Annie was a grade-A student, soccer player, yearbook staff member, and had an active teenager's social life. With all she had going, she still felt "not good enough." Her parents guided her into therapy, where she learned to be more accepting of herself, more independent, and best of all, a happier teen.

It's tough for teens to handle the emotional, social and physical changes of adolescence, and to sort out the good from the bad in television, movies, music, the Internet, and peers. What are the best ways to guide your teen on the journey from childhood to adulthood? The authors of a new book on parenting say love, laughter, and limits are the keys.

"Adolescence is a process, not an end product or even a stop along the highway of life. Kids pass through it at high speed. Our job as parents is to make sure they get to the real goal of being an emotionally intelligent adult with as few accidents along the way as possible, and to help them when they hit a pothole or two and have a problem,'' the authors write in Raising Emotionally Intelligent Teenagers (Harmony Books, September 2000).

The authors are Maurice Elias, PhD, professor of psychology at Rutgers University in New Jersey; Steven Tobias, PsyD, director of the Center for Child and Family Development in Morristown, NJ, and Brian Friedlander, PhD, a software developer and school psychologist in New Jersey.

Putting love first

 A loving relationship can build your teen's self-esteem, a better feeling of security, and teach him or her how to build strong relationships with others outside of the home. Maintaining a positive attitude with teens is important, since they are highly aware of their imperfections, Elias says.

"We have to recognize that the world looks different from their eyes. What they need most from us is a sense of encouragement,'' says Elias in a healthAtoZ interview.

Don't reserve love only for when you think your teen deserves it for doing something that pleases you, such as getting good grades or cleaning his or her room. And don't necessarily treat love between you and your teenager as a two-way street.

"Show love because you want to show love and because you know it is the right thing to do, not because you want love in return or as a 'reward' for doing what you want,'' the authors say in the book.

Here are some common ways you can show affection to your teen:

  • Celebrate accomplishments. It's participating, not winning, that counts. Praise your child for performing in a school play, or writing an article in the school newspaper.
  • Sharing special moments. Hikes, bicycle rides, even watching TV together can strengthen the bond between you and your teen.
  • Small gestures can be effective. Send an encouraging Post-it note, card or e-mail to your child.

Share in the laughter, and set limits

It's important for families to set aside time to enjoy something together that provides an opportunity for laughter, like a funny TV show, says Elias. Establish a place in your house - a table, bulletin board or refrigerator - where family members can share jokes, cartoons, or other things that they find funny.

"We encourage parents to use humor instead of naggingespecially when nagging and yelling have not worked,'' Elias says. "We want to encourage parents not to take themselves so seriously.''

Many parents bent over backward to avoid conflicts with their teens, but part of being a parent is establishing limits without feeling guilty or apologetic. As a parent, you need to carefully consider the goals you want for your children, and take time to talk to your teens so they clearly understand the rules and consequences if boundaries are broken.

"You can't make a big deal about everything,'' says Elias. "Parents have to get together and figure out what are the issues they will not budge on. You have to pick a few things, be clear and stick with them.''

Instead of punishing your teen punitively, take disciplinary measures that relate to the task your teen failed to do. Giving more housework if your teen failed to finish his or her chores is one option, as is shortening the curfew if he or she came home late, Elias says.

If you're feeling frustrated about your teen's behavior - and at some point you probably will - try using the "neighbor test" to keep your cool. By treating your child as if someone outside of your family was always watching you, like a neighbor, you may be able to regulate your emotions and avoid making comments that could upset your teen, Elias says.

Courtesy HealthAtoZ