The Available Parent

The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens
by Dr. John Duffy
Viva Editions; ISBN 978-1-57344-657-0

The process of transitioning from child to adult is sometimes as difficult for parents as it is for their children. In his new book, Dr. Duffy provides a framework for parents to navigate these tricky years with a minimum of anger and conflict.

“As the parent of a teenager your top priority – before anything else – is to stay in touch with your rapidly changing youngster. Staying in touch is the essence of what Dr. Duffy means by availability.” ~ Dr. Thomas W. Phelan, Forward

This book is written in a clear no-nonsense style using observations and examples from Dr. Duffy’s work with youth and their families. More than anything else, it is obvious that he understands the teenage “mind” and the psychological and social factors involved in changing children into adults.

Dr. Duffy aptly captures the vicious cycle:

Conventional wisdom dictates that teenagers are poor communicators, and that they often stop talking with parents altogether. In my experience, however, I’ve found that a parent’s anxiety about raising a teenager too often gets the better of him, such that he is less available to his teenager. I would argue that, more often than not, the teenager then responds to his parent’s unwillingness to listen to and communicate with him appropriately and effectively… In fact, teen after teen has expressed this sentiment to me over the years. Parents find themselves judging their teenagers, and wanting them to be somebody different than they are… Through the judgment and emotional baggage they themselves bring to the relationship, parents too often limit their ability to communicate with influence and enjoy the relationship with their child.

Teenagers are left feeling unheard and misunderstood, and parents are left feeling bewildered by the changes in their child and their sudden lack of effectiveness as parents. The parent has become unavailable, the teen responds in kind, and a negative and often destructive cycle of communication begins.

But he also describes in clear terms why the changes in your child are required in order for her to mature into a normal, fully functioning adult:

First and foremost, you need to know that developmentally your adolescent is, by nature, highly egocentric. Yes it is all about him! He is not yet expert at taking the perspective of someone else, including you.

There is a very important and simple reason for this. All children are born egocentric. The universe really does revolve around the child, even to the point where objects (including people) in that universe are not yet perceived as having independent existence. They are simply extensions of the infant child, there to serve her needs. As that child grows from infancy through childhood to adolescence and finally adulthood, she gradually acquires, first, the recognition that those other beings and objects have independent existence and that other people have their own needs and thoughts and feelings and reactions to the world around all of us. The ability to do this – to feel empathy, to see things through another person’s eyes, to sympathize, to feel remorse, to be able to predict the logical consequences of one’s own actions, and to inhibit one’s own impulses or delay gratification of those impulses – all of these capacities reside primarily in the frontal lobes of the brain. The frontal lobe is that last part of the brain to develop from an evolutionary perspective and the most underdeveloped part of the brain at birth. It continues to grow throughout childhood and adolescence, and even into the mid-twenties.

[The teenager’s] job is separation and individuation, developing a sense of himself in the context of relationships, and learning to cope with stress and manage his emotions. It vis here, during adolescence, that your teenager learns self-motivation, self-starting, self-control, and frustration tolerance. He will also explore the trial-and-error method of experimenting with new things, and truly creative thinking. He may try different looks, linguistic styles, music, and so on. While traversing this terrain, your teen may seem difficult, irrationally emotional, contradictory, opinionated, and angry. If you pay attention, you will find that he can also be brilliant, insightful, and empathic at the same time.

For parents, this is probably the most difficult part. It may appear as though your teen is rejecting everything you believe in and stand for. It may appear as if your teen is rejecting you. And in a sense, that is true – temporarily.

On some level, teenage minds actively work against taking your perspective into consideration. They have been working from the foundation of your perspective, your values, and your timetables their entire lives. During the course of adolescence, they begin to develop their own values, interests, styles, and perspectives. To do so, they often try on different ways of being. You have probably seen this in your child and perhaps written off these developmental steps as “phases’. The label is less important than the fact that your teen needs to go through them in order to find himself and to hear his own voice… the vast majority of the time, this is a normal and very important development.

This is a book I could have written myself, in that it echoes the advice I have given to many parents of teens over the years in my practice. But as one of my students once told me, “You snooze. You lose.”, and Dr. Duffy has beaten me to the finish line.

I highly recommend this book to parents and practitioners alike.

See also:

Stepfamily Sanity During The Holidays

Stepfamily Sanity this Holiday Season
By Wednesday Martin, Ph.D.,
Author of 
Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do

When you think of holidays, you probably think of family.

And that’s what makes holidays so tough for stepfamilies. At this time of year, couples in a remarriage with children might be feeling . . . imperfect. For example, they might be polarized — he misses his kids, while she hopes they won’t treat her like the maid when they show up. She wants to buy her 25-year old’s plane ticket to come for a holiday visit — he thinks she spoils her kids and young adults should pay their own way.

Even if they’re on the same page about their step/kids, both members of the couple likely find themselves facing plenty of misunderstanding from friends and family as visions of sugarplums dance in our collective heads. “His kids won’t be here for the holidays? How come?!” “I can’t believe they’re going to spend only Christmas Eve with you.” “You’re not doing holidays with his ex? How come? Isn’t that the best thing for the kids?”

In the face of all the pressure and misunderstanding, take heart. Here are ten simple tips for stepfamily sanity this holiday season.

1. Give up on “blending.” Stepfamilies come together in their own ways, and in their own time — experts say four to 12 years! Particularly at holiday time, stepkids of any age may feel their loyalty binds more acutely (“Dad’s remarried but mom’s not so I should spend the whole holiday with her”). And sometimes in spite of a stepparent’s best efforts, a stepchild may keep his or her distance, taking a “stand” at holiday time. Don’t expect your stepfamily to resemble an eggnog smoothie during the holidays and you’ll spare yourself and your marriage a lot of aggravation.

2. Let your stepfamily be what it is. One family I interviewed put up two trees every year, because it mattered that much to them all to honor their own traditions. Respecting those differences can help everyone come together in their own way.

3. Know that you and your spouse will probably argue. From deciding how much to spend on gifts for her kids, to reopening old wounds about how the stepkids behaved during holidays past, couples in a remarriage with children are under extraordinary pressure this season. Arguments aren’t signs of failure — they’re opportunities to communicate. Find communication formulas and tips that work for you in Stepmonster and other books for couples with stepchildren.

4. Keep it normal. Whether they’re five or 50, what kids want post divorce and remarriage is a sense of belonging. So skip the red carpet welcome and think “inclusive” and “normal.” Give mom or dad some time alone with his or her kids, and then do the things you do every day and every holiday, inviting the kids to join. Let older and adult stepkids help with holiday meal planning and prep, serving and clean-up. Little ones can make place cards or holiday art for guests. This helps them feel like family, not guests. And when they’re pitching in and happy, stepmom/stepdad won’t feel as depleted or de-centered by their visit.

5. Choose side by side activities. Puzzles, stringing popcorn, baking, and watching a holiday movie all let you spend time together without interacting “head on,” which experts like Patricia Papernow tell us can be more stressful for “steps.”

6. Know your limits. Don’t do or give in a way that will increase your resentment. If your stepkids habitually forget to bring anything for you, or have a history of not writing thank you notes, don’t go overboard with extravagant gifts and efforts. Let them be your guide to avoid martyr syndrome (“I do and I do for them!”) during (and after) the holidays.

7. Strategize ahead of time. Stepfamilies aren’t first families. There may be tensions, and that’s normal. Spouses might have to plan out activities and time alone ahead of time. “I think I’m going to need a break tomorrow. How about a long walk together first thing in the morning?” This is not a failure — just a constructive way of adapting.

8. Remember stepfamily members bond best one-on-one. All-together-now activities can activate stepkids’ anxieties about who’s an insider and who’s an outsider. Give parent and stepparent plenty of one-on-one time with kids and stepkids — and with each other. And don’t forget about yourselves as a couple. You need one-on-one time, too.

9. Get out of the house. For stepmothers especially, there can be extraordinary pressure to create that Norman Rockwell aura over the holidays. Before the pressure gets to be too much, get out to see friends and your own family. Take time to pamper, whether it’s a spa visit or a coffee with pals who understand and don’t judge. Getting out of your own home, away from your stepkids and even your spouse, isn’t a sign of failure. It’s a necessity, rejuvenating you and helping prevent stepparental burnout.

10. Let go of the guilt. Remember that even first families struggle with unrealistic expectations during the holidays. If things don’t go perfectly — if there are squabbles or hurt feelings — have faith that this is normal and won’t damage the kids or your marriage irreparably. Stepfamily members are bound to have differences and even blow-ups. By showing your stepkids that people can argue and then move on, you are modeling the kind of resilience that will serve them well for a lifetime. That might be the ultimate holiday gift.

©2009 Wednesday Martin, Ph.D. Used by permission. Wednesday Martin, Ph.D., is a social researcher and the author of Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do. She is a regular contributor to Psychology Today and blogs for the Huffington Post and on her own web site. She has appeared as a stepparenting expert on NPR, the BBC Newshour, Fox News, and NBC Weekend Today, and was a regular contributor to the New York  Post‘s parenting page. Stepmonster is a finalist in the parenting category of this year’s “Books for a Better Life” award. A stepmother for nearly a decade, Wednesday lives in New York City with her husband and two sons. Her stepdaughters are young adults.

Disrespectful teens, disrespectful parents

How to get your teen to clean up their room
by Anthony Wolfe, The Globe and Mail
Tuesday, Nov. 03, 2009

If you force your kid to clean up, your victory will be short-lived. Trust that they’ll tidy up with time

The courtroom of the Honourable Justice Maureen Rascomb in the case of Matthew Thibodeau v. his mother.

Matthew: “It’s really very simple: It’s my room. Yes, it’s a giant mess, but I’m the only one who lives there. No one else even needs to go into it. I keep the door closed so nobody has to see it except me. I live here. I am part of this family. This is the one and only part of this house that I have any say over. My mother rules the entire rest of this house. I like my room the way it is. I choose not to pick it up. To me, the room is comfortable. End of story. My case rests.”

His mother: “It is my house. I own it. When I die, Matthew gets half ownership of the house along with his sister. But I’m not dead yet. The house still belongs to me. Matthew’s room is in my house. I own his room. I will not tolerate that the room that he lives in in my house – my room – be an abomination. When he gets older and moves out, he will have the right to have his room any way he wants. But not now. Not here.”

It’s an eternal household debate. Yet the bottom line is this: Who is right is really not the main point. 

My take: YOU own his room? It is YOUR house? The house belongs to YOU?

What about your son? Your daughter? Do they not also live there? It may be “your house” since it’s your name on the mortgage, but is it not also THEIR home?

When I hear statements like this, my reaction is that I fully understand why the parent is also complaining that s/he doesn’t feel respected by the teen – the teen almost certainly doesn’t feel respected by the parent either, so what else would you expect?

Bottom line: If you wouldn’t treat your spouse or a good friend that way, don’t treat your teen that way either. You are presumably trying to help your teen learn how to grow up to be a responsible and respectful adult. Start modeling what a responsible and respectful adult should look like.

Petition for children’s mental health

Petition for Children’s Mental Health: Send a message to the Ontario provincial government
by Jennifer Forbes
Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The opportunity to demonstrate your support for 1 in 5 children and youth who are troubled by mental health issues, is still open. Life long mental health difficulties so often start in our young. With your help, our efforts to bring this issue the attention it needs can be achieved.

By May 13th, the end of Children’s Mental Health Week, we aim to have 5000 names on our petition.

So far we are almost 20% along and look for your help in moving this number up.

This petition will not only be sent to the heads of our provincial parties, we can use the strength of its numbers to bolster our messaging in upcoming meetings and other advocacy efforts.

If you have not already signed the petition, you still have time.

Thank you
Consumers and Advocates Committee of the Provincial Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Heath
Parents for Children’s Mental Health
Youth Net

children, parenting, mental health, Ontario, Canada

When do our children become FIRST priority?

This kind of reaction from so-called “civil liberties” factions both amazes and enrages me:

Child porn rings hard to track
Wed Feb 7, 2007
By BRIAN BERGSTEIN, AP Technology Writer The numbers behind an international child pornography bust Wednesday were themselves disturbing: Nearly 2,400 suspects from 77 countries allegedly paid to view videos depicting sexual abuse online. But the nature of Internet traffic makes it sadly unsurprising that people would figure they could hide so much hideous material.

Finding and stamping out such content “is needle-in-a-haystack work,” said Carole Theriault, a security consultant with Sophos PLC in London.

Austrian authorities said an employee of a Vienna-based Internet file-hosting service approached his national Interior Ministry last July with word that he had noticed the pornographic material during a routine scan.

The videos showed “the worst kind of child sexual abuse,” said Austrian Interior Minister Guenther Platter, citing the rape and sexual abuse of girls and boys younger than 14. At times the children could be heard screaming.

Lead investigator Harald Gremel said the videos were online for at most a day before they were discovered. The Austrian Internet service employee blocked access to the videos while recording the computer addresses of people who tried to download the material, and gave the details to authorities.

Within 24 hours, investigators recorded more than 8,000 hits from 2,361 computer addresses in 77 countries around the world, including the United States, according to Gremel…

Why did finding this take what would seem a lucky break by network administrator? Because everything traversing the borderless Internet looks the same while in transit. Whether it’s a mundane e-mail or videos as insidious as this, all traffic gets splintered into packets of data that don’t identify what they contain. Consequently, unless a nefarious Web site advertises itself with spam e-mails or shuttles an inordinate amount of traffic, several factors can conspire to keep it in the shadows.

For example, Theriault noted that the perpetrators could send footage over peer-to-peer networks or computers that had been surreptitiously co-opted by Internet worms. “You could have this stuff on innocent machines and the owner wouldn’t even know it,” Theriault said. “It can get ugly and complicated, absolutely.”

Search engines and other analytical programs regularly “crawl” the Web to capture what lurks out there, but generally they are in search of text. One cloaking mechanism – often seen in spam – is for a site to put salacious keywords inside images, out of the reach of text-based scans.

Even the fact that viewers had to pay $89 for some material would not necessarily increase the chances of detection. While the major credit card carriers have programs to verify the validity of merchants in their networks, dozens of Internet payment processors use other methods to discreetly ferry money around, said Mike Petitti, senior vice president of marketing at AmbironTrustWave Inc., a data-security company. One way involves automated check-clearing services that route money from checking accounts and avoid the credit card networks, he said. “There are a number of payment processors out there that have a `Don’t look and don’t ask’ policy,” Petitti said.

Because cases like this are not uncommon – in 2003, German investigators said they broke up child-porn rings that involved 26,500 suspect Internet users around the world – industry and governments have proposed prevention methods.

In fact, on Wednesday, a bipartisan group of senators and congressmen introduced revised legislation that would require Internet companies to do more to report child pornography discovered on their networks. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has chided the industry for not being more aggressive on the subject, and last year called on Internet companies to lengthen the time they hold onto logs of their customers’ Internet use.

Those comments churned up civil liberties concerns. But five top Internet companies did announce last June that they would be compiling a database of child-porn images and developing other tools making it easier for network managers and law enforcement to detect such material.

What sort of person do you have to be to believe that protecting “free speech” or personal privacy is a higher priority than protecting children from child rape?

Then, on the heels of that news item, I also found this one, from the political leader of Ontario, Canada:

Ontario Premier calls banning smoking in cars with kids a slippery slope
Wed Feb 7, 3:23 PM
By Chinta Puxley TORONTO (CP) – Making it illegal for parents to smoke in a vehicle in which their children are passengers is a slippery slope that could infringe on people’s rights, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said Wednesday.

While doctors and health organizations are urging the province for such a ban, arguing that no one has the right to “poison” their children, McGuinty said he’s not interested.

“I’m just not prepared to go there,” McGuinty said, adding it would start the province down a path that could lead to smoking bans in houses and apartment buildings. “My preference is to provide as much information as we possibly can to people who may have children around them… they have to take responsibility for that.”

Although some argue protecting children from second-hand smoke saves the province money in health-care funding down the road, McGuinty said he doesn’t buy that argument. “We could start saying we shouldn’t be covering people who parachute or people who engage in risky kinds of activities,” he said.

Still, doctors and anti-tobacco activists say the government has to bear some responsibility for the tremendous health risks posed to children by second-hand smoke. “Nobody has a right to poison a child,” said Dr. Ted Boadway, health consultant with the Ontario Medical Association that represents some 25,000 of the province’s doctors. “We decided that as a society a long time ago.”

Smoking in a car is scientifically proven to be worse than sitting in a smoky bar, said Boadway, who added it affects the growth of a child’s lungs among other negative health effects. The province has recognized the danger second-hand smoke poses to employees and banned smoking in public workplaces, so Boadway said it’s just a matter of time until the government recognizes children are also at risk. “We’re patient, although I don’t think the kids have as much time as we do,” he said.

Other jurisdictions – including Bangor, Maine – have banned smoking in cars so Ontario wouldn’t be breaking new ground, said Michael Perley, of the Ontario Coalition for Action on Tobacco. Ontario already regulates seatbelt use in cars and protecting children from second-hand smoke would be no different, he added.

“There is no personal liberty issue here,” he said. “This is a pure matter of negative health effects being imposed on some of our youngest members of society who can’t do anything about it.”

Health advocates like Perley are vowing to continue pressing the government for a ban, but they won’t get much help from opposition parties.

Sometimes I despair… This should not be rocket science. This is about children who look to adults to protect them. And, as a society, we seem to spend more time and effort worrying about protecting those who harm them.

A law you can’t enforce is just political hot air

Another news item from the “Ideas that sounded good to someone who didn’t think it all the way through” file:

Senators propose to track sex offenders online
Thu Dec 7, 3:11 PM ET

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Two U.S. senators said on Thursday they would introduce legislation that would potentially protect users of popular social networking sites like News Corp’s MySpace from registered sex offenders.

New York Democrat Charles E. Schumer and Arizona Republican John McCain, in a press release, said they planned to introduce a bill at the beginning of the 110th Congress in January that would require registered sex offenders to submit their active email addresses to law enforcement.

The legislation would enable social networking sites like MySpace to cross-check new members against a database of registered sex offenders and ensure that predators are unable to sign up for the service.

Under the proposed legislation, any sex offender who submits a fraudulent email could face prison.

Earlier this week, MySpace said it would offer in the next 30 days a technology to identify and block convicted sex offenders from the popular online social network. It struck a deal with Sentinel Tech Holding Corp., an expert in background verification, to build the new feature.

The top online social network, which has a large following of teens attracted to its music and entertainment offerings, has also been used by adults seeking sex with underage users.

“This legislation combined with our announcement earlier this week of plans to build the first real-time searchable national sex offender database will make the Internet a far safer place for all,” MySpace Chief Security Officer Hemanshu Nigan said in a statement.

Under the proposed bill, registered sex offenders would be required to give an email address to their probation or parole officers. Any offender caught using an unregistered email address would be in violation of probation or parole terms and face a return to prison.

According to MySpace, there are 550,000 registered sex offenders in the United States. The company said the new service will be the first national database that brings together about 46 state sex offender registries. 

Now, just what do these Senators think sex offenders intent on finding their next victims are going to do with this law? It makes about as much sense as gun registry legislation: Those who have nothing to hide will comply, and those who do have something to hide will not. Before legislators start to draft laws governing internet behavior, it would be nice if they educated themselves just a little bit on how things work on the ‘net.

Throw-away email accounts are easier to obtain than fake ID’s for high school students. And, as every study ever conducted on deterrence has clearly shown, the threat of harsh penalties has no meaning to individuals who don’t expect to get caught.

Worse, the promise of such legislation may give parents and children alike a false sense of security. It would be far better to spend the money and time in primary and elementary school programs educating our children on the dangers of trusting strangers on the net.

sex offenders, internet behavior, email, MySpace, social networking, predators, internet safety, legislation, lawmakers, laws, children, parental supervision