- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2000

Adolescence has been long touted as a difficult period when teens deal with their changing bodies, minds and emotions. Many parents don't look forward to the time when their adorable toddler will transform into a tempestuous teen.

"I don't want to paint it with a Pollyanna brush and say the adolescent years are all sweetness and light," says Edward Brazee, professor of middle-level education at the University of Maine. "But it's not all terrible, either. The modern perception isthat, once children hit their teen years, parents need to expect the worst and from then it will go downhill."

He says many parents mistakenly believe that when adolescents begin to spend more time outside their home with their friends, it is a signal to be less involved with their teen's life.

Mr. Brazee argues that while it is natural for youths to want to pull away from home at this time, it's critical that parents maintain close supervision.

"Parents need to keep their teens on a leash," he says. "But it's a flexible one the kind that allows them to pull a safe distance away, and then gives a tug to let them know that someone is still at the other end."

Finding a balance between giving teens their passionately desired freedom while maintaining supervision is the trick of parenting a teen, says Don Elium, family therapist and parenting author from Walnut Creek, Calif.

"The really tricky part is that they change so rapidly," Mr. Elium says. "It's vital to maintain constant communication to keep up-to-date on their changing moods and needs."

He encourages parents to grant independence in gradual, earned steps. By setting clear ground rules such as maintaining good grades and respecting curfews teens can earn an increasingly responsible lifestyle. When these agreements are broken, however, teens must learn their bad decisions bear consequences, and the reins will be tightened with earlier curfews or other restrictions on their social life.

The following are some other tips from experts to help parents guide their teen into an increasingly independent social life.

• Clearly explain both ground rules for socializing where, when, the need for adult supervision as well as consequences if these guidelines are broken.

• Find ways to stay involved in your teen's social life, whether offering your home as a teen hangout or serving as a chauffeur.

• Be clear and consistent in your messages. Patricia Hersch, author of "A Tribe Apart," which chronicles the lives of eight teens in Reston, says parents often confuse teens by sending mixed signals. "Don't say, 'Don't drink, but remember to choose a designated driver,' " she says. "Don't drink, means don't drink."

• Set a good example. Teens have an uncanny ability to find any loophole. Be careful to live up to your own admonitions.

• Don't "just say no," but find positive recreational alternatives, Mrs. Hersch says. A no-alcohol dance club or a skateboard park, where teens can expend energy and sharpen skills in a popular and challenging sport, are great alternatives to hanging out aimlessly at the mall or partying at an empty house.

• Participate in activities with your teens. Family ski trips or beach outings can be fun once you get past your teen's inevitable complaints that they would rather stay behind with their friends.

• Get to know not only your teen's friends, but their friends' parents, as well. Make sure you communicate your concerns with each other.

• Keep all lines of communication open. There will be power struggles and conflicts, but parents need to keep talking and more importantly keep listening to their children.

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