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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.

According to the Educational Testing Service (the folks behind the SAT test), 86% of high school students believe cheating is widespread, including copying someone else’s paper, buying a paper or test answers, having someone take a test for them, or copying-and-pasting material from the Internet and pretending the copied work is their own.

So the answer to the question, “Does your child cheat?” is “probably.” If your child hasn’t cheated yet, she probably will soon, since she likely believes everyone else is cheating. In any event, she probably knows someone who cheated and got away with it. According to ETS, while in the past cheaters were assumed to be failing students desperate to raise a grade, these days cheaters are as likely to be top students anxious to out-perform everyone else.

Part of the problem is our focus, as parents and as a society, on grades instead of on learning. The No Child Left Behind Act, which was intended to end social promotion by requiring verification that students actually learned grade-level curriculum, instead has devolved into manipulation of test scores to make schools look good. Even their teachers cheat to gain test score points and even to achieve their own professional credentials.

A recent study at University of Washington found that people who cheat don’t feel very guilty about it. In fact, they may experience what scientists called a “cheater’s high.” This feeling of self-satisfaction doesn’t appear to be a result of what cheating actually got cheaters – it didn’t matter that they earned a good grade or were able to save a few dollars on their taxes. What made cheaters feel good after cheating was the thrill of cheating itself.

None of this is good news. So the next logical question is, “Do we care?” If cheating is widespread, does it matter if our own kid cheats?

Only you can decide. But here’s something to consider. Many otherwise-capable professionals suffer from what’s known as the Imposter Syndrome. Even though they are successful in their fields, they feel they aren’t as good as everyone says they are. They feel like a fraud and they fear being found out someday. Found out and kicked out. I bet you know someone affected by the Imposter Syndrome. It keeps people from trying too hard and risking failure. It makes people anxious. It makes people hop from job to job, always, they think, one step ahead of being exposed.

Cheating and the Imposter Syndrome are partners. Cheating convinces us we’re not good enough to survive on our own. The Imposter Syndrome makes that feeling a way of life. I don’t wish either of these feelings on any child I care about.

So to me, cheating does matter, not only because it’s dishonest, but because it hurts the person who cheats. How about you?

Do you think cheating matters?


© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

It’s a commonplace notion that what one thinks about tends to come true. Now this pop culture notion has been applied to an analysis of teens’ text messages. The outcome? Teen texts about delinquent actions predict their actual involvement in bad behavior.

Over 6 million text messages sent and received by 172 ninth-grade students in 47 high schools across the country formed the basis of a recent study. Four days of text messages selected at random from each student yielded 76,000 messages for analysis. These messages were then read to measure discussions of buying or using illegal substances, rule-breaking, aggressive behavior, and shoplifting or creating property damage.

Students’ level of anti-social texts was then compared to parents’ and the students’ own rating of their behavior during and after the ninth-grade year.

The researchers found that texting about delinquent actions predicted actual delinquent behavior. Texting often was used to plan and coordinate these activities. In addition, the data suggest that texting about anti-social activities increases the level of a teen’s involvement in these sorts of activities. Texting about delinquent behavior seems to make delinquent behavior more likely and more “normal” to teen texters.

What’s a parent to do? You can’t very well follow your child around, monitoring his texts.

  1. If your child doesn’t have a cell phone, don’t hurry to buy her one. The longer you can delay a child’s cell-phone use, the more time you give her to grow into an understanding of consequences and into stronger emotional control.
  2. Talk with your child about the link between his discussion of bad behavior with his friends and actual commitment of bad behavior. It makes sense to adults that casual talk makes something seem normal or can escalate an offhand comment into aggressive action. Kids are unlikely to see this connection unless it’s pointed out to them.
  3. Do not participate in angry texting yourself. If your child texts you angrily, simply do not respond, or respond by texting, “I can’t talk with you when you’re so angry.” Never send an angry text or make even joking suggestions of the violent response your teen might make in reaction to some injustice.
  4. If your child lands in trouble, consider limiting her cell phone use as part of her plan to make adjustments to her life. Getting back on the straight-and-narrow has to be planned with the child’s collaboration, and kids may think giving up their phones is impossible. But helping a child in trouble realize that her phone may make getting into trouble easier, may give her the strength to self-regulate her cell phone use.

With devices comes responsibility to use devices responsibly. Teens are still learning how to be responsible. It’s important that parents be aware of how teens use texting and understand that irresponsible texting can lead to trouble.



© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.