Words of Wellness

July 27, 2011 | The Rev. Dr. Scott Stoner

"The Available Parent"

†† † I recently read a great book about parenting teens and tweens called, "The Available Parent" by Dr. John Duffy, and I'd like to share some insights from this book with you. Even if you are not currently parenting a teen or tween, I think you will find these insights helpful because they contain advice on how to improve any important relationship in our lives.

†† † Duffy is a family therapist, as well as a parent of a teen himself. He knows of what he speaks, both professionally and personally. He deals with anxious parents in his counseling practice every day, and in fact the whole point of his writing this book is to help parents become less anxious so that they can become more emotionally available to their child. In fact, Duffy says the single most important attribute of effective parenting is -- to be fully emotionally available to your child. The available parent responds out of love and optimism, rather than out of fear and pessimism. Thus the subtitle of "The Available Parent" is "Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens."

†† † To be emotionally available, to relate out of love and optimism as opposed to fear and pessimism, is the ideal not just for parents of teens, but is an ideal for how we want to act in all of our closest relationships. According to Duffy, here are some of the attributes of a person who is emotionally available to teens (as well as others):

* Never lectures
* Is self-aware and keeps one's emotions in check
* Is never cruel, dismissive, mocking or sarcastic
* Offers advice and problem solving, but does not insist on being right
* Apologizes when mistakes are made
* Is fun and funny, and can bring levity to the most stressful situation
* Sets clear limits and consequences, and yet knows mistakes will be made
* Practices humility

†† † This list may also sound like a list for sainthood, but remember these are ideals. Parents, like their teens and tweens, are always a work in progress!

†† † My two favorite sections of the book are "What Never Works" and "What Always Works." In these sections the reader will find concrete and practical suggestions on how to live out the ideals outlined above. Some of things that never work: judging, lecturing, smothering, coddling, snooping and overindulging. Some of the things that always work: don't make it about you, lose your ego, don't take yourself too seriously, love unconditionally, behavioral contracts, consistency and persistency, and modeling the values you teach. Once again, these are great suggestions for just about any relationship.

†† † "Your Teenager's Wild World" is a another section of the book that contains several chapters about the world our teens and tweens live in. Anyone who relates to teens or tweens--parents, coaches, grandparents, clergy, and teachers--and wants to better understand the unique pressures they are under today will benefit from reading this section of the book. One of the benefits of better understanding what our teens and tweens are experiencing today is that it will allow all of us to judge them less and love them more, thus making us more emotionally available to give them the support and guidance they so very much need from us.

†† † Being the available parent, the available spouse, or the available friend is an ideal well worth working toward. And perhaps the best part about becoming more available to others, is that in due time, they will almost always become more available to us as well.

Read more Words of Wellness