Weighing the alternatives

When teenagers struggle with behavioral or academic problems, some families think the only solution is to put one parent's career on hold to spend more time with the child.

But Carol Maxym, author of "Teens in Turmoil: A Path to Change for Parents, Adolescents, and Their Families," takes a different view. She says, "Quitting your job and taking whatever economic consequences there will be from that to watch your teen or to become a nag or a nanny doesn't solve the problem."

She explains that simply having a parent at home does not automatically teach students responsibility and self-discipline. Nor does it encourage them to mature and create their own life. Instead, it can send "a very backward message, that the more negative the behavior, the more attention a teen gets. This puts all the control in the out-of-control teen's hands."

Leaving a job, Maxym notes, also risks making parents resentful about giving up a career and a paycheck.

A better solution, in her view, requires parents to ask themselves, "What is really going on in this household?" She sees too many families excusing teenagers' negative behavior - minimizing it, rationalizing it, and justifying it.

Maxym advises parents to sit down together or with a friend or clergy member to clarify several points: What are my expectations for this child? What are my beliefs, my ground-level moral and ethical principles?

If, for example, a parent says, "I don't believe my teen should go out on weeknights because school is so important," he or she can say, "In this family, education is crucial, and we expect you to take it seriously." That eliminates bickering over details.

Most communities, Maxym notes, offer more resources than families realize: churches or synagogues, a favorite teacher, even a relative. "Sometimes it's Grandpa," she says.

Maxym emphasizes that she is not telling parents, "Forget your kids and do whatever you please." Family time is essential. She advocates "a good middle ground, where you're involved with them but not overinvolved." Repeatedly jumping in to rescue a child, she warns, sends the subtle signal that "I don't think you can do this" - exactly the opposite message well-meaning parents intend to send.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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