Ask Teens Questions (Just Ignore the Eye Rolling)

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

teenWhen your kids are young, there seem to be no bounds to what they will say. There is no filter, which can be both precious and embarrassing (ask me about the bitch song sometime).

They want to tell you literally every single thing that happens each day. To this day, asking Anika about her day at school results in a very long monologue.

Unfortunately, it kids grow out of that desire to tell you everything.

As your toddlers and tots turn into tweens and teens, the “how was your day?” question becomes an annoyance. The response is typically an abrupt “fine” – if not just a roll of the eyes. Any probing questions are treated with exasperated groans or a long, drawn out “mom!”


Kira (whose eyes still have not recovered from the rolling they used to do) was capable of producing the most exasperating sighs at our persistent questioning. Don’t let “teen ‘tude” deter you! Your teen may act tough and independent, because they are genuinely working to find their own identity, but they still need you (even if they don’t necessarily want your input). Your teen (secretly) wants to know that you are there and that you care.

[Tweet “#Teens still want to know you are there and that you care. Talk to them!”]

Knowing where your teen is going, what he’s doing, who he’s with and when he’ll be home should be an absolute necessity. Our kids don’t leave the house without providing every last detail. It’s not about control; it’s about safety and having the ability to guide, albeit from more distance.

Raising Awesome Teenagers

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

teensEvery parent struggles with the proper methods of disciplining their teenager. We’re on our fourth trip through the teenage years, and it seems much more challenging now than it was before every kid wanted a cell phone and had access to all the information in the world via the Internet. We do our absolute best, hoping that each decision is the right one.

Now that three of our kids are adults, we’re starting to get the idea we did ok. Our oldest son is in the Army; our daughter is getting her master’s degree at Columbia University, and our other adult son, who has Down syndrome, has a great personality and is fun to be around.

But here we go again…perhaps armed with more knowledge and experience, but still mired in the attitude, emotion, and burgeoning independence that comes with the teen years. Yes, it does sometimes feel like we’ve woken up with an alien in the house who has replaced our adorable little kids, but what we have learned is that you simply can’t give up.

The Secret to Raising Awesome Teenagers

The secret to raising awesome teenagers is to be consistent and follow through. If you tell your teen he will lose his cell phone if he doesn’t do his homework before turning it on, be prepared to take the phone. If your teens have chores they are required to do before they’re allowed to socialize, don’t simply let them whine or cajole their way out of their responsibility. And when your teen makes a bad choice, allow him or her to experience the consequence of that choice, whether it’s consequences you’ve warned them about or disciplinary action at school.

Leading by example is one of your best weapons. If your teen sees you behaving differently than you expect him or her to behave, don’t expect them to do what you say. It’s far more likely that your teen will do what you do. Take responsibility for your actions, be sincere and honest in your relationships, and be forthright with your teen when answering the tough questions.

No one can advise you as to what is the best way to handle your out of control teen. Every situation is different as well as every child. However, whatever method you choose it needs to be something you do together. Your teenager needs you now more than ever.


Teen Obesity: Helping Your Teen

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

Teen obesity and weight issues are not an easy challenge to deal with. Teenagers in general struggle with emotional turmoil, self image, and finding their independence, but when you add the pressure of an added health risk that also affects your teen’s image, it can become a serious problem, both physically and emotionally. You can help your teen address weight issues so that is not a lifelong problem.

joggingIt is ridiculous to expect your teens to change their habits or appearance over night. Keep in mind that you can and must be a part of the change, not by nagging or criticizing but by supporting and understanding. Join your teen on the journey to better health. While it may be convenient to swing through the drive thru rather than step foot into your kitchen, it is not the example you want to set. A healthy home cooked meal will not only cut down on the calories but it will provide you with the chance to show your teen that you are in this together.

It is important to reassure your teen that the changes you both are making to your lives do not concern appearance or image. The focus is on health, not losing weight. This is not boot camp either; you are not running a home version of The Biggest Loser. Teach the message of everything in moderation. Starving your teen is not a healthy alternative in any way, and neither is deprivation of favorite foods. It’s ok to go out for a piece of cheesecake or grab a milkshake together once in a while. Just don’t sit down together every night in front of the TV with a bag of chips.

There are many small changes that you can make that will have a big impact. Simply beginning the day with a healthy meal can pave the way for healthy decisions for the rest of the day. Starting the day with a balanced breakfast can keep your teen from craving junk throughout the day. Keep healthy snacks in the house at all times and limit the amount of junk food that you keep around. Fruits and vegetables are a perfect substitution for chips and cookies. Ask your teen what healthy foods they enjoy to make changing their diet less of a chore. Take your teen to the grocery store and let him or her pick a few favorite healthy snacks.

Being active is another important part of being healthy, but handing your teen a gym membership card is not going to get you very far. Start small and suggest taking walks as a family or join the gym together. Even small changes can have a big impact on the obese teen’s health, but it takes you to help make it happen.

It is important to talk to your family physician when starting a workout program as well. A doctor can give you and your teen helpful tips on what is a good plan of action to help fight obesity.

Safe Sex: Are You Talking to Your Teen?

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce
Sexually transmitted diseases are nothing to joke about. You need to make sure you understand the risks of STDs so that you can intelligently talk to your teen about them. The more matter-of-fact you can be about the reality of the risks, the more likely they’ll be to listen (even if they pretend they aren’t).

mom_daughter-talkingWith more than 20 STDs out there to wreck your life and millions of infected people – some of whom will show absolutely NO symptoms, it’s incredibly important to talk to your kids about safe sex, condoms, and making good choices (which include understanding that emotionally, they may not be ready for sex even if they feel ready physically and that waiting is ok).

Learn more about how to have the talk with your kids.

Gonorrhea. Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection that may cause a slight discharge from the vagina, penis, or anus. Gonorrhea can be treated with antibiotics but if it goes untreated it can lead to sterility and other serious complications.

Chlamydia. Chlamydia, often referred to as a “silent epidemic” is extremely common but may have virtually no symptoms. Another STD that is curable with a round of the right antibiotics, it can be devastating if left untreated.

Syphilis. Syphilis begins with a blister, usually painless, that heals on its own. It can be treated with antibiotics, but because that initial symptom is often missed, it can spread through the body and ravage the organs.

Human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is one of the most common STDs in the United States, with estimates of ONE in every THREE people infected. The virus can cause genital warts but certain strains also cause cervical cancer.

Herpes. Herpes has no cure and can be passed to your partner even when you do not have the recurring sores that appear in the genital region. There are therapies available that minimize the symptoms, but once you have herpes, you will be dealing with it for your life.

Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. Hepatitis can severely damage the liver. There is treatment, but the treatment itself has such serious side effects that it is sometimes not worth it.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). HIV is the precursor to AIDS. This virus literally kills the body’s immune system, leaving your body incapable of defending itself against most infections from which a healthy person can easily recover. AIDS has no cure and will result in death.

Even the most careful people can sometimes be put at risk. If you think you or your teen may have been exposed to an STD, you can go to a clinic if you are not comfortable going to your own physician for treatment. To prevent from getting STDs, ALWAYS wear condoms, dental dams and other prophylactics to prevent the exchange of bodily fluids, and never have sexual contact with someone you aren’t in a committed relationship with.

Raising Healthy Teens Inside and Out

by Shadra Bruce

I’ve been writing about teens a lot lately. I think it is because, for the moment, we don’t have any. The twins just turned 21, joining their older brother in “adult”hood. The younger kids are “tweens.” It’s only now that I can reflect -with the humor of having survived – on what the roller coaster ride it is to raise the (I started to say beasts, but that’s not very nice, and they really weren’t).

In the search for independence, I was often convinced that my teens were purposely trying to drive me insane. Many bottles of wine, a few important getaways with my husband, and a few too many gray hairs later, I can now brag that my husband and I have successfully raised three teenagers to adulthood. We are well on our way to working through two more, who at 8 and 11 think they already are teenagers. When you’re talking about keeping teens healthy, it’s more than just keeping a roof over their heads and feeding them. Yes, we should be concerned with their level of nutrition and exercise, but their emotional health is important – and fragile – at this stage.

While we need to address the physical needs of our teens, we also need to keep in mind that there are many other things going on in their lives and it is our job to help them through. Providing proper nutrition for your teens is the first step, though, as complicated as it may be. It’s hard to get teens to eat well when their idea of a balanced me is fast food and the school’s idea of a balanced meal is pizza.

A home cooked meal at dinner time can make all the difference. Even though our oldest son tried to eat our family out of house (we noticed a huge difference in our grocery bill when he moved out) a home cooked meal does more than just provide nutrition for the teens. It gives them that emotional stability and grounding they need to know that they have a family there when they need them.

Too much of a focus on food, nutrition, and exercise can have a negative effect. Many teens are concerned with their body image, and while you want to promote healthy eating habits, you get a lot further leading by example than by telling your teen he’s fat while you sit in front of the TV consuming a bag of potato chips. Rather than nag at your teens to eat healthy, simply keep healthy and easy to grab snacks in the house. Replace chips with prepared veggies; keep fruits and veggies in abundant supply and don’t keep the candy bowl full all year long.

While some teens have no qualms about being active and enjoy sports and other activities, other teens are only active on their video game account. Exercise is a great outlet for the frustrations that teens have and it is important that you encourage an activity of some sort. Turn off the TV, unplug the video games, and push your teen outdoors. Better yet, go with them! Go for a walk, shoot some hoops, or head to the gym together.

A healthy diet and good exercise does not go very far unless your teen has a supportive atmosphere. They should know that you are there as back up in any situation. Communication lines should always be open and your teen should be comfortable enough to ask questions – and you need to be comfortable enough to answer them (even when you’re squirming inside). Most of all, realize that even when you finally wake up one fateful morning to discover your precious babies have been replaced by aliens with attitude, it won’t last forever. Hang in there!

Loosen Up and Give Your Teens the Chance to Take Control

by Shadra Bruce

When you’re riding in the car, have you ever had the seat belt tighten against you? What’s the first thing you do when you feel it tighten but there’s no actual danger around? You try to loosen it up, right? I know for myself, the minute that seat belt feels tight against my body, I want to get out of it. It’s all I can feel, and all I can think about.

If you can understand that feeling, you can understand exactly how a teenager feels. Parents are like seat belts – they’re ok as long as they’re just loosely buckled and there in case of emergency, but the minute they tighten their grip, it’s s problem. Teens want loose from that tightness. Now. No matter what.

Even if it means unbuckling.

When you loosen up and let your teens have a little control over their own lives, you communicate that you have confidence in them to make decisions and choices for themselves.

Are they going to screw up? Yep. Are they going to get hurt? Sometimes. But you know what? They’ll learn a lot more from making a few mistakes along the way while we’re still there to help them pick up the pieces than they will if we keep a tight grip and never let them experience anything at all.

No matter how much we want to protect our teens from the big bad world, we have to keep the seatbelt loose. Keep it buckled, but give them room to move around, lean forward, and do some exploring on their own.

Talk About Date Rape With Your Teen

by Shadra Bruce

In this day and age, we all have the “good touch/bad touch” talk with our kids when they are young. And, most of us grit our teeth and make it through the uncomfortable but necessary sex talk with our adolescents. I worry, though, that many parents either gloss over or complete skip the conversation about date rape.

Whether you don’t want to think it could happen to your teen or you simply don’t know how to approach it, date rape goes without discussion. You never think anything like that is going to happen to your son or daughter – and yes, your son can easily be a victim as well. Date rape is a real issue with serious ramifications and as much as you would hate to admit it, if your teens have alone time with peers, they are at risk.

Date rape is defined as a forcible sexual activity against a person’s will by someone they know. It can be difficult to look your teen’s special friend and see someone capable of rape. While most probably are not, it’s risk you don’t want to take. Even though your daughter’s boyfriend seems like a perfectly sweet young man, he might be trying to coerce your daughter to do things she really does not want to do. She might feel obligated to do favors for her boyfriend, and it is up to you to make certain she knows that she owes her boyfriend nothing physical.

How do you help keep your teen safe? (No, you can’t just lock them up until they’re 25).

Talk to your teens about the excuses given by a partner to guilt or force them into sex, sometimes by saying “everyone else is doing it” or “if you love me you will.”   Help them understand that just because someone buys them dinner or gifts or takes them out on a date (or to prom) does not put them in debt for an act of a sexual nature.

Talk to both boys and girls about respecting others’ boundaries. It’s a much less talked about issue, but girls can be the aggressors who force boys into unwanted sexual situations too. Just because it is less common does not make it any less of a problem. Date rape does not restrict itself to opposite sex partners either; same sex partners are at risk, too.

Have a conversation with your teens. Make sure they know that their bodies are theirs alone, and that they don’t owe anyone anything (not even if she buys him gifts or he brings her flowers). Encourage honesty with your teens and do take the time to get to know their friends.

Talk explicitly with your teen about the danger of getting into a car or going somewhere with a boy or girl they do not necessarily trust. Even if you don’t think there’s even the slimmest possibility of your child drinking, make sure you talk to your teens about keeping even their non-alcoholic drinks safe. They should never accept a drink that they did not pour themselves, because date rape drugs are almost always delivered by being slipped into the drink of an unknowing target.

Reassure your teens that if they do end up in a sticky situation that you will come to get them – no questions asked. Discuss the term rape with your teens as well. It is not a word that should be used lightly. Boys have been wrongly accused of rape and the repercussions can be just as overwhelming for the falsely accused as it is for legitimate victims.

Your teen may feel embarrassed or uncomfortable having the conversation. You might feel the same way, but don’t let embarrassment or discomfort prevent you from having a discussion that could protect your teens. Date rape is highly under-reported and it is common in teenagers and young adults. Anyone can be a victim in any situation. Give your teens the knowledge they need to protect themselves.

Keep Your Teen in School

by Shadra Bruce

The first day I left my kids at the Montessori preschool so that I could go back to school and finish my degree was heartbreaking. I’d been home with them since they were born, and while Parker was 3 and could understand that this fun new place would be his, Anika just shy of 18 months old. She cried when I left – and I got in my car and cried too. She cried every day for two weeks, unless the daycare provider held her in the rocking chair – which she did, every day, until Anika fell asleep. If it would not have been for her, I would not have returned to school and finished my degree, because I would have been a basketcase.

Now, the kids love school and are eager to be there. I hope that will continue into their teen years, but I worry. There are many kids who aren’t eager to be at school. While drop out rates have declined, and vary by state, race, and other considerations, it is a concern for many families and many schools. While there is an exception to every rule, most teens who drop out of school have virtually no backup plan. As parents, we need to make it clear that teens cannot lounge their life away and sometimes, tough measures are the only thing that will get this message across.

It’s useless to yell and scream at your teen. They’ll tune you out faster than anything. If your teen is skipping classes or not going to school, the first thing you should do is try to find out why. There may be reasons your teens are trying to avoid going to school that you have not considered. Your teen could be the victim of bullying that has become unbearable, or may be struggling socially. Your teen might also be struggling with learning; it is not unheard of for schools to let students slip through the cracks.

Adolescence is an emotional time for children and the pressure from school can make this difficult period of time even worse. If your teen has had a bad experience it could be a valid reason as to why they are not attending school. It may be heartbreaking to realize, but there might be problems that you cannot directly help with. Contact a school counselor or psychologist to help you help your teen.

If you feel like your teen is just being lazy or trying to avoid school, make your home a little less friendly. Of course you should still provide food, shelter, and love, but those are not the items teenagers “need” Eliminate social media of all kinds: no cell phone, no internet, no television, and no video games. If your teen is not attending school, they need to learn right away that all of the benefits of being responsible go away when they stop being responsible.

Make it clear that school is where your teen needs to be, and that any other choice your teen makes has a set of accompanying consequences.