On February 7, 2011, Parents In Action held their 25th annual “Teen Scene” presentation to a standing room only audience at The Trinity School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The format included a moderator, Lucy Martin Gianino, who was flanked on both sides by a diverse group of high-functioning teenagers made up of high school freshmen through seniors, who represented schools throughout New York City. The audience, comprised mostly of parents of teenagers, sat mesmerized, and was fully engaged for every minute of the two hour presentation.
The goal of the evening was to shed insight on the lives of these teens from an authentic perspective; namely, how they live their lives, and, more specifically, how they manage busy schedules, maintain academic success and handle issues like peer pressure, substance abusing peers and the challenges of raging hormones. By opening up to the honest and sometimes difficult questions posed by the moderator, these brave teenagers allowed an auditorium full of parents and other adults a rare look into the inner thoughts and machinations of kids on the front-lines of the fast-paced and, at times, perilous adolescent experience in New York City in 2011. The initial queries began with questions about handling stress and managing hectic life schedules, but conversation quickly turned to the major topics of the evening: teenage substance use, social networking, internet bullying and sex.
While it seemed that the kids on the panel were not the ones battling severe drug problems and issues related to anti-social and delinquent behavior, it was clear that they had quite a bit of experience with the teen-age party scene in New York City, and they were more than prepared to talk about their experiences with online social networking. Almost every teenager on the stage shared deep personal experiences involving substance using peers, their own exposure to drugs and alcohol, and their own, often frustrating, experiences. The teens expressed difficulty in balancing newfound autonomy with parental expectations and responsibilities. One thing that was striking was not only the range of experiences expressed by the kids on the panel, but also the diversity of attitudes about how they thought parents should and could better address these issues.
As questions arose from the audience, it was abundantly clear that there is a huge amount of anxiety among parents who, without a “blueprint” to manage today’s modern parenting challenges, seem to be adrift when it comes to setting appropriate boundaries, enacting rules and managing appropriate expectations for their teenagers. Some examples of parental questions included: “How do I know if my teen has a problem with drugs?” “Should we let our daughter have a facebook account? At what age? Should we monitor it?” “What kinds of drugs are out there that my child might be exposed to?” “What is a reasonable curfew?” “How do I talk to my teenager about all of this?”
So why is it that parenting teenagers today seems to be so much more of a stress-inducing proposition than, say, 20 years ago? What are the important issues that parents should be aware of when dealing with teenagers in the house? What, if anything, can they do to either prevent problems from occurring or get help if they suspect their child has a problem?