May 2010

If you’re parenting a child who’s functioning well in maintstream school, you may as well pass by this post.  You won’t understand why I cried when I watched this TED talk:

….but cry I did.  But at least they are tears of happiness, rather than the tears of frustration I was shedding a few months ago.  My teenage ADHD learner has finally found his way to a school that understands his unique way of learning and supports him emotionally, artistically, academically and physically.

How’s your kid doing in school?


My son has suddenly grown taller than me.  He’s quite proud of this, regularly asking me to stand beside him in front of a mirror so that he can admire his stature.  He’s been stronger than me for quite some time.  I know that, because he’s quite a physical teen, and loves to wrestle.  Sometimes he likes to try to wrestle with me.  We’ll be sitting on the couch, watching a movie, or having a chat, and then suddenly, the playfulness emerges, and like an overgrown puppy, he’s trying to tickle or poke me. I often start out giggling, then quickly begin voicing my objection, and then finally snarl, “STOP it!”

All too often I can’t seem to find his ‘off’ switch.

This has been part of his personality since he was a small child.  He’s an ADHD impulsive boy with some impulse control issues.  My sister, who I lived with post-divorce, often said that my son has no self-preservation skills.  Even when he knew he was going to get in trouble with her, he would still push way past the boundaries of ‘NO’ with her, or her children, until he was being disciplined yet again for fundamentally the same issue.

He can’t seem to find his ‘off’ switch.

As he heads further into his teen years, I’m becoming increasingly concerned about what this means as he’s faced with boundaries that he needs to learn to say ‘no’ to, for his own safety, and for the safety of others.

Alcohol, drugs and sex.  Just say no.  No means no.

I’ve written extensively over the past few months about my concerns about young teens, alcohol and drugs.  My thoughts and concerns are beginning to move towards dating.  He’s not dating yet, but it’s imminent.

It frightens me to even think about the possibility of my son being disrespectful in any way to the girls he’ll date in the upcoming years.  We’ve talked about dating and sexuality frequently and he’s adamant that he’d never hit a girl, he’d never push a girl beyond where she would want to go sexually, but I wonder….

….would he write something cruel on her Facebook page?  Would he text her repeatedly if she decided she didn’t want to date him again?

Hopefully my son won’t ever cross any boundaries with the girls (or the guys) in his life, but the reality is that many boundaries ARE being crossed in the teen dating world, sometimes with tragic endings.

When it makes you feel bad inside, that’s what makes it violence.

And the reality is that both girls and boys are victims of teen dating violence, just in different ways.  How do I fully prepare my son for encountering potentially abusive behaviour from a girl he dates?

And as I’m uncomfortably aware of how much the young teens in our community are incorporating alcohol and marijuana into their social gatherings, how can I be sure that my son will be capable of gauging the response of the girl he’s kissing?  And if he sees one of his young female friends overindulging in alcohol and disappearing into a room with another boy, should he speak up on her behalf?

Health, mental health touches everyone has a useful article on dating violence.

And for some information from a teen’s perspective, check out Radical Parenting.   This is a fabulous blog written by Vanessa Van Petten and about 80 other teen writers.  This article links to another startling article on the potential tragic results of teen dating violence that was in the New York Times.

Alyson Jones (child and family therapist) and I had a conversation on this topic:

Laura:  From the time our children are old enough to understand spoken word, they hear the word ‘No’.   When they are toddlers, hearing ‘no’, can sometimes stop them in their tracks, all too often it’s a parental command that’s ignored.  As they get older, some learn that a parental ‘no’ means that if they whine enough, or ask another way, they may still get what they want.  (perhaps this question is more a reflection of my own parenting shortfall).  My question is, do children really learn to respect the word ‘no’ enough to accept it from their peers, particularly when they’re hormonally driven teens exploring their first sexual impulses?

Alyson:  Parents need to stay consistent with their NO and not over use it.  NO can lose it’s meaning and power and it’s important to not overuse it.  If it is used endlessly and inconsistently it loses it’s meaning very quickly.

Laura:  Our teens don’t always take information from us, but they are absorbing so much information from media.  Are there any good movies out there that let boys see the destructive impact NOT understanding no — need something that they can relate to emotionally.

Alyson:  Unfortunately a lot of the movies that appeal to teen boys are the superhero type of movies where the hero doesn’t take no, and is relentless and never stop.  This can teach tenacity and strength.  But what these, and many movies are not showing are futilities.  They’re saying that the superhero just keeps going, so that becomes the model, particularly for teenage boys.  This is also an issue with video games.

Laura:  This is an issue that’s ‘up for me as a parent.  For several years I just refused to have a game system in our home because I can’t tolerate the games that my son and his friends want to play.  Now that he’s beginning to earn his own money from the occasional babysitting job, he’s purchased his own system, and the first game he brought home (purchased from a friend) is Grand Theft Auto.  I’m struggling with how to address this.

Alyson:  I think as a parent you can still say you can have the game system, but we still have to approve of games you’re choosing.  As in, “in our home we don’t have entertainment where cops are having their heads shot off….”  You can have the system, we can support this, but there are limits.  It’s still your home, and there needs to be discussions around that.  If he’s going to play it at other homes, well then, so be it.  If they can’t support that, then you have to say the game system goes.

No is all about teaching futility, and it’s the biggest and best lesson in life.   We need to know that things are futile sometimes, that things don’t work out.  No is a really powerful learning.  Entertainment games don’t teach children or teens futility.  Part of maturity is learning futility.  Teens don’t have their parents beside us all the time.  We can hope that if they’ve learned some futilities during their childhood, they’re better prepared to accept them as adolescents.  If our children don’t learn futility at age 2 or 8, it becomes a lot harder to learn it as a teen.  We want to build up small futilities, then they can accept them as part of life.  Particularly when they have the whole hormonal thing going on.  When somebody says “no, that’s far enough”, they need to understand this.

This is why, as parents we want to use no carefully so it doesn’t lose the respect associated with it.

Laura:  Is it the case that some teen girls (like some parents!) can be worn down into acquiescing into something they didn’t really want to do…  Then boys can argue that it was consensual.  Do boys understand that this really isn’t concensual.

Alyson:  Just to confuse things further, there are situations where girls give mixed messages because they have very mixed feelings.  Sometimes it’s not just yes or no.  It can get very ambiguous.  For boys we want to teach them that around intimacy, it does bring up some mixed feelings.  For both the girls and the boys.

The more involved they get with sexuality, the more they need to think ahead, and have conversations with trusted adults.

Laura:  Ok, you say the more they get involved with sexuality, the more they need to think ahead.  At this age of 14 or 15, are they really capable of thinking ahead when their hormones are raging?  Or are they just really in the minute.

Alyson:  Of course, it feels good in the moment.  Is their rational brain engaged?  But that’s where we want to have had the important thoughts and conversations before those intense moments.  So they know, are they really ready for this?  What if someone expressed to them that they’re not really comfortable.  When they are both participating in sexuality, they both should be within their own personal values.  No one should do something that is not true to themselves.

This is difficult enough for adults, let alone teens.

Laura:  What about the cultural complications where the judgement and consequences are too huge to deal with?

Alyson:  There certainly are those situations where parents are just not approachable.  That’s where literature or outside resources are critical.  Sometimes a doctor, or a clinic or even the parent of a friend can help.  This is the culture they’re living in, and it’s an interesting culture.  Sexuality is all over the place, but we’re very uncomfortable with it.  So many people struggle to talk about sexuality with their children.


Teen Victim Project has a variety of resources including webinars and a helpline.

The National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Centre has useful information on alcohol abuse, bullying, date violence and depression.

This blog is intended to provide an opportunity for parents to join a dialogue on parenting issues.  Please post your comments and questions.  Alyson and I will both do our best to respond, or to focus a future blog on your suggestions.

We’ll be interviewed by Caroline McGillvray on Sexy In Vancity (101.9 FM if you’re in Vancouver, or live streaming on the net) at 10:00 p.m. on Wednesday, June 16th, discussing teens and sexuality.  Listen live or download the podcast following the show.

I recently watched The Cove with my teenage son.

I’ve had an essay published at Blue Planet Green Living.

Please read it, watch The Cove, join our Facebook Cause or start your own movement.

…and stop watching trained dolphins perform in captivity.