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As teens grow older, they naturally assert more independence. But this independence does not undercut their time with Mom and Dad. It’s a little-known fact that teens actually continue to value their time with their parents and that this time contributes to their social and emotional growth.

A study published recently in Child Development followed 200 youngsters for seven years from age 11 to age 18. Each of these kids was the eldest child in a middle-class or working-class family and each had a sibling about three years younger. In five home interviews with the teens, their parents, and the sibling, and 35 phone interviews with the teens themselves, researchers explored the amount of contact between parents and children and the teens’ interactions with their peers.

Here’s what the researchers found. The amount of time that teens interacted with their parents while their friends were around did indeed decrease in the middle and late teen years. But the time that teens and parents interacted alone (without the teens’ friends present) actually increased in early and middle adolescence. This suggests that even while teens are growing in independence, they still rely on conversations with Mom and Dad. In addition, the fall-off in interaction in late adolescence was less for the second-born sibling than for the first born. The younger child continues to have a high degree of personal contact with her parents throughout the teen years.

The researchers found that this contact matters. For both the first-born and the second-born children, time spent in conversation with parents was related to better satisfaction with peer-relationships and had higher self-esteem. This was especially true when teens spent time with their fathers.

So what does this mean for you and your family? The take-home message here is that even though it might seem like teens are growing away from you and that they don’t give you the time of day when their friends are around, they still value your company. It’s important to find times when just you and your teen are together, and share conversation or activities. This is even more important if you’re the father.

A solid adult relationship with your child and your child’s own social skills and happiness may depend on strong and supportive interactions now, during the teen years. Make it happen!

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

A new study by a Penn State researcher found that talking with a teen about drinking alcohol before they begin college is an effective strategy to moderate college drinking. However, the time to have this conversation is well before she goes away to school in the fall. Now is the time…

According to Dr. Robert Turrisi, “Over 90 percent of teens try alcohol outside the home before they graduate from high school.” This dabbling can become serious once a child is away from home, however. Binge drinking is epidemic on college campuses. Yet, says Turrisi, “It is well known that fewer problems develop for every year that heavy drinking is delayed.” You can delay or even inhibit your child’s engagement with binge drinking by having a serious talk about alcohol now.

A study conducted at Penn State involved 1,900 incoming freshmen and their parents. Each of these high school students was identified as being a nondrinker, a weekend light drinker, or already a weekend heavy drinker and or an everyday heavy drinker. The parents of these students were instructed to talk with their teens about drinking at one of three points in time: during the summer before starting college, during the summer and then again in the fall of the student’s first semester at college, or only in the fall of the first semester.

Because it is known that college students tend to drink more than they did at home, regardless of their beginning level of consumption, any slowing of this progression as a result of the parents’ conversations about drinking would demonstrate the positive effect of this plan. But this study showed more than just a slowing. When parents talked to their teens over the summer, teens who were non-drinkers or light drinkers were likely to remain in those groups and teens who were heavy drinkers drank less.

Teens whose parents waited until their children were heading off to school in the fall or timed the conversation for some time during the fall semester were likely to drink more.

The first thing to take away from this study is the fact that even teens who do not drink and who have been taught from childhood not to drink will likely drink once they are away at school and enmeshed in college culture. It’s important to expect this and to have a conversation with your teen about drinking.

But the second thing to take away is that waiting to have this conversation until the end of the summer is not the best strategy. Talk with your teen now, while there is time for your message to sink in before the excitement of college gets in the way.

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

Your child is away at college. You find out she’s being distracted by her roommate’s habits or she’s being frustrated by an instructor’s teaching style. She complains to you, often. What do you do?

For a lot of parents these days, their first impulse is to pick up the phone and call the Dean or the instructor to complain. College presidents report that parents increasingly try to step in and make things all-better for their college-age children, just as they might have done when their kids were in first grade. But this is a huge mistake. A recent study reports that college students whose parents are more intrusive on their behalf are actually more depressed and feel less capable of handling college than students whose parents let them fight their own battles.

In the study, nearly 300 students attending a public liberal arts college in the Mid-Atlantic region were asked about their parents’ involvement and level of control over their lives and also about their own feelings of autonomy, overall life satisfaction, and levels of depression and anxiety. Just over half of the students were freshmen, and the others evenly distributed among sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Researchers found that students who reported feeling their parents were more intrusive and hands-on in their lives had higher levels of depression and anxiety and lower levels of autonomy and life satisfaction. Helicopter parenting was backfiring for these students. Happier, more successful students had parents who knew how to butt out.

Certainly, college students are under a lot of stress and need their families’ support. That’s why they call home to complain: because they need somewhere to vent and they need to know they’re not entirely crazy in seeing a situation as intolerable. They call home to get advice. But college students don’t call home as if they were calling in the National Guard. They’re not asking you to fight for them. College students need to fight for themselves.

Of course, if you’ve spent your child’s teen years coming to his rescue so that he thinks of you as his secret weapon and thinks of himself as unable to manage his own affairs, then it’s logical he continue to call on you from college when the going gets tough. But it might be that parents are most involved in the lives of students who actually need more support and who seem to be least capable of managing their own affairs. The arrow of causality could go either way. Do parents hover because their child is vulnerable or do children feel vulnerable because their parents seem so worried about their abilities?

If your student is away at college, it’s not too late to shift how you respond when he calls to complain. If your student is not yet at college, now is the time to start to remove the scaffolding you’ve been using to prop him up. Here’s what to do, in either case.

  1. Express sympathy without taking over. Everyone needs to talk through their problems but most of us don’t want someone else to solve our problems for us. Step back from your role as your child’s fixer.  Just listen and nod and say, “Oh, I’m so sorry this is happening.”
  2. Treat your child like a responsible adult. Ask what she’s going to do about the problem or what she’s already tried. Let her take responsibility for solving things herself. Help her talk things through and think out loud in your presence without taking her problems onto your own shoulders.
  3. Wait for your child to ask for your advice. If he doesn’t ask, don’t make any suggestions. If he does ask, then phrase your advice as an I-message. Avoid saying “You should do…” but say, “If it were me, I might do…” Keep things conversational. Your child should be able to examine your plan if this were happening to you and decide for himself if your way fits him and his situation.
  4. Never call the school. Even if your child asks you to call her professor’s department head, don’t do it. If your child is 18 or older, no one at the school can legally discuss your child’s work, grades, athletic participation, health, or punishments with anyone but your child. Don’t increase your own frustration: don’t make the call.

Learning to stand up for oneself and take responsibility for one’s actions (and inactions) is an important rite of passage for teens and college students. Remember that your job as parent is to raise your child into a capable adult, ready to manage his own life.

You don’t want your child to continue to live in your spare bedroom, too afraid to step out on his own.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Look for free downloads on Dr. Anderson’s website at