Raising a teenager to make the right choices has always been difficult, but today it seems even more so with the internet, drugs and more temptations that are readily available. However, all these modern obstacles can be overcome to help your teen make the right decisions was the message that more than 150 parents heard on Thursday night at the Knights of Columbus Hall by author Dr. Stephen Wallace.
Wallace, a former Charlestown resident, told real life stories of his experiences with today’s teens. He said that the biggest issue is the huge disparity between what they are actually doing and what parents think they are doing. He gave an example that 83% of the teens that he surveyed admitted that they drove impaired, while 48% of the parents believed that this was the case.
Hence, “this is the reality gap,” Wallace said citing the title of his book, Reality Gap: Alcohol, Drugs, and Sex–What Parents Don’t Know and Teens Aren’t Telling.
Wallace told the parents that some kids are honest and tell their parents what they are doing, while others always try “to throw us off the trail.” According to his research, the biggest issue that teens have with parents is that the parents do not trust them to communicate what they are doing and with whom they are hanging around. However, he said that many teens admit that they lie, because they assume parents expect teens to lie. He cited that 89% of teens want trust, but only 40% will tell the whole truth.
Wallace said that he wrote the book “to empower adults to play a key role to guide children to make the right choices. Communication is the most important tool,” he said. Pointing to teenage logic, Wallace gave the example of how a teen brain works, the parents know that we are going to a party, know that there is drinking there, so they must know we will drink. [In contrast, parents’ logic is that they do understand the circumstances, but believe their teen will forgo the peer pressure to fit in.]
According to Wallace, there are three categories that teenagers fall into:
1) Avoiders – kids who will avoid drinking and sex;
2) Repeaters – kids always doing risky behavior; and
3) Experimenters – kids thinking about doing it.
And for each of these groups Wallace offered the following advice:
1) Avoiders - make sure you re-enforce these good choices;
2) Repeaters – consider the need for professional intervention; and
3) Experimenters – need to focus and communicate the goals and then the consequences if they do not meet the goals.
“You are doing a disservice to your teenager, if you do not have a candid and a limitations talk with them.
However, all is not lost. He pointed to the positive things that teenagers are doing such as young people engaging in community projects and “as hard as it may seem to believe, your children actually want to spend time with parents,” he said.
As it is difficult growing up in today’s world, Wallace pointed to the fact that mentoring can make a very positive influence on a child’s life. He thinks that a kid needs at least three mentors to reach their potential to enhance school performance and decrease drug activity. He pointed out that Charlestown is a community that can be proud of the many programs it has in place to help teenagers make the right choices. Mentors can be teachers, coaches or other community leaders. Kids look for mentors to be trustworthy, fun, compassionate, good listeners and providers of good advice. “Kids need someone to lean on, to just show up and to ask is everything all right” he suggested.
“Kids watch and listen to what you do,” he noted. “If kids hear parents lie, then they will do the same, as their brains only see black and white with no shades of gray.” Wallace closed by saying that the relationship that a teenager has with his family can be more important then telling a lie to avoid getting into trouble. He closed by advising that we “always love and help them.”