DOWNS — Being a parent isn’t always easy. Being the parent of a teenager can often be exasperating.
"They aren’t really kids and they aren’t really adults," said Dr. Tim Shannon, a clinical psychologist with Carle Clinic in Bloomington, who recently led a Q&A session at Tri-Valley Middle School for parents of teens. His advice: "Keep things in perspective."
Some issues n smoking, sex and drugs n will obviously shake up parents. Other things, like being 10 minutes late, shouldn’t, said Shannon, the father of Ryan, 13 and Caiti, 12, both Tri-Valley students. Teens are supposed to act out, try their parents’ patience, have more homework than they can do in one night and then complain about it, he said.
Sheila Sonka of Ellsworth, the parent who arranged the conversation between Shannon and the parents, said she liked having permission to “freak out” about the big things and to help teens feel secure in making little mistakes.
Suffering the consequences from those little mistakes, and learning from them, is part of being a teenager, Shannon said..
Another parent, Cindy Halloran of Bloomington, was relieved to hear it’s OK to help her kid stay on top of things. “I feel better about it,” she said, acknowledging she gets tired of reminding her son about things he forgets.
"We can be their secretaries," said Shannon, who is known as "Dr. Tim" when he hosts a weekly Bloomington radio show. He noted that he has an office staff to help keep everything straight in his work life.
"If I had video games when I was that age, I likely wouldn’t be a doctor," said Shannon, whose wife Janet teaches speech at Tri-Valley Elementary School. She also attended “Dr. Tim’s” workshop with other parents.
Even college students get a syllabus so they know what work has to be done and when. So, it’s fine to help seventh- and eighth-grade students organize themselves, he said.
Shannon’s son uses an assignment book, which he gets signed by teachers every day. It helps him make sure the right homework is done on the right day.
Sonka said she talked to her son, Tyler, an eighth grader at Tri-Valley, about using assignment sheets and signatures as Shannon suggested. “He sounded interested,” she said.
Here are some of the other questions parents asked Shannon during the Q&A portion of the program. His answers follow.
Dr. Tim Q&A
I require my daughter to get straight A’s. If that doesn’t happen, she has to drop an activity. She says I’m the only parent who does that. Am I the only parent who requires a standard be met?
"Most parents have academic standards. But be careful with (asking for) straight A’s. I am the busiest during the second week of October and third week in February. That’s when midterms come out at Illinois Wesleyan University and Illinois State University. That’s when I hear about depression, suicidal thoughts, and self esteem problems. Also be careful in taking away activities like sports or music because students also require social time. Think about the bigger picture."
What if they stay up late doing homework?
"If it’s sporadic, it’s something they have to learn to deal with. Standards are higher now and students do have more homework than when we were kids. But if it goes on weeks and weeks that your child is up very late with homework, talk to your child and to the teacher. I want my kids to do something hard. I want them to learn to juggle sports and school. It pays off in college. I have a busy season; so do students sometimes. But kids do need some down time."
How do we get our kids to talk to us?
"Talk to them with about sex and alcohol and your expectations when they are young so they feel safe talking about such topics. Don’t make it punitive. Avoid teaching your child to lie to avoid getting caught and the punishment that follows. Punishment should be lighter if your child owns up to something before you find out, than if he or she lied about it, too."
How do I know if my child is depressed or suicidal?
"Look for changes over time. All kids are sporadically melancholy. Did their marks go down? Do they talk differently or not at all? Do they look bad, not eat?"
How do I help my child pick their friends?
"You can’t pick their friends. Use behavior and consequences. If they always get in trouble with those friends, they will become tired of the consequences, which might be grounding and not hanging out with other friends. They will eventually decide for themselves to choose friends they can be with without getting in trouble."