Teenagers do listen
Parents who set boundaries find their influence pays off
Your Health By Kim Painter (USA Today 2/8/2010)
Here’s some good news for parents of tweens and teens: You rule.
That may be hard to believe sometimes. And it’s true kids won’t always follow your health and safety rules. But studies show parents who keep setting boundaries make a huge difference. In other words, “parenting works,” even for teens, says Alanna Levine, a pediatrician in Tappan, N.Y., and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The latest example: a survey on media use by the Kaiser Family Foundation. It found that typical kids ages 8 to 18 spend an astounding 7 hours and 38 minutes a day consuming entertainment media, drinking deeply from the fire hose of TV, computers, game consoles, cellphones, music players and other devices (while occasionally glancing at books and other non-electronic media). Many experts, including the pediatrics academy, consider that much screen time bad for mental and physical health.
But the study also found that kids whose parents set any time or content limits were plugged in for three hours less each day. “Parents can have a big influence,” says Kaiser researcher Vicky Rideout.
And it doesn’t stop with screen time. Other recent studies have found:
•Teens who had a bedtime of 10 p.m. or earlier, set by parents, got more sleep and were less likely to be depressed or consider suicide than those allowed to stay up past midnight. (The study was published in Sleep in January.)
•Teen drivers whose parents set and enforced rules were more likely to wear seat belts and less likely to speed, get in crashes, drink and drive, or use cellphones while driving. (That study was in Pediatrics in September.)
Teens whose parents set rules also smoke less, delay sex and do better in school, research shows.
“The reality is that teenagers care deeply what their parents think,” says Kenneth Ginsburg , author of the driving study and a specialist in adolescent medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “The challenge for parents is to get across rules and boundaries in a way that doesn’t feel controlling.”
In the driving study, as in many other studies, the most effective parents were those researchers call “authoritative.” They set firm rules but explain and enforce them in a warm, supportive way. Parents who set no rules, fail to enforce them or rule with a “because I said so” iron grip are less effective.
Ideally, “kids understand the rules are about their well-being and safety,” Ginsburg says.
Still, achieving just-right parenting is “challenging,” says Margaret Broe-Fitzpatrick, a teacher in Kensington, Md., who has four children, ages 8 to 16. “There are so many different things to keep track of.” She and her husband keep their kids busy with sports and other activities, limit screen time and review the music their children download. They talk with their 16-year-old son about the rules he’ll face when he gets a driver’s license soon. But, she says, they can’t police everything the kids encounter on the Internet or in friends’ homes.
“We’re just doing the best we can,” she says.
Some parents do much less. Some firmly believe their children do better with fewer rules. But others “are overwhelmed” or “fear conflict,” says Los Angeles pediatrician Linda Reid Chassiakos, another spokeswoman for the pediatrics academy. “Sometimes it’s just easier to be permissive.”
But making an effort is worthwhile, she says: “Even if young people may protest at first, they do feel more safe and secure when limits are set.”