Sunday, January 9, 2011

Book Review:The Blessings of a B Minus

It's hard raising teenagers! As parents,we need all the perspective and support we can get,which is why I was interested in psychologist Wendy Mogel's new book,"The Blessings of a B Minus:Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Resilient Teenagers"(Simon and Schuster,2010).Having teens means losing some of the sweet little daily routines you counted on when your child was younger. They are replaced by power struggles about every little thing,attitudes that make you feel stupid and useless,and bedrooms that are a mess. Will we survive this and learn to laugh about it?

I know from a developmental perspective that teens are supposed to be working on separating from us, in preparation for launching to adult life after high school. The pushing that teens do on parents often causes parents to grow, too, and refocus on their own values,marriage,self,and spirituality. As your last teen heads for adulthood, parents have to reconfigure their lives again as well.It helps to remember that without the parent-teen struggles that teens would have trouble negotiating this phase of life and their desire to launch.

In Mogel's book, she does a beautiful job of observing the changes teens and families undergo.She suggests that the calmer and less reactive we can be as parents, the more likely we are to walk beside our teen until they get through their struggles and reach adulthood. Letting teens deal with natural consequences of their choices is also a recommended tool in many situations with teens.Mogel looks at a variety of parenting challenges we face with useful insights and practical examples.
Some of these parenting dilemmas with teens she addresses are:

1)Rudeness-a mixed blessing.If your teen is rude to you it means they are working hard to separate from you and you are safe as a target for their frustrations of being not all grown up yet.Set reasonable, basic limits and role model polite and kind behavior.

2)Self-centeredness-Certain stages in life are prone to being self-absorbed, and this is one of them. Mogel urges parents to practice tolerance while we spot opportunities to expose our teens to those who are less fortunate. The teen years can be a great time to take up some volunteer work together. It has been one of the best ways to connect with my 16-year old. Especially since I am a co-worker and not in charge!

3)Needing to test the limits-Teens seem to need to test out rules for themselves. What happens when you get 5 tardies? What happens if you break curfew? What happens when you stay up too late and you are exhausted the next day? What happens if you don't pass Math? What about if you get dress-coded? What if I call in sick a lot to my part-time job when I'm not actually ill? What if I ignore my homework assignment? As parents, sometimes we just need to stay out of it when the consequences are not serious, and let our teens bump their way through some of these life lessons.

4) Need for downtime-We need to recognize teens have stress to deal with about growing up, learning to handle independence and responsibility,academic pressure, plans for the future, body image,and relationships with friends and the opposite sex. As parents we need to understand they need time to rest and relax.

5) Finding their own dreams(NOT OURS)-Throughout the teen years we need to take back our hopes and dreams for our children when they were little, and support them in finding their own dreams and goals for adult life: work,college,relationships,etc. Help them identify what they are good at.

Loving detachment can be a parents' best friend. That way we can be somewhat empathetic, but not rescue, so our teen gets stronger and learns the lessons they need to from personal experience. Some things they CAN'T get from us. You can be concerned but detached at the same time, which gives your teen the message that you care,but you know they are strong enough to learn from a situation and move on.We need to lead from a position of calm authority, as we try to have some influence and realize we will not have control of some things our teen does.

We also need to not push. A B minus can be fine.Don't compare your child to yourself or siblings at the same age.Try to encourage by affirming what is progress or effort shown by your teen. Don't criticize or manipulate by making sugestions for how they could do it better. Your teen is watching for that "never enough" message.

I especially enjoyed Mogel's chapter on "Dealing with the Chronically Rude" which has useful insights for living sucessfully through your teens' bouts with a bad attitude.A sense of humor helps. Draw up your own family's list of boundaries for rude behavior and calmly enforce and role model it. Ignore sulking, eye rolling,mild teasing,grousing before chores and required tasks. You can not die on every molehill, so identify what you cannot accept, and let the rest go. Take comfort in the fact that if your teen is normal, they are probably nice to friends and their parents, coaches, teachers and everyone but you.Remind yourself that your teens' hormones will eventually stabilize and the bad attitude will pass.Try to concentrate on the basic behaviors you want your teen to do, because concerns about attitude are unlikely to be something your teen can easily shift out of.

We need to keep investing in our teens. Take an interest in their activities and friends. Show goodwill as often as possible. Give them credit for anything they are doing right.Find times when you can say YES entusiastically.Honor their food preferences.(I have found this to be a hidden hug for busy teens to find all their personal favorites on hand in the kitchen. Another way to say "you matter" and "I pay attention to you".)

Feeling your teen pull away from you is tough. This well-written gem can help you put things in a developmental perspective, and give you hope and comfort for this challenging part of the spiritual journey of parenting.We are learning lessons along this part of the journey as well that are sure to teach us more wisdom, grace,and patience.

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