Parents whose teenagers have turned to Satan worship, drugs, alcohol or pornography cannot expect to solve the problems overnight, a Brigham Young University psychologist said.
"The problems didn't develop overnight, and you can't fix them overnight," Suzanne Dastrup, child and family psychologist, told a group of parents and school administrators at an Orem Council PTA forum.Teenage years place stress on family relationships, she said.
"Parents run out of power when their kids turn 13, 14, 15. When my son was 8, I could send him to his room without dinner. My son is now 6-foot-7. I don't have the same external control."
Dastrup said just as a baby's goal is to learn to crawl, the developmental goal of the teenage years is to separate from the family and "make a healthy transition to thinking for yourself.
"But that is scary for the family. Teenagers pull away, so parents try to pull them back, so teenagers pull away harder."
Parents need to abandon dreams of total control over a teenager, as they are unrealistic and unhealthful, she said.
Some parents succeed in keeping that external control until the teenagers leave home, Dastrup said, but their children are ill-equipped to deal with the outside world.
"I can't tell you how many BYU punkins I see in my office," she said. "They have been controlled all their lives, then suddenly, they are in
freedom territory.' They crash and burn frequently. They make a whole bunch of bad choices."
Most parents with teenagers think they have a choice of two ways to react.
"They can be passive and let problems go on, or they can be aggressive and start a fight. They usually take passive. Neither will constructively solve the problem.
"And the absolute sickest form of communication is passive-aggressive. That's when you have a smile on your face and a dagger in your hand."
Dastrup recommended parents deal with problems assertively, sending clear and honest messages to their children.
"A lot of you may go home thinking you have to destroy the heavy metal posters and T-shirts. Well, a while back my children tried to get me to cut down on caffeine. They were right, but how would I have felt if they poured all my Diet Pepsi down the drain, and when I bought more, they poured that down too?"
The assertive approach would be for parents to tell children they love and respect them, then discuss their concerns about choices the children had made, she said.
"The only thing that works in the long term is approval. The reason kids turn to these things, besides curiosity, is usually anger or low self-esteem. I've met a lot of kids in my office, and I never met someone who didn't have something to love about them.
"An element of approval with an element of concern is the best formula," she said.