Parents have a penchant for saying four words to their sons and daughters when they walk in the door after school - "How was your day?"
If the son or daughter happens to be a teenager, he or she usually dodges the question with a mumbled "whatever"-type response that often leaves parents feeling bad about their relationship with their children.
Dr. Michael Riera, who spoke at the Circle of Support Breakfast May 10, said understanding the dynamic of how teenagers think, act and feel can provide parents with some control over the interactions they have with their children.
"Children operate on a different clock from us - this leads to rough interactions at home," Riera said.
Riera, author of "Staying Connected to Your Teenager" (Perseus, 2003), said that when teenagers come home from school, they are just beginning to process their day. When they retreat to their rooms, they seek their own form of adolescent meditation through music. Only after 10 minutes in the loud solace of Green Day or Dashboard Confessional can they begin to answer the question, internally, of how their day was.
Riera said parents should encourage their children to take the time to process their day.
"Always ask them how their day was, because they will get upset if you don't ask," he said. "But don't expect a real answer yet. Tell them, 'Why don't you go to your room and relax?'"
When the son or daughter comes down to dinner, he or she will have had proper time to process the day and will be more at ease than when he or she walked through the door. Riera said there is a good chance then that the teen will begin telling the parent about his or her day.
Parents must understand that when their children become teenagers, parents transition from "manager" of their children's lives to "consultant" of their lives, he said.
"Being consultant is not about being friends with them," Riera said. "For our kids, we need to be able to read between the lines."
Riera said parents need to learn how to minimize their child's self-consciousness, recognize their new level of thinking, help them build their integrity and praise them on their road to entitlement.
He said that consequences for bad behavior should involve children doing something to make the situation right. For example, if the parent has been up until midnight waiting for their son who broke curfew, the son should have to wash the car the next morning while the parents sleep in. Riera said this type of atonement is more effective punishment for the teens than taking something away.
The fourth annual Circle of Support Breakfast benefited Family and Children Services, a non-profit organization whose mission is to build strong, safe and self-sufficient individuals, families and communities. The organization serves Santa Clara and San Mateo counties by providing mental health and psychiatric care, life-skills preparation, substance abuse treatment, domestic violence intervention, family counseling and financial literacy and family loan services to those in need.
In Los Altos, Family and Children Services provides counseling services at Los Altos High School and Montclaire Elementary School.
Los Altos residents Garner Kelly, Alice Nuzzo and Elizabeth Stewart were on the Circle of Support committee, which participated in planning the breakfast. Two tables at the breakfast, held at the Crowne Plaza CabaÃƒÆ’Ã†'Â±a in Palo Alto, were filled with donors and supporters from Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.
For more information on Family and Children Services, visit www.fcservices.org. For more information on Riera, visit www.mikeriera.com.