Teens are confronted with numerous risky activities – sexual activity, drinking, drug use and more – all with the idea that they should be dealing with this on their own.
If parents have been lax with their kids from very early on, not setting or enforcing rules and limits, they’ll have a difficult time reining in their teens, warns David Elkind, Ph.D., a renowned child-development expert and author of the landmark book The Hurried Child. “It’s much easier to start tough and ease up than to start easy and get tough. Parents may start to get laissez-faire with young children and allow them to do a lot of stuff because they don’t want to get into an argument. But that backfires later on.”
Communication from early on is equally important, he says. “Start early with frank discussions, really listening to what your kids have to say and sharing with them your own perspective. Then in adolescence, you begin talking about some of these things (premarital sex, underage drinking, etc.). If you can establish good relationships and open communication early on, kids can understand that you’re not really trying to block their freedom, but are concerned for their well-being.”
When it comes to teen requests for body piercing or tattoos, Elkind says parents need to pick their battles. “Kids need markers. We’ve taken away so many markers in development. We have no trouble saying no to an 8- or 9-year-old who wants a tattoo, but teenagers can use these as a marker – to say, ‘I’m older, I’m different.’”
Where parents can draw the line is when markers are irreversible; tattoos, for example, are difficult and painful to remove, Elkind notes. If something is easily reversible, then the teen would not regret doing it several years down the road.
Ages 5 to 9
Ages 10 to 13
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Ages 14 and up
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