Sunday, February 11, 2001

Parents, teens can resolve differences

By Patrick Stack
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        After a week that has seen vandalism in Campbell County schools, drug arrests in Fort Thomas and drug abuse in Hamilton Township, an adolescent specialist from Philadelphia will speak today about increasing communication between parents and teens.

        Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, adolescent-medicine specialist at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, will speak at 12:30 p.m. at Cincinnati Reform Jewish High School, in Amberley Village.

        In separate sessions for parents and teens, Dr. Ginsburg will give advice on how to live with each other. Dr. Ginsburg is the national medical adviser to the U.S. Job Corps and conducts workshops across the country. He spoke to The Enquirer this week.

        Q: What is the single biggest issue in getting teen-agers to open up?

        A: It's the importance of parents learning how to listen. Parents often wait for a problem to set off the “parent alarm,” and as a result, they begin lecturing. The lecture includes a series of solutions and warnings, but it backfires on the child, because the child doesn't feel heard. The child feels like he's being talked down to, and he learns not to go back to the parent with a problem.

        Q: What are your ideas for teens in dealing with peer pressure?

        A: That's probably the most important question. You need to understand that peer pressure isn't the way it's portrayed on made-for-TV movies. It's much more subtle and much stronger. It's about kids believing that they fit in versus them not fitting in. I try to teach three strategies. One is learning how to say no definitively. The other is learning how to state your position and negotiate pressure, which involves stating your position very clearly and definitively and then coming up with an alternative thing to do. We'd love to tell kids to always say “No,” walk away and find a new group of friends. That won't really happen. If we teach them alternatives for how to guide their friends to positive alternatives, that's much more realistic. If they're really kind of stuck, I teach parents and kids certain communications strategies so parents can get kids out of those situations.

        Q: When should parents back off and let a teen-ager experience things alone, and when should parents make a point to exercise their authority?

        A: The job of a parent is to make it so their child can operate independently and wisely by the time they're 17 or 18 years old. It is a process of growing independent at every stage in that process. As the child demonstrates the ability to handle that new responsibility, he should have more freedom. At the same time, I think that letting a kid learn by mistake is extremely dangerous. If parents play their cards right, they can give active advice to their child into adulthood, as long as it doesn't come across as a lecture and the kid is given enough freedom and enough room to think for himself.

        Q: What are some ideal ways for parents and teens to communicate with each other?

        A: I really believe in a negotiated process. I believe in parents sitting down three to four times a year and coming up with a contract that really discusses increasing responsibility for the kid. That sets up kind of a natural place where kids can talk about their needs and what they can handle.

        Q: Can parents keep teens from experimenting with negative behavior?

        A: Parents may have little control in preventing kids from experimenting with the behaviors we fear. However, parents have a tremendously important role that their kids don't get “stuck” in negative behaviors.

        The parents' job is to make sure their child has a wide repository of positive coping strategies, so that even if their child experiments with negative behaviors, he or she doesn't become reliant on those behaviors.


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