Having a confrontational discussion with your teen at the dinner table might not be such a bad thing. In fact, it might just offer them the mental steel they need to avoid the lure of alcohol and drugs. At least according to one recent study. The research can be found in the journal, Child Development.
Researchers studied more than 150 teens and their parents about substance use and abuse, their daily interactions, and their relationships with friends. The teens who were able to hold their own in discussions with their parents, particularly about grades, money, rules, and friends were found to be better prepared to stand up to their peers, the study showed. This included pressures related to drugs and alochol.
The study indicates that the teens who were most assertive at home were able to carry over that same assertivness out in the real world, with their friends.
Family therapist, Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, explains why a teen's assertiveness is important in their defense against peer pressure. "People, especially young people, turn to drugs and alcohol to manage emotions that feel unmanageable. One of the challenges of the teenage years is that during this time their bodies are changing rapidly and they are flooded with hormones. This rapid and dramatic physical change makes them feel out of control. Self expression is about regaining that sense of control and mastery over one's self."
Hokemeyer also offers advice for parents on when/how to start these dialogues with their children. "Kids 5 and above can be taught didactically how to process their emotions in constructive ways. Certainly the level of discussion will vary greatly between a 5, a 10, and a 15-year-old, but the underlying message should remain constant. The message is that emotions are not good or bad. They are simply comfortable or uncomfortable. Both of these emotions pass in time and are a normal and valuable part of life. They need not be medicated over."
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