By Kathy Schmugge
Adult education at St. Peter Church in Columbia included the teen-age years thanks to the efforts of Emily Hero, director of Adult Ministry. She invited George Holmes, Ph.D., a parishioner, child psychologist and author of the book, “Helping Teenagers into Adulthood,” to present a two-part lecture called “Effective Parenting for the Difficult Decade: 8 to 18.”
Holmes is a professor in the Department of Neuropsychiatry at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine and chief of Child and Adolescent Psychology at the William S. Hall Psychiatric Institute in South Carolina.
He presented a “map” of the adolescent/teen territory and discussed the physical, psychological and social changes that occur during adolescence development. He broke it up into four stages with a child from age 8-10 on one end of the spectrum and a young adult on the other end.
“It is your job to be a role model for your child showing them how be an adult in the world. They have to believe that you can help them become adults,” said the psychologist. And that can only be accomplished if the lines of communication are open.
He shared stories of his childhood and how his father would take him to political rallies and they would talk about the issues on the way home.
Holmes’ parental approach with teens is one of “collaborative authority” where the youth is part of the decision-making process. There was one area however that Holmes felt a parent should “come down hard on,” and that is telling lies or leaving out part of the story. He said that many of the young people he treats have trouble with “scamming” the adults in their lives.
He tells them: “Don’t try the scams you pull on your parents with me because it won’t work. I don’t have to go home with you. Do you want to learn how to do business in a new way?”
Parents should confront the deceptive behaviors immediately by telling their child that they plan to love them into competency and scams will only get in the way.
Dishonesty also destroys trust, which parents need in order to give them opportunities to show that they are trustworthy enough to be given some adult responsibility.
“Everyone wants their child to be a self-starter,” said Holmes who feels that can only happen if they have the confidence to enter this new stage of life. He sees the security of the home and parental influence as the major factors in the confidence building.
“Celebrate when they do something well because it is important for them to be good at something,” he said.
For example, he spoke of how it is not uncommon for college students to want to come home for a weekend, passing up the excitement of the campus for the safe comfortable feeling they get from being near people who love them unconditionally.
The topic of depression was also discussed.
“There is a natural level of depression that goes with adolescence because they are leaving childhood behind, and they now are facing scary feelings and strange changes in their body,” said Holmes.
He asked parents to be empathetic to these problems and stay connected, watching their childrens’ behavior. He cautioned that if the depression keeps them in the bedroom night and day or they are constantly irritable that there could be a deeper problem that needs professional help.
Holmes believes a parent will know when there is trouble, as long they stay connected and talk with their child.
“It is not just about quality time because you cannot have quality time without spending quantity time with your child,” he said dispelling a common myth in parenting circles.
One way to build quality time is to plan a celebration together as a family. Such activities give the child a sense of worth and belonging that all people need according to the psychologist.
“Human beings were made to celebrate. Animals don’t organize birthday parties,” he said.
His parting advice was to always be respectful to children and do not be combative but calmly say to them, “I don’t think we are doing business the right way. Let’s renegotiate.”