teens an opportunity to learn how to navigate the health system.

Sources: Phyllis Holzworth, nurse practitioner at the West Seattle Teen Health Clinic;;;


Three students from Greg McElroy's journalism class at Vashon High School share their insider tips for parents.

Chris Riley• If your kid is listening to music or playing an instrument, don't even try to communicate with them. They aren't listening to you.

• If you're watching a sports match with your child participating, please don't scream your head off. It's embarrassing.

• If they're not talking much at the dinner table, something is wrong. Talk to them right after dinner and see if they're OK. Make sure no one else is able to hear.

• If your child is on the phone with a love interest, it's not OK to yell at them for making a mess or being lazy.

• Any chore or task you have for your child can be easily accepted if you offer a small reward.

• Don't be alarmed if your children start piercing or tattooing themselves; they only live once and it's their choice (Editor's note: It's a misdemeanor in Washington to tattoo anyone under 18).

• Don't ignore your child too much when it's their senior year of high school. You both know you're going to miss each other. So it's good to bond a lot before they eventually leave the house.

• The best time to talk to your kid is over a bowl of ice cream. They feel comfortable and are extremely happy. They'll share just about anything with you.

— Chris Riley, 18

Alyson McLean• Don't try to live your life through your kids. Just because you liked something or are good at it doesn't mean they will be.

• Realize that school takes up a lot of time and tends to be more important than cleaning their room.

• Give advice, not commands. Let them make their own decisions and mistakes; otherwise, they will never live or learn.

• Curfews are bad because they just lead people to sneak out. Instead, let them stay out as long as they keep in touch. That way, you are aware of where they are and can communicate with them instead of them sneaking around without you knowing it.

• Get them involved in all sorts of activities early, so that they can find their own passion. Also, activities such as sports lead to great skills and friendships.

— Alyson McLean, 18

Aleythea Dolstad• Your child is not always an angel, nor is she demon. Don't be blind to her faults, but don't look for more faults than she has.

• Teach trust. Trust is what will keep your children honest.

• Let them speak. How you believe they think and how they actually think are very different.

• Be open to what they have to say. Understanding and agreeing are two different things. If you don't understand something, it doesn't mean it is wrong.

• Give straight answers; don't dodge subjects or questions.

• Never give a threat you are unwilling to carry out. If they can't trust you to do what you say, it ruins so much.

• Treat them as people, not children. The golden rule never changes: Respect them, and they will respect you.

— Aleythea Dolstad, 17

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