Wednesday, December 29, 2010 West Niagara News 3

Teen therapist offers tips and advice

Michelle DeBoer is a therapist who specializes in teens. She will be speaking at Smithville Christian High on February 10.

The best thing parents of teenagers can do is look for the good qualities in their kids, says a therapist who specializes in working with youth and their families. "Teens need your support, they need to be reminded of their strengths," said Michelle De Boer, a therapist with Shalem Mental Health Network in Hamilton. "You need to focus on what they are doing right and emphasize their importance in your family," said DeBoer, during her recent presentation at Smithville Christian High School's Parents' Forum. Teenagers' brains are still growing, DeBoer told parents, and that part of the brain that is responsible for controlling their e m o t i o n s , restraining impulses and making rational decisions is not fully developed. That's why they often seem to make bad decisions, she said, but it's important to see the maddening behaviour as part of their growing up, not as character flaws or evidence they have an evil nature. "Pick your battles wisely," said DeBoer. "Hair and clothes don't matter that much." Parents can improve the teen years by choosing to spend time with their kids - doing things their teens want to do. "Do what your teen is interested in doing, not what's on your agenda," DeBoer said. "Know who your teen is hanging out with and make yourself visible. Provide the taxi service - you can learn a great deal by driving quietly." Parents should also allow teens to have friends over, but parents should be visible in the home, while respecting the teens' need for their own space. Parents who are struggling through the teen years should talk to other parents who are going through the same things, she said, and seek out other parents who have survived. "Talk to the parents whose children are now young adults. What did they do?" said DeBoer. Parents also need to take care of themselves and their marriages, she said. Get enough sleep, exercise, visit friends, have fun, make your marriage a priority. "You'll be better able to deal with whatever comes your way if you've made time to invest in yourself." One of the most powerful tools you can use to improve your relationship with your teen is to apologize - as much as you can. "When you apologize to your child, you are modelling respect, humility, honesty, courage and self-discovery," said DeBoer. Parents need to be on the same page with each other, spell out their expectations, and apply consequences consistently and quickly, she said. Let teens be part of the discussion about expectations and consequences - they are often willing to impose even harsher penalties than their parents. Get your teen's input and be willing to negotiate and compromise, she said. If you create a climate of respect it eliminates power struggles. "All we can do is request and trust," said DeBoer. "The sneakier you are the

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sneakier they get." And in addition to the love, energy, patience, faith, self-control, creativity and sense of humour that you'll need, it also helps to be a good actor, said DeBoer. There will be times when you want to roll your eyes or express your dismay - but don't, she said. "Sometimes being a good parent requires an Academy Award worthy performance on your part." The next presenter in Smithville Christian High School's Parents' Forum is Sam DaSilva of the Grimsby Life Centre on the topic " Discipline vs. Punishment: Empowering Parents to say 'No'." DaSilva will speak February 10 at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free and everyone is welcome. For more information contact the school at 905- 957-3255.

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