Bionic Teens - Effective Communication Techniques

Raising great kids in the technological age.

Posted Oct 23, 2011

Modern technology has changed parenting forever. Your teens today use their new phones and computers as multi-leveled, multi-faceted thinking machines intertwined with their biological brains. This mysterious alchemy has produced a language unlike anything the world has ever known.

These techno-teens spend much of every day speaking or texting into devices seemingly glued to their hands with invisible tethers. They often communicate to each other via these small computers over a hundred times a day.

Yet, for all their amazing power, these devices can only deliver only a small portion of the communication intended. Words only are ten percent of any emotionally-laced verbal connection. The other 90% is voice intonation, body language, facial expressions, and other subtle cues. Video chat can help, but cannot supplant what it is like to face or touch another person in real-time. Add the thousands of available texting abbreviations, and limited characters and misunderstandings are inevitable.

Through these magical communication devices, young people can acquire either bogus or objective knowledge without the guidance of a church, synagogue, or parent, often amassing information unknown to those responsible for their well-being. Techno-teens are at once savvy and terribly naïve. Sadly, many of their parents are woefully uneducated about this new world in which their kids spend most of their time. Because there is no such thing as personal privacy once anything is published, these young people are constantly subjected to having deepest and darkest secrets posted forever for anyone to see.

I've worked with hundreds of teen-agers throughout my forty-year career as a therapist. Life for them isn't easy. They are neither children nor adults, and live every day without the protection of childhood or the status of adulthood. Their emotional brain pathways are developed by the time they are fourteen, but the "choice-option", the long-term decision making" synaptic connections, are not fully mature until they are well into their early twenties. That leaves four vulnerable and potentially dangerous years where they are driven by hormones and passion but have not yet develop the discernment they need to make good long-term decisions.

They are my favorite people to work with. Their passionate responses to life may change from moment to moment but they are genuine and authentic. I care for them and grieve for them. In so many ways they can never be children again, and do not yet know what adults they will turn out to be. Many of them have lost faith in the heroes they once worshipped and do not trust those who do not speak their new language.

Parents who want to understand, love, and guide them must not only recognize and respect this never-known-before gap between themselves and their teens; they must learn to think and speak this new technology. Otherwise, they are likely to be seen as technical dinosaurs, relegated to a dimension that no longer exists in their teen's world.

Meaningful traditions are still important to kids, and so are fads, friendships, and the insecurities of young love. They still want to be known, understood, and forgiven for their self-serving expectations. They still wonder what makes life worth living, and what challenges they must ultimately face. They have been thrust into new vistas that most of their parents cannot see or understand.

If you are confused by your teenager's behaviors, as so many parents are, the following ways of interacting with them may help. Though I have garnered these tried-and-true methods from hundreds of hours with teens, these are still only suggestions. These are your kids, and you must ultimately trust your own heart.


Kids hate "trap" questions

Don't ask a question you already know the answer to, as if you don't. They tell me how much they hate these manipulative questions, and will resent your pretending to be innocently inquiring when you already know the answer. They will not only black out the indirect lesson you're trying to teach, but will come up with cleverly distracting answers to intentionally confuse you. For instance, if you know your kids are lying about where they've been, don't slyly try to corner them. It's always better to be up front with the truth as you know it.


What isn't likely as likely to help:

"Did you and Molly have fun at the sleepover at her house last night? I'm sure her parents were checking up on you regularly, right? I hear that some kids pretend they're at someone's house but go other places, but you wouldn't do that, would you, honey?"

What is more effective:

"Honey, I heard that you left Molly's and went to a party. Some of your friends called me and told me you were drinking. You threw up on the floor in Molly's bathroom later and you told her mom were probably getting the flu. I'm concerned that you might not remember what happened and could have been hurt. Can we talk about it now, or would you rather wait until tonight? We'll have to come up with some way to handle this together, but I'd rather wait until you feel better before we come up with the answers."

Unsolicited advice

Try to refrain from offering suggestions or asking too many questions in a row. It's better to be straight than to sermonize. Teens often tell me that their parents never stop preaching, hovering, and advising. It is true that many kids forget and need to be reminded multiple times, even about things they really want to remember, but preaching often backfires and teaches hostile dependency rather than healthy independence. There are better ways of communicating your anxiety about their seemingly space-cadet behavior. Ask them what they need and what they think will work for them.

Try to refrain from mentioning stories about when you were a kid and how you handled things. Especially watch for eye-rolling. It's a sure sign that your child is discounting what you're saying.


What isn't likely to help:

"You need to remember to bring that book tomorrow. You've been late on assignments with that teacher too many times, and you're going to regret it someday. Maybe you could put a note on your mirror or something, or I can remind you when we leave the house. You are in a dream world these days, and you can't seem to remember what's important."

What is more effective:

"I know you've felt terrible when your teacher chewed you out in front of the class for forgetting your homework. I don't want to nag you, but I'm here to help if you want me to. Maybe you can come up with your own idea of how it would work, and then just tell me what you need. I'd be glad to take orders if you think it would solve the problem. I realize that you have to work this out on your own, but I'm available if you need me."

Urgency for resolution

Parents often move too quickly into solving a situation without getting all the information they need to make a better decision. Try to stay calm when you have to impose consequences. Kids can tell when you've already made up your mind and are just putting them through a pretend choice. If you urgently communicate your upset about the situation, your kids are more likely to argue or go silent just to get the lecture over with. They usually know when you've already made up your mind and are more interested in making them uncomfortable than helping resolve the situation. Even when you are feeling urgent inside, your patience in getting the whole picture will pay off.


What isn't likely to help:

"Your teacher called me and told me that you're late on three assignments. I'm really disappointed that you told me everything was okay when it obviously wasn't. Your mother and I have discussed this and we both agree that you're grounded until all these back assignments are turned in. We're not going to tolerate your putting time with your friends ahead of school, and you're not making good choices. You obviously need more control."

What is more effective:

"I got a notice from your math teacher today that you're behind a little on your homework. He was really concerned and thinks a lot of you. I was really glad he called early enough for us to still get you back on track. Can you tell me what's going on, honey? I know you're usually responsible about these things. I don't want to impose consequences if I'm missing information that could change the situation."

Mastering silence

Kids talk when they want to, not when they are pushed. When you pick them up from school, they are deeply preoccupied with a multitude of things that have gone on during the day, plus unresolved internal issues. If you start your meeting asking multiple questions, they are likely to pull in further, or respond with a snippy comment. If you are very present, seem okay yourself, and don't push, your kids are more likely to start talking on their own. If they do, don't be tempted to solve their problems or tell them what they should have done. Just listen without judgment. They may eventually ask for guidance. Resist the desire to over control.


What isn't likely to help:

"Hi. How was school? Did you get that grade back on your physics test? Did that girl finally talk to you? I was thinking about that math test coming up and I wondered if we should get you a tutor. What do you think? Oh, and your sister is bringing home some friends from college this weekend. Would you mind very much sleeping in the den, just for two nights. It would really help out? Are you hungry?"

What is more effective:

"Hi, honey. Glad to see you. Hope your day was good. I'd love to hear what's on your mind if you feel like talking."

Then be still and wait for them to share. Keep your responses less talkative then theirs and don't worry about silences or their choice to listen to their music.

Keep your corrections short

Kid's ears close down quickly when they have to listen to something unfavorable. Most parents way overdo their corrections and worries, and most kids are expecting them already. If you seem driven or worked up, they will respond to your angry disappointment and accuse you of being wrong or mean. Their indiscretion can easily be eclipsed by pulling you into an argument, eclipsing your initial concern.


What isn't likely to help:

"You left your room a mess again. That's the fourth time this month, and you knew we had guests coming. I do so much for you and I ask so little in return, and then you just ignore me. I'm getting to the point where I just don't believe you anymore. What's going to happen when I'm not around? I need some respect here. I wonder if you even care unless you want something. I'm sick and tired of this behavior. I want it changed, and now."

What is more effective:

"I need to talk to you for just a couple of minutes. It's about the mess in your room that you promised would be cleaned by yesterday. I know this is probably not something you want to talk about, and I'm not here to make you feel guilty or to defend yourself. Give me just a minute and please just try to listen.

We agreed you would keep your room picked up in exchange for the things you wanted me to do for you. I'd like to make this work between us but I don't want to do what we've done before because it hasn't worked. Let's do it differently so both of us can get what we want. Tell me what you think would work better and I'll give you my input. We can resolve this together if we can agree to the same goal. I don't want to punish you and I don't want you to disappoint me again. Let's put something together that works."


Every parent's job is to teach their child what the outside world expects of them and how they can thrive someday on their own. You want them to use their talents, personality, and knowledge to become successful adults. Unfortunately, teens usually don't like to be told what to do unless they are the ones asking for help, and that's usually in the middle of a time-sensitive crisis that can eclipse the deeper issues at hand.

Teenagers tell me all the time that they're not sure they want to grow up because they've never met an adult who seems happy. At this stage of their lives, they are passionately programmed to be drawn toward pleasure and away from pain. As a result, they are more likely to listen to adults who are having a great time in their own lives. Because they are searching for a future that is not primarily problem-oriented, they will hear you so much better if you seem to have mastered that process.

If you are trying like most of us to keep up in this ever-demanding world, your teenagers most probably see you too often tired and stressed, rather than excited and confident. Being stressed-out is not a convincing platform from which to dispense advice they would want to follow. Today's teens don't believe their parents can possibly understand the new technological world they live in. This has been true for teenagers in every generation but today the gap is wider and harder to traverse from either side.

If parents are not savvy about the world of technology, they cannot begin to understand their teen's intense attachment to their hand-held computers and the intensity behind the connections they provide to their world. Many parents do know how to text, but the majority of what they send is about concerns and instructions. Text them more frequently about fun things that matter to you, or something they might be interested in, like "I saw a gr8 lookn kid at the beach 2day that reminded me so much of u."

Healthy reactive narcissism.

Teenagers are focused inward. They appear frighteningly narcissistic and often do not realize the impact of their behaviors on the people around them. Most of them are not pathological or mean, even when they seem selfish. The moving earthquake inside is enough to keep them preoccupied.

Most parents bend over backwards to accommodate their teenagers, and are then disappointed or feel ripped off when their kids seem to erase everything that they've gotten in light of their new, urgent need. Sometimes it is better to let them know that you have needs from them as well that are more important than theirs are at the time. You need to tell them without your own guilt or conflict, and deliver the message without using sarcasm or the need to punish.


What isn't likely to help:

"You want me to drop everything and take you to the mall, now? Don't you think I have anything else to do but make sure your life works? I asked you yesterday what you needed for that project and you blew me off. Why should I just be here like a shelf person so you can use me whenever you feel like it? You only think of yourself and what's important to you. Maybe you should think of me, just once in a while."

What is more effective:

"Apparently this is really important and you forgot to let me know earlier. I do that, too sometimes. It would be really hard for me to let go of what I'm doing right now, but I'd feel better about it if you can you sweeten the deal a little for me. That way I won't feel taken advantage of and you can get what you want too. If you can help me out a little, I'll have a little time in about an hour to help you get what you want."

Staying calm

If you can put aside guiding your techo-teen when you are stressed out, you are much more likely to be effective. Parents who are over tired, anxious, angry, irritable, or in a hurry tend to preach often expect an immediate resolution. You won't always be able to avoid those feelings when time is short, but if there is any option, wait until you feel more centered and in control of yourself.


What isn't likely to help:

"Just get in the car. I have fifty things to do in the next few hours and I have a presentation for work tomorrow. I don't know how the hell I'm going to get everything done and take care of your mistakes at the same time. As long as you keep procrastinating, your life is going nowhere. You could have asked your brother to help you last weekend but you were too busy doing things you wanted to do. You need to plan for these things and not put the burden on other people. If you'd only get this lesson, you'd make your own life better, too. Just listen to me, for once, okay?"

What is more effective:

"I'm really stressed now, and this isn't a good time for me to tell you what's wrong. Can you get this situation under control for now and I'll try to help you later when I'm thinking a little straighter and not so upset. I don't want to overreact and I know I would if I tried to solve this issue now, I'd handle it badly. Get going on your homework as soon as we get home, and I'll help you reorganize later."

Withholding truth

The next lesson for you may be hard but crucial. Don't over-exaggerate or keep the truth away from your kids, unless it is too personal and it would not be appropriate to share. Kids know when we are making things up to drive the point home and they also get it when we're being hypocritical. If you want to teach them anything, stay clear about your objectives, your reasons, and your desires.


What isn't likely to help:

"You'll never get into the college you want if you don't change your study habits. I know you do well on tests, but you're going to be up against much more competition and you have no idea how much harder it's going to get. I remember the kids in my high school that made bad choices the way you do. They didn't get anywhere in life. You're really treading on thin ice here, and I won't always be here to bail you out. This isn't my life, you know. It's about you. I'm not making any decisions for you. This is your deal."

What would be more effective:

"I realize you have your own way of doing things and I respect that, but I'm concerned that what you're doing now won't hold up as well when the competition is stronger. I know I can't make you want to do things and I don't feel comfortable trying to force you to, but I know how much potential you have and I'm worried you're going to blow it. I know lots of kids are late bloomers and maybe you are, too, but I'm concerned you're taking things for granted and don't understand what you're going to be up against. I won't hide my disappointment if you don't agree, but I do want you to know the truth about how I'm feeling."

Re-educating Yourself


Your kids are constantly on the Internet or learning things from each other. Like some of us, they read anything that is short, interesting, sexual, or about relationships. They read what their friends tell them to whether it is good for them or not. You need to know what they are reading and what they feel about it.

Don't try to teach them about situations they may possible already know more about than you do. Let them know that you are comfortable with potentially awkward situations so they can anticipate your interest and support. Don't require that they respond at the time. Their embarrassment at your just mentioning those delicate subjects may take a while to subside, and just knowing you are receptive can make a huge difference.


What isn't likely to help:

"How many hours of porn are you watching a week? Do you know that isn't the way normal people really act? I'm afraid you're really neglecting your schoolwork and your grades show it. I've read that porn is addictive and could ruin your real relationships. Porn isn't about love, you know, or real caring. You better think about what this is doing to you."

What is more effective:

"I realize that most boys your age watch porn a lot, but you seem to be losing sleep and not doing as well in school since you started. I respect your privacy, but I also know that porn is only the physical part of sex. Please make sure it doesn't negatively affect how you treat your partners. You do read a lot about the things you care about, and I just hope you're getting a good sense of a broader picture. You know, the way you'll be with someone you love someday."

Getting your kids to stay in touch

You have probably noticed that techno-teens don't answer their telephones anymore, but they will usually respond to a text relatively quickly (if they're not anticipating a negative reaction). They can come up with pretty obvious stories when they don't want to connect, like "I lost my phone," or "My friend had my phone," or "My battery was dead." It is, on the other hand, amazing how easily they can reach you when they need to. Suddenly everything works. Make an agreement with your kids so they know when they need to respond right away, or whether they can put it off if they're in to something important.


What isn't likely to help:

"You're so busy doing what you want to do that you don't bother texting me back until you have nothing better to do. Well, guess what? If I call, it's important and you need to make it that way for you, too. When you don't, I worry that you're in trouble, or just being selfish. I know you don't make your friends wait, so treat me with the same respect. I pay for that phone, and I can take it away from you whenever I want to. You need to see it as a privilege, not an entitlement. You're really taking advantage of my generosity and I don't like it."

What is more effective:

"I know you don't want your friends to think I've got you on a leash or something, but when I text you to call me right back, and you don't, I get really concerned. Can we come up with a message that lets you know I need to talk to you right away? I'll do the same. I'd also be okay if you let me know in advance when you might have plans that are hard to interrupt, and I'd gladly make exceptions. But I do need a special code for crucial situations.

Knowing More about Your Teen's World

The techno-teens of today can communicate to each other in code. Some of those abbreviations are commonly used but some are privately created between friends. You should get on the Internet and explore the many sites that will at least expose you to those that are typical. There are multiple drugs (including new designer drugs), a plethora of Internet information, and technical gadgetry that have never been around before. It has never been more important for parents to be aware of what's out there and what your teen is exposed to every day.

There are many things that your teen won't, and perhaps shouldn't need to share with you. The best chance you'll always have is to have a great relationship of mutual respect. Kids who don't expect judgmental or prejudicial responses are more likely to share what they are feeling and doing.


No kid takes recreational drugs for the negative side effects. You should know what drugs they are taking, why the0y are attracted to them, and what they are trying to feel or avoid feeling. Learn the street names of all of the drugs as well as their interactions with other drugs and medicines. Get on the Internet and read about designer drugs, the new group of mind altering substances that can cause terrible damage, but are not detectable in drug tests. Your teen will not respect you if you use incorrect terminology, or exaggerated statistics that they know are not true. If they suspect that you are exaggerating for effect, they will write you off.

Many of the drugs that teens regularly take are potentially significantly harmful over time, especially in large quantities or mixed with others. Those levels of intoxication assure that the user's memories will be altered and some behaviors forgotten. That means that, after a drug and/or alcohol binge, they won't be able to reconstruct what they've done or why. Teens should have at least one adult they can talk safely to without fear of judgment or consequences. They desperately need unbiased factual information, and how to change their self-destructive decisions.


What isn't likely to help:

"You've been acting really weird lately. Tell me what's going on in your life. Are you doing drugs? I know that most of your friends are drinking. If you don't tell me what you're doing, or let me read your texts, I'll find out some other way, so it might as well come from you. I can't help you if I don't know what's going on. If you shut me out, you're just going to get in more trouble. If you end up getting in trouble, don't accuse me of not asking."

What is more effective:

"Honey, I've been doing a lot of reading on the Internet. I know the recent statistics on drugs and alcohol and what kids are like when they're abusing them. I know at least one of your good friends is using and has started cutting too. When she was very drunk, she told one of my friends that she might be pregnant.

I've read up on all the new drugs and I'm really worried about you because you have the symptoms of using several of them. I also know that you and your new girlfriend seem really tight. If you need some help, I'm here for you. I've taken a course in alcohol and drug use so I think I understand what you're facing. I'm not here to hurt or punish you. Whatever it is please let me in so we can do this together."


Most kids feel that they can make their own decisions without help from you. At the same time, they rely on us to help them make their lives work. That combination of rebellion and dependence can make them surly and less likely to get what they want. They can be needy and frightened one moment, and independent the next. They make foolhardy decisions that can result in terrible consequences they could not predict.

Most parents hate being the wardens that their role demands. They would so rather their children act responsibly and self-preserving so they wouldn't need to maintain constant watchfulness, control, and direction.

Most kids want more freedom than they have the capacity to handle, while believing they can handle themselves without outside direction. They are bound to make mistakes, and hopefully learn from them. Parents desperately want those mistakes to not be life-threatening or permanently damaging. They want their kids to get through their teenage years educated and undamaged.

Techno-teens have so many more opportunities to connect with people who can influence them more than their parents can. They have multiple options that did not exist before, both pleasurable and potentially dangerous. They can protect their privacy, and maintain their secrecy, and are easily able to divert most of their parent's awareness or knowledge.

The kids today have myriads of ways to use technology to protect their privacy and maintain their secrecy, but they are often woefully ignorant of how anything they post on any site is vulnerable to the rest of the world, often forever. Though they can debug or avoid monitoring devices, have multiple sites on Facebook, delete suspicious messages, and cover up drug tests, they cannot keep the eyes of eager profit takers from knowing the most intimate details of their lives.

Many parents do not yet know the power of rapid texting. It is so efficient that teens can fill an unsupervised house within minutes. I've seen two-hundred kids at an impromptu party within thirty minutes. They often bring their own drugs and alcohol, and are not aware of the fringe self-invitees who can search and steal rapidly.

With so much opportunity through their technical know-how, the teenagers of today are harder to track and to control. Consequences only work if the teen understands and has agreed with the agenda. We've given our children the right to speak and to have freedoms they have never enjoyed before, but do not have a great enough understanding of the ramifications. They can get support from their friends, but it is not always in the direction that will help, and many friends drop away when they are needed most.

Create consequences with your teen's cooperation

Most children, even small ones, can tell you a lot about what they need from you in order to behave as they are expected. Some teens need tight control with instant and firm consequences. Others can be given more latitude. But all can participate in the process of helping their parents to be more effective in raising them.


What isn't likely to help:

"You need to do your homework before you get on those computer games. Once you're on, you don't get off. You're addicted to those damn things. I've read that they can ruin your mind if you keep that up. If you can't control yourself, I'm going to have to do it for you, even if I have to take away privileges. You're not going to become one of those computer geeks that can't relate to people. I just don't understand why spending all your time on the Internet when you could be doing something productive."

What is more effective:

"I know how much you love those games. You seem like you're in an altered mental state and so focused on what you're doing. I'm just concerned about how disconnected you are from everything else in your life, including us. I do believe that some of the skills they teach you are really important. The problem is your homework suffers and I can see your grades falling. I know that you'll get this phase of your life under control eventually, but I want you to realize how it pulls you away from other things we both care about. Let's talk about what we can do to let you hold on to the fun without regrets later on."

Making the "punishment fit the crime"

Always use consequences that both of you have agreed upon, and which are suitable for the seriousness of the situation. When you stay firm on a consequence, express compassion for the distress your teens will feel. You don't have to be angry to keep them on track.


What isn't likely to help:

"You really blew this. You stayed on that stupid computer after you promised you'd clean the garage before I got home. I've had about enough of this. You're losing your phone, computer privileges, and you're not going to the game with me tonight. In fact, you're grounded for the rest of the weekend. Maybe you'll get it into your thick head that I mean business."

What is more effective:

"I reminded you twice yesterday and once this morning about our deal. You get the garage clean by the time we need to leave for the game and we can have a great night. If you stay on your computer the whole day, and there's no time left for you to keep your promise, I'll have to break mine and go to the game without you. I'm really going to miss you, and I hope you'll remember for the next time."


Use parole when a deal has been broken. That means giving your teen the instant ability to begin working off the consequences according to what both of you have agreed in advance. When teens are facing a consequence that is irrefutable, even if they have agreed to it in advance, they are likely to rebel or retreat from you because they are angry. Giving them the chance to begin doing good things right away shortens the consequence time and gets them on the right track faster. Working off the loss takes their guilt and shame away while simultaneously gaining your approval.


What isn't likely to help:

"You can't use your phone or your iPad for the entire weekend so you better start thinking of something you're going to do instead. No TV either. Maybe you could read a book for a change. And I don't want any disgusted looks or rude remarks. You knew what you were doing, so take your punishment like an adult."

What is more effective:

"You didn't make curfew or remember to call. We agreed ahead of time what the consequences would be if that happened again. I hate being the one that has to lay down the law, but that was our agreement. You can take your consequence, or you can work it off and get your privileges back sooner. Let's look on the list we put together. What I want for you is to get the lesson, but not have to waste your time feeling angry and upset when you have the power to change that. I love you."

Do rules or relationships come first?

Rules always work better in a close and mutually respectful relationship. With those kinds of connections the teenagers are more likely to honor the rules set out for them. Withholding love to punish never works well and often backfires. A combination of fair rules and plenty of love is the best balance.


What isn't likely to help:

"You know the rules and I don't give a damn how you feel right now. You obviously don't care about me and I'm not too crazy about you right now, either. So get in there and do what I said and no complaints. I don't want to see your face or hear your whining until you've done what you said you would. Rules are rules and you knew what I expected. Remember, love is not free. You have to earn it."

What is more effective:

"Yes, I'm disappointed in what you did. You knew what I expected and you agreed. Perhaps I shouldn't have given you the reward before you completed your end of the deal. That is probably my fault and maybe we should try it another way. Now you're going to have to miss that party tonight. I feel sorry for you that you can't go, but that was the agreement. I want you to do the things you love, but you have to do what you promise or take the consequences. I hope you can remember so you don't have to suffer this again."

Choose your battle times

Do not set consequences for a transgression when you're angry. When kids are drunk or drug-loaded, tired, sick, or in real trouble, they often can't hear them anyway, and are more likely to rebel against them. It's always better to let your teen know that you are upset, but wait until both of you are calmer before deciding how to handle the problem. You will be more fair and believable if you are not blowing up. The consequences will be easier for your teen to accept, especially if they were agreed upon in advance. Timing is everything.


What isn't likely to help:

"I'm really mad at you right now. You knew how much I had to do today and you still kept me waiting for an hour. Maybe I should just keep you waiting when you want to go somewhere. Then you can see how it feels. You're obviously not listening. Just get in the car and shut up. You're not going anywhere today, and forget about the party tonight. I've had it with you."

What is more effective:

"I'm really angry right now and I'm probably overreacting. I've had a hard day and so have you. We need to decide on some consequences that will help you learn not to do this again, but this is not the right time. Just go get something to eat and get started on your homework. We'll figure this out later when we're both in a better mood."

Adding consequences unfairly

Whenever you can, avoid adding additional consequences that you and your teen have not agreed upon before. It is too typical of most parents to put on these "political riders," when they have their child's attention. Stay with the issue at hand and only from prior agreement whenever possible. There will be times when your teen does something neither of you have talked about before. You should still talk about what is fair under the new circumstances and use that time to make new agreements if necessary.


What isn't likely to help:

"You've broken the rules, acted like an idiot, and didn't do what you were supposed to. I know we agreed that you could work this off if you got your project done early, but now I think that's not enough punishment so I'm going to take your phone away for two days. You can do the dishes for a week, too. And empty the dishwasher. Maybe then you'll think this through better next time."

What is more effective:

"You've put this off until the last minute again and we're both stressed out. I know most kids your age don't want to think about things they don't want to do, but we agreed that you would give up your TV time for a week if you made that choice. That's your only consequence. When you're done, you can get your privileges back. If you want some ideas on what else to do during that time, I'm here to talk."

Appropriate humor

Whenever possible, use humor and keep your perspective. Don't over-react. If a teen comes home drunk, for example, don't jump on them or the situation at the time. Tell them you're concerned and upset, but ease through those initial moments and stay controlled. If they know you are strong and firm, they will not think that it's all okay because you aren't reacting in the moment. And you can still be compassionate even when you are angry. Telling your child that you are sorry he or she made decisions that will cost them does not mean they will get out of their agreements or the consequences.


What is not likely to help:

"Are you drunk? You're acting weird and walking funny. I knew I shouldn't have let you go to that girl's house tonight. She's no good. Did you have sex? Don't you think before you do something so stupid? I realize you can't even stand up but you're going to listen to me as long as I need to talk to you."

What is more effective:

"You're eyes are red and you're staggering. I can smell pot and alcohol. I'm glad you didn't drive yourself home. Before you blow through this breathalyzer, what blood alcohol level do you think you're going to register, so you can calibrate how you feel when you've had this much. I'll get you something to eat and help you get to bed, and then we'll talk in the morning. When you wake up, be prepared to tell me anything I might hear later from someone else. I'm sad that you broke your promise to us, and I need to find out what would have made you do that and how much trouble you're really in. After we put all the facts together, we can talk about consequences."

Privacy and Secrecy

Masturbation is private. Doing illegal drugs with friends in the bedroom is secret. Privacy doesn't hurt anyone. Secrecy can hide potential disasters. You and your teen should have agreements on which are which and regularly go over them. This is a rapidly changing time for young people, and differences may occur rapidly. Your teenager should know ahead of time that the breaking of a secrecy agreement gives you full permission to do whatever you deem necessary to solve the situation.

Kids will not often agree that their secrets are, or could be, damaging to them or others. You should discuss with them what your concept of what potentially dangerous secrets would be, and listen to theirs. You should also make it possible for your teens to talk to you about concerns they may have for friends who are in trouble. They need to know, in advance, what the consequences would be for what they are going to tell you.


What isn't likely to help:

"What are you up to in there? Open this door, God dammit. It's two o'clock in the morning. You're probably watching porn or playing video games. You know the rules on a school night and you're defying me. If you keep doing this, I'll take your damn lap top and lock it up somewhere. Maybe you just need to be treated like a baby. You're sure acting like one."

What is more effective:

"Honey, it's two o'clock in the morning and you have a math test in zero period. I know you're curious and it's hard to watch that stuff when people are around and could accidently walk into your room at the wrong time. Your body is your own and you need your privacy but I want you to get enough sleep. Please turn off the computer and get to sleep. I could tell you how to run your life, but I'd rather we solve this together. We've both agreed that school comes first and your late-night choices second. I know this may be an embarrassing issue between us, but it's my job to protect you, even it's sometimes from yourself."

Checking your skills

If you have learned about current technology and "smart phones," you will be in a better position to handle the new teen-rearing challenges. They may seem sometimes overwhelming but you must learn to work with them for the sake of better connections with the young people in your lives.

Here is a simple questionnaire to help you remember. You can take it over and over to remind yourself of your promises to your kids, and to yourself. Answer each question with the number that corresponds to the following:

Most of the time = 5

Frequently = 4

Some of the time = 3

Occasionally = 2

Not usually = 1

1. When you're with your teenager, are you the kind of person he or she would love to become? _____

2. When it's appropriate, can you use comfort and compassion when disciplining?_____

3. When you feel like your teen expects too much, are you willing to renegotiate?_____

4. Have you mastered the art of selective silence?_____

5. Do you avoid trap questions?_____

6. Are you able to resist giving unsolicited advice?_____

7. Can you listen before you form judgments?_____

8. Does your teen have a say in how you raise him or her?____

9. Do you remember that rules work better when the underlying relationship is strong?____

10. Have you learned enough about technology to communicate effectively?____

11. Are you up-to-date on what your teen is learning, and what the sources are?____

12. Are you able to stay quiet and not over-react in the middle of a crisis?____

13. Do you keep your corrections short and to the point?____

14. Do you try to not take things personally?____

15. Can you table important discussions with your teenager if either of you is stressed out?___

16. Are you able to teach without being preachy or hypocritical?____

17. If you send text messages, do some avoid instructions, requests, or corrections?____

18. Can you bring up difficult subjects with confidence and authority?____

19. Do you know the difference between privacy and secrecy?____

20. Do you live by the same commitments as you want them to?____

Add up your scores. Even though you're aiming for the highest score, the total is not as important as what it tells you about your own effective parenting in this new technological world. You can learn to be stronger and more successful in any of these areas.

Given life's normal stresses, you may find it difficult to keep your own daily frustrations from affecting your kids. Your techno-teens are facing daily challenges of their own. If you can communicate in their language, you can close many of the gaps that keep you apart.

The good news is that today's teens do respect your willingness to learn the new technology. They're proud of it and usually want to teach it to you. They may pretend their four hundred friends on Facebook are true friends, but they do know better. They may be struggling with the emptiness of superficial hook-ups, but they want true love as much as any generation has before them. They may use more covert ways to attain their goals, but value parents who are way ahead of them.

Techno-teens desperately want mentors they can follow. It is our responsibility to provide them with our willingness to meet them where they are. Without that communication connection, we will lose the ability to teach them what we know about succeeding in the world they will inherit.