By Mary Fetzer
I was a teenager once, too. If you’re using this logic to parent your teen, it’s not going to work.
Yes, today’s teens face a lot of the same problems you did at their age, but they also have the added burden of dealing with cyberbullying, sexting pressures, and the dangers related to texting while driving, to name just a few. And you have the added burden of parenting as a single mom.
“But you don’t understand!”
That time-honored refrain has been uttered by angst-ridden teens for quite a long while, but more than ever nowadays, you truly don’t understand. Whether you’re co-parenting after a divorce or parenting as a single mom managing kids on your own, the reality of raising kids in a digital world creates challenges you might not fully grasp.
Teenagers measure their popularity and self-worth with Facebook, Instagram, and all of the other media on which they’re perpetually sharing their life’s story. The degree to which teenagers have outsourced their confidence and self-esteem is often hard to fathom for parents raised in an analog environment.
Andrea (not her real name) said that her 15-year-old daughter went into a long-lasting slump when her first-day-of-school selfie didn’t garner as many likes and comments as her friends’ photos. “She was convinced that she was ugly and unpopular and facing a really terrible year,” Andrea said. “We had to force her to go to school. It’s a little better now, but we’re only two months in. So we’re bracing ourselves for more drama.”
Sharing isn’t always good
We take great pains to teach our toddlers to share. When they’re teens, we need to stress the opposite. Sharing too much—via text, social media, or otherwise—can come back to haunt your teenager in so many ways. The behavior is not illegal, but it’s not prudent either.
College admissions offices reach out to recruit potential students via social media, and they use the same tools to investigate their applicants’ worthiness as future students. If your teen aces her SAT and ACT but posts pictures of herself drunk or passed out beside the toilet, her outstanding scores might not mean as much.
You might not know their “friends”
Palm Beach attorney Eddie Stephens encourages single moms to stay actively involved in their kids’ peer groups. “Knowing who they are with and what they are doing is half the battle,” he says.
Your parents knew your friends and your friends’ parents. But times have changed. In the world of social media, your teen can have well over 1,000 “friends.” And you might not know a single one of them.
“Well, I check my child’s phone and computer,” you may say. But chances are they’re one step ahead of you. No sooner do you learn how to navigate Instagram than they’ve moved on to SnapChat. Kids have an evolved aptitude for technology—you’ll play this game of catch-up forever.
Talk with, not to, your teenager
The best way to approach this task is to have an ongoing conversation about the dangers of interacting with strangers online. Instilling good judgment and providing continuous guidance via communication are better than trying to monitor every second of your teen’s online life.
“Teens who have developed in a home full of communication and conversation are able to process through decisions differently than their peers who’ve had to make decisions all on their own,” says marriage and family therapist Lisa Peacock. “Talking with your children is the most important thing you can do. It teaches them to value their thoughts and opinions and trust their instincts.”
By the time teens hit 13 or 14 years old, they’re already on a path to process through their problems without parents. “Forcing them to sit down and learn how to communicate at this age is very hard,” says Peacock, “but this is when you can educate your child about the legal and physical ramifications of their decisions as well as the personal and home consequences.”
Drinking, drugs, and sex: the perennial stumbling blocks
Besides Internet-related entanglements, there are other, more traditional issues on the road to adulthood that single moms need to worry about with their teens. “Teens are going to be exposed to drinking, drugs, and sex,” says mental well-being expert Michael D. Kaminowitz. “Attempting to shield them completely from these things can isolate them from their peers, which will prevent them from being socially adjusted when they get to college.”
The NIDA for Teens website, a project of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), conducted a sobering Truth Poll of middle school and high school students, which revealed:
- 41% said that they were at a party where parents served alcohol to kids
- 37% thought that drug users are cool
- 38% said that someone offered them prescription painkillers when they had no pain
- 65% had a friend try to talk them into smoking marijuana
Does that mean we should let our kids drink, do drugs, and have sex? No! Most teens have a pretty good idea about the dangers and harm that can come from alcohol, drugs, and unprotected sex, yet many of them engage in these risky behaviors anyway because of peer pressure.
The best way to protect and prepare your child as a single mom is through character-building. Teach your kids to master themselves so they won’t succumb to peer pressure but will instead be confident enough to make their own decisions.
“In teens, this can be developed within an activity that is important to them—academics, sports, music,” says Kaminowitz. Your children will gain the ability to say no in the face of peer pressure, and you can let them go to that party with the confidence that they’ll make the right decisions.
“Teen behavior is based on how the teen sees his or her place in the world,” says Peacock. “Teens that feel confident and have sustainable self-worth are less likely to exhibit and partake in risky behaviors.”
Practice what you preach
Keeping teens safe starts with you. “If you demonstrate healthy, responsible behaviors,” says Stephens, “your children are more likely to engage in healthy behavior habits themselves. Children who participate in harmful behaviors often have parents who demonstrate similar behaviors. If you think you are hiding these things from your children, you are wrong—they pick up on everything.”
Psychologist Lisa Greenberg agrees. “Model the behaviors you want to see in your kids,” she advises. “If teens see parents drinking alcohol appropriately, the teens will learn that it is possible to manage stress and enjoy life without abusing substances. They will be more likely to choose this path for themselves to avoid disappointing parents they love, respect, and admire.”
Mary Fetzer is a professional freelance writer and editor. She has 10 years of experience writing articles, blog posts, and press releases for online publications and has covered an enormous range of topics ranging from personal finance and international trade to pregnancy and senior living. Mary also writes about legal issues in everyday life on the Avvo Stories blog. Avvo provides free answers from lawyers, client reviews, and detailed profiles for 97 percent of all attorneys in the U.S.; follow them on Twitter and Facebook.
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