HIGH LIFE: A WEEKLY FORUM FOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS : Tough Times for Teens : Author’s Seminars Help Parents in Coping With Stresses of the ‘80s
“It’s never been harder to be a teen-ager or the parent of a teen-ager than it is in the 1980s.”
With this statement, Peter Buntman began his recent seminar, “Parent’s Survival Course,” at the Yorba Linda Public Library.
In the spacious community room sat anxious and eager parents of teen-agers. Some were seeking answers on how to handle their trouble-making children, while others were there simply because they cared enough to be.
This free seminar was one of 81 that Buntman puts on during the year throughout Los Angeles and Orange counties in affiliation with the Community Educational Program sponsored by College Hospitals of Cerritos and Costa Mesa.
Buntman is a co-author of a self-help book entitled “How to Live With Your Teen-Ager--A Survivor’s Handbook for Parents” and is a licensed clinical social worker who has been counseling teen-agers and their parents for 20 years.
During his seminar, Buntman insisted that being a teen-ager in today’s society is more difficult than it used to be because of the prevalence of drugs, peer pressure concerning sex and the increasing number of single working parents.
He gave examples of typical adolescent behavior, saying it is quite common for a teen-ager to not want to be with his parents, “to have this incredible ability to be completely selfish and to have a need to rebel.”
The teen-ager’s effort to rebel is the most important behavior for a parent to understand, according to Buntman, who grouped rebellious behavior into unsafe and safe categories.
Unsafe rebellion, he said, manifests itself in such activities as cutting school, not working to ability in school, involvement with drugs, sexual activity, any criminal involvement and not listening to parents.
“Safely rebelling includes being messy and dirty, wearing your hair the way your parents don’t like, wearing clothes your parents don’t like or listening to music your parents don’t like,” Buntman said.
He gave an example of a safe rebellion from his own experience, remembering when his daughter went through a phase of painted acrylic nails that went from red to green to yellow to black. “She knew I hated the black ones,” he said.
Buntman stressed the importance of knowing the difference between the two types of rebellion. “What I see happen so often is that parents come down so hard on the safe ways to rebel, they literally force their kids into unsafe rebellion.”
To handle the resulting problems, Buntman advises: “Parents need to be firm, strict, set limits and hold to their limits.”
As punishment for going beyond these limits, Buntman recommends parents start by taking away privileges--access to a car or the phone--for a period of time. If this doesn’t work, grounding should be the next step, he said.
And should grounding not persuade the teen-ager to cease and desist, Buntman suggested taking the door off its hinges. Yes, the teen-ager’s bedroom door. And if all else fails, then everything in the teen-ager’s room should be taken out, except such necessities as the bed, a couple of changes of clothes and books, he said.
But where do you store the furniture and personal belongings? Anywhere, Buntman said--the garage, the attic, the neighbor’s garage . . . . “You will be amazed at how helpful neighbors you hardly know can be,” he said. “If they have teen-aged children, too, they will sympathize with you.”
Buntman said there are five skills that parents need in order to have a better relationship with their teen-aged children:
First is building their adolescent’s self-esteem. Research conducted at the Center for Family Life Enrichment Inc., where Buntman works, showed that parents, on the average, give their teen-ager one half of one compliment per week.
“Give your kid one compliment every day,” Buntman advises. “If you do just this, you will be doing 14 times better than the national average.”
The next skill is called “attentive listening.” Parents need to listen to their teen-agers without being judgmental or critical because by being those things, they are putting their child down, Buntman said.
Third, instead of getting angry and resorting to name-calling, the parent should use the “I” message.
The formula is simple: “I” plus “how you feel” plus “describing the situation without using the word ‘you.’ ” An example: “I get angry when people say they’ll do something and then they don’t.” This, Bunting says, is an alternative to: “You are so stupid--how many times must I tell you to clean your room? If I told you once, I’ve told you a hundred times!”
The final two skills, Buntman said, are often referred to as “T&T.;” The national average for time--the first “T"--spent talking alone between parent and teen-ager is seven minutes per week. The second “T” stands for touch.
“Spend seven minutes a day talking to each of your kids,” Buntman advised, “and in some way, touch your kids every day.”
Buntman also warned parents about teen-age suicide.
“You always will see some kind of a warning sign,” he said. These signs range from a noticeable change in eating or sleeping habits; withdrawal from friends, family and regular activities; violent rebellious behavior and radical personality changes to the more obvious, such as running away or putting affairs in order by giving away personal belongings.
There may also be verbal warnings, such as “life isn’t worth living,” “I’d be better off dead” or “I can’t go on anymore.”
Another possible sign may be when a teen-ager is depressed for a very long time, possibly several months or even years, and then suddenly becomes cheerful. “He may have made a decision to check out on us,” Buntman warned.
“There are many things in life for which you get a second chance,” he said. “If the kid is on drugs, he can quit. If the kid drops out of school, he can go back. But if the kid kills himself, that’s it. There’s no second chance.”
“Any time you see a (warning) sign in any kid, immediately rush him to a therapist to see how serious it is. Suicide is a major problem for teen-agers. To a therapist who does nothing but work with teen-agers all day, this is scary.”