Wes: I know we’re five days into 2010, but it’s never too late to drop a few more New Year’s resolutions on our readers. Just 360 days left to take action. I’ll offer mine for parents, followed by Samantha’s list for teens.
• Upgrade your parenting long before you think you have to. By upgrade, I mean address new developmental issues with kids now, before you think you need to. Kids grow up faster now than ever. While every generation says that about its teenagers, that doesn’t make it less true. Part of our job here and in my clinical practice is to sort the hysteria from the serious, and guide parents on what teens are really up against. The sooner you start discussing the tough issues the way they exist today — sex, substance abuse, career, economics, dating, media, public conduct, etc. — the sooner kids (and you) become comfortable having those conversations. In all things teen, relationship and communication are key elements. If you get this going before your kids hit junior high, your chances of having influence go up.
• Push ethics from day one. We may disagree amongst ourselves on issues of faith, values and morality, but we share common themes in ethical reasoning. A major purpose of parenting is to transfer that understanding to our children. I am increasingly concerned at the lack of ethical conduct among teens. Before a chorus of “not my kid” wafts over Lawrence, let me assure you that this problem cuts across all social and demographic groups. Stealing, betrayal of friendship and indifference to the needs of others are on the rise, coupled with a general sense that we don’t really owe each other or our greater society much. That scares me more than any other issue I see with kids today because the very fabric of our culture and society is made of ethical human interplay. If that goes, everything else goes with it. The news of 2009 didn’t offer many good models for our children to follow, regardless of what you believe politically or morally. So we have to redouble our efforts to counter the nonsense we see going on nationally with civil, responsible dialogue at home.
• Prepare kids to be tough. I’m not talking about signing up for boxing or karate here, though both are fine activities. I’m talking about teaching kids to manage money, work hard, keep a job, do for themselves and not expect great riches (read: high credit limits) to fall from the sky. Those were the ’90s, which slopped over into the first decade of the millennium. I know it’s painful to say goodbye to those days, but we owe it to our kids to quit giving them so much and help them start earning it. The howls of pain will ring out, but they’ll thank us for it in about 10 years.
Samantha: I love starting fresh every January. While the past still lurks in the background, there’s also the promise of something new and exciting. However, as Wes points out, good things don’t just come to us. We have to make them happen. I don’t think New Year’s resolutions need to be cheesy, vague goals we can forget about in February. They can be real and meaningful if you make them so. Here are three of mine for 2010 that I hope you’ll join me in:
• Throw your parents a line. I understand how irritating it is to come home from school and be bombarded with questions. However, they’re really trying to show interest in our lives. They dedicate a lot of their day to us, and we rarely show gratitude. This year, instead of rolling your eyes and answering “fine,” take a deep breath and try to share something with them. Don’t share every little detail of your day, just something that could spark a conversation. It will divert the constant questions. If you’re really feeling adventurous, show genuine interest in your parents’ days as well.
• Be a mentor. Prove that teenagers aren’t completely self-centered. Joining a tutoring or mentor program in the community will allow you to start helping others. Alternatively, your mentoring doesn’t have to be official. Invite over a younger neighbor a few times a week, or teach someone a skill you have that others want to learn. For instance, if you’re great at Photoshop, offer a free tutorial to people you know. It only takes an afternoon of your life, but it saves others time, energy and money.
• Give someone a second chance. In junior high and high school, small fights can ruin entire friendships. If you still harbor anger toward someone you haven’t spoken to in months, consider getting to know this person as he is now. People really do change, and you could be cutting yourself off from a great friend because of a small blip in your past. Start by saying hello to this person in the hallways, and, when you get a chance, strike up a conversation about something other than your past. Your former friend could still be as awful as you remember, or he could pleasantly surprise you.
Take control of your life, and make it more fulfilling. Happy belated New Year!
— Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Samantha Schwartz is a senior at Lawrence High School. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org. All correspondence is strictly confidential.