The lazy days of summer are upon us. For some adolescents, long summer days offer a break from the routine of school and after-school activities. For many families, the summer months offer more opportunities for parents to initiate meaningful conversations with teens. July is Purposeful Parenting month, a chance for parents to emphasize open communication with their adolescents and support their growing independence. Positive parent-adolescent relationships are marked by closeness; open communication; and parental rule-setting and monitoring.
The Benefits of Purposeful Parenting
Parents who strive to have close, positive relationships with their adolescents are more likely to have teens that make healthy and safe decisions. Their adolescents are less likely to have sex at an early age or be violent in dating relationships.1,2 When these adolescents do have sex, they are more likely to use contraception.
Along with influencing their reproductive and physical health decisions, parents can help adolescents stay substance free. This is true even when parents themselves have difficulty with substance use. For instance, although evidence indicates that parents who smoke or are alcoholics are more likely to have adolescents who abuse those substances, positive parenting practices (such as monitoring adolescents' activities and keeping channels of communication open)--as well as helping adolescents develop their own self-monitoring skills (such as setting goals and planning how to meet them)--can override these influences.3,4 Adolescents whose parents strongly disapprove of their smoking--even if the parents themselves smoke--have also been found to be less likely to take up smoking.5 This parental disapproval has also been found to help counteract the influence of peers on smoking.
Did you know?
Eight in 10 adolescents say that it would be much easier for teens to avoid pregnancy if they were able to have more open, honest conversations about the topic with their parents.6
Five Tips on How to Be a Purposeful Parent
1. Take time to listen. Adolescents do not always want advice. Parents can discuss solutions rather than deliver lectures, and use reassurance, encouragement, and support instead of offering unsolicited advice. It is not helpful when parents respond to their adolescent's concerns by minimizing what the young person is feeling or saying, "you'll get over it."
2. Be aware of where adolescents are and what they watch. When adolescents are not at home or school, parents should know where they are. Also, restricting adolescents' viewing of R-rated movies, which frequently glamorize alcohol and tobacco use, is an effective step parents can take to reduce the likelihood that their adolescent will abuse substances.
3. Take concrete steps to help adolescents avoid illicit drug use. Being home at key times of the day (such as in the morning, after school, at dinner time, and at bedtime) and reducing access to illegal substances in the home both help. Parents should also: 1) explain why drug use is harmful; 2) communicate their expectations and rules relating to the use of drugs; 3) check in with their adolescent on a regular basis; 4) get to know their adolescent's friends; and 5) communicate with their adolescents to find out whether he or she is making healthy choices.
4. Eat dinner as a family. By eating meals with their adolescents and helping them to stay active, parents can help teens to eat a nutritious diet and to exercise regularly.7,8 However, eating dinner as a family has also been linked to a host of other positive outcomes for youth, including higher academic performance and improved mental health, compared to adolescents who did not have family meals.9
5. Pay attention to your own wellbeing. Parents, especially if they are single parents, should not neglect their own care. They should include physical activity, a healthy diet, and plenty of sleep into their daily routine. Parents should also arrange time to do activities they enjoy alone or with close friends.
Additional Resources for Parents
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have information about developmental milestones and mental health changes in early adolescence and middle or older adolescence, including tips and links to other resources for parents.
- Stopalcoholabuse.gov contains links to alcohol prevention materials for parents, as well as a number of other different stakeholders.
- Parents looking for strategies to prevent, or stop, illicit drug use by their adolescent can visit Drugfree.org.
- Beginning in September, check out OAH's new Web site for tips on how parents can better communicate with their adolescent around sex and other tough-to-discuss topics.
1 Kirby, D., & Lepore, G. (2007). Sexual risk and protective factors: Factors affecting teen sexual behavior, pregnancy, childbearing and sexually transmitted disease. Washington, DC: ETR Associates and The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Available here.
2 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General, & SAMHSA. (2001). Youth Violence: A Report of the Surgeon General. Available here.
3 Gilman, S. E., Rende, R., Boergers, J., Abrams, D. B., Buka, S. L., Clark, M. A., et al. (2009). Parental smoking and adolescent smoking initiation: An intergenerational perspective on tobacco control. Pediatrics, 123(2), e274-e281.
4 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2007). The Surgeon General's call to action to prevent and reduce underage drinking. Rockville, MD: Office of the Surgeon General. Available here.
5 Sargent, J. D., & Dalton, M. (2001). Does parental disapproval of smoking prevent adolescents from becoming established smokers? Pediatrics, 108(6), 1256-1262
6 Albert, B. (2010). With one voice, 2010: America's adults and teens sound off about teen pregnancy. Washington, DC: The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Available here.
7 Videon, T. M., & Manning, C. K. (2003). Influences on adolescent eating patterns: the importance of family meals. Journal of Adolescent Health, 32(5), 365-373.
8 Sallis, J. F., Prochaska, J. J., & Taylor, W. C. (2000). A review of correlates of physical activity of children and adolescents. Medicine and Science in Sports and Excercise, 32(5), 963-975
9 Child Trends Data Bank. Family Meals. Available here.