Misunderstood teens

Staying in touch: Baltimore study's results are common-sense -- kids need supervision.

May 11, 1999

WE DON'T get off the hook when they turn 13," an author of a study on teen-agers in poor Baltimore neighborhoods said of parents recently.

Indeed, some of parents' toughest work begins when children enter adolescence.

The study found -- not surprisingly -- that children who feel accountable and connected to their parents are about half as likely to use drugs or alcohol or have unprotected sex. What is surprising and unsettling is that this seems to be news to some parents.

When children reach adolescence, parents often take on increased responsibilities outside the family. The thinking is that teens are self-sufficient and just a couple of years from adulthood. Yet these are the years of their greatest susceptibility to peer pressure and a range of risks, from alcohol abuse to unsafe sex.

Adolescents who, almost by definition, are in the process of learning to make good decisions often don't -- be it Carroll County students losing extracurricular privileges for drinking at parties, teens committing murders over drugs in inner-city Baltimore or the horror of Littleton, Colo.

That's why parents must be the primary navigators who help their children develop good judgment, especially during those turbulent years.

The bottom line, as the study points out: Parents who are cool with their kids aren't permissive. They are the ones who know where their teen-agers go and who they go with, what their sons and daughters are thinking about and how they are spending their time, whether at the mall or in front of the computer screen. The impact is felt equally in single-parent and two-parent homes.

Being friendly with maturing sons and daughters does not mean being friends with them. Parents must be firm -- and, yes, even be nuisances, as children have viewed parents for generations. We should expect our children to be accountable -- and they should expect no less from us.

Pub Date: 5/11/99

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