Parenting Adolescents — 15 August 2010
How healthy parents can help other families’ teenagers

Being raised in a healthy, loving and low-conflict family is ideal for children. Youngsters, who are not privileged to be a part of this type of family, may not be aware of the risks to their health, well-being or future relationships, but feel uncomfortable and may seek a healthier environment elsewhere.

Researcher, Dr. Paul Amato, found, “children benefit from a low-conflict marriage. Children who grow up in an intact but high-conflict marriage have worse emotional well-being than children whose parents are in a low-conflict marriage.”

By the time children are adolescents they are likely to avoid a high conflict family and gravitate toward other families who provide them with structure, support, caring and nurturing.

Kristin Anderson Moore and colleagues summarized research findings and listed ten essential elements in what constitutes a healthy marriage: Being committed to caring for each other and persevering when difficulties arise, feeling personal satisfaction within the relationship, engaging in fluid communication, resolving conflicts well, being faithful, enjoying time together, loving and sharing physical intimacy, feeling secure in the permanency of their marriage, refraining from physical violence and being unyieldingly devoted to their children.

The devotion to their children often broadens to include their children’s friends in family activities, meals, sleepovers, and having an open door policy in their home. If you already do so you may be surprised to learn twenty years hence about the significant impact this hospitality had on some friends’ lives.

Many adults remember fondly the impact of an important person in their growing up years who left an indelible positive mark on their lives. It may have been a teacher, coach, camp counselor, or a religious leader. Yet, to realize that modeling a healthy family environment for a teenager in a temporarily difficult home situation has provided him support, acceptance and hope, is truly humbling.

The National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University studied the impact of family meals on children. They found consistent evidence that children suffer when they don’t spend regular, casual time with their families gathered around the dinner table.

The opportunity to be included in a healthy family’s dinner, participate in conversation, observe safe and loving interactions, may seem natural to the hosts and may be new and most helpful to the adolescent guest.

If you are healthy parents,

• Understand that including your children’s friends in your family life is pleasing to your youngsters and models generosity and hospitality.
• Open your home to your children’s friends. It is not only gracious, but helps you be a more involved parent.
• Invite your adolescent’s friends to join you for dinner if you can afford it.
• Treat the friends as part of your family. Abstain from questioning them about their home situation, school or grades. Allow them to generate the conversational topics.
• Realize that your open-heartedness may truly help a teenager in need and model healthy family interactions that may become a lifelong gift.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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