Pubdate: Mon, 18 Jul 2005
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2005 The Toronto Star
Author: Andrea Gordon, Family Issues Reporter


Mom's overprotective. Dad isn't around enough. And when it comes to 
their teenagers, both worry most about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

These are among the predominant messages that Toronto psychologist 
Ron Clavier has heard over 20 years of listening to adolescents and 
parents discuss each other.

Clavier figures he's talked with thousands of parents and teens, 
individually and in groups, through his clinical practice and while 
leading drug awareness groups in schools and the community as senior 
consultant to the Council on Drug Abuse.

He's recently drawn on that experience and combined it with his years 
of research as a neuroscientist in his book Teen Brain, Teen Mind: 
What Parents Need To Know To Survive The Adolescent Years (Key Porter).

While the issue of raising teens is prone to much gnashing of teeth, 
Clavier says mostly it comes down to common sense -- though that 
might not be what parents want to hear when they reach for a parenting book.

"I think often people are looking for a conveyor belt, assembly-line 
approach the way they are for so many things," he says in an interview.

"I think what's different about this book is it's not a quick fix. 
The things you ought to do are straightforward ... but they take consistency."

Aimed at parents, Teen Brain, Teen Mind explains some of the science 
behind adolescent behaviour by exploring how their brains are growing 
and developing, and a lot of ideas on how to cope with that.

Take judgment for example. Clavier explains that just prior to 
puberty, the grey matter in the pre-frontal cortex, which allows us 
to think ahead and inhibit impulsive actions, doubles in size. Then, 
during the critical adolescent years, a "pruning process" of the 
brain cells takes place until adulthood. The result? Teen brains 
aren't fully equipped to comprehend consequences.

But Clavier stresses that just because risk-taking and pushing the 
boundaries is a normal and healthy part of this phase, doesn't mean 
parents can't have influence. Nor should it be an excuse for 
hazardous adolescent behaviour or inattentive parenting.

"There's nothing that says your brain has to be fully developed to 
behave responsibly."

For kids, the onset of puberty is like suddenly being equipped with a 
brand new upgraded computer and no instructions, Clavier says. The 
new adolescent brain, with all its powerful programs that teens don't 
know how to use, makes them confused, afraid and overwhelmed. 
Learning how to manage it is invariably accompanied by mistakes and 
poor choices, which can be humiliating.

Parents will have more power to intercede if they stress 
communication and respect instead of shaming and blaming kids for 
behaviours that their immature brains see in very different ways, he 
says in the book.

Much of the answer lies in such basic ingredients as time, talk and 

Take the issue of what he calls "the big three" -- alcohol, drugs and 
sex -- which Clavier says are always the first things parents ask about.

He recommends acknowledging teens' curiosity and the fact they might 
like the way substances make them feel. Then talk about why.

Parents need to get informed about the facts and the hazards -- 
including the risks that chemicals pose on a developing teen brain -- 
and discuss those regularly, too. And when a teenager makes bad 
decisions, he says, it's time to step in -- much the way you would 
for a toddler.

"Any time they're running down the road like a 3-year-old when you 
can see the dangers and they can't, you've got to go and get them -- 
and bear the screaming and kicking."

You can explain it that way to your kids too, he adds. Ask them what 
they'd do if they were babysitting a kid who ventured onto the 
street. They'll get the point.

Clavier says although parents can't control their teens' decisions, 
they need to send clear and steady messages. Like "I can't support 
your use of drugs or alcohol anywhere, any time." Or "that's one of 
the things I can't compromise on because it's about your safety." Or 
"I hate that you do it. It scares me, it angers me and it lowers my 
respect for you."

Whether it's substance use or curfews, Clavier says most of what 
parents and adolescents clash over can be boiled down to one issue: a 
teenager's independence. Both parties want it, but the sticky point is timing.

To parents, a child's move toward independence can feel just as 
foreign -- and just as scary -- as the first men going into space.

"Our kids leave our orbit and move away from our gravitational pull," 
Clavier writes. "They are naturally curious and they like to explore 
new and mysterious places. And sometimes, when they get to their 
destination, they go out of communication and appear lost to us."

It's what fuels the adults' overprotectiveness. But rather than 
trying to manage everything from mission control, parents should 
focus on providing the best survival training and life-support system possible.

Clavier, a father of two, stresses the job takes a lot of energy and 
hard work. And if you're tempted to think you've "made it" or that 
things get easier and you finally have freedom once they've hit 
adolescence, think again.

The kids will act as if they want you out of the picture, but in 
reality it's the opposite. Now's the stage when spending time -- 
asking questions, listening, negotiating and being open to discuss 
any topic -- are arguably more critical than at any other stage.

It's simple, but not necessarily easy, he concedes. Middle-class 
parents are feeling more and more squeezed, especially when it comes 
to providing the material things like cellphones, computers and 
fashionable attire they think their kids need.

"Instead of doing the parenting, they're doing the occupational 
things to provide those things."

The result? "The parents suffer and lose continuity with their kids."

Clavier says he most wants parents to pause and consider what's 
really important.

"A lot of this book has to do with what do you really want? Which of 
the two jobs you did are you going to be glad you did at the end of your life?"

If you're willing to be there and invest, it is possible to be your 
kid's friend, mentor, coach and confidante.

"There's no need for the Sturm and Drang ... no reason it has to be angry."
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