"Big Four" Highlights


Raising Great Teens

It’s possible with a little knowledge and a lot patience

If you have a teenager, you know all about contradictions in behavior. One moment they can be generous and good-hearted, the next they do something totally dumb, without apparent thought or judgment.

To get some insight into the matter, Fathers for Good consulted with Peter C. Kleponis, Ph.D., a licensed clinical therapist and a nationally certified counselor, who works extensively with married couples and adolescents. He is a staff psychologist with the Institute for Marital Healing, near Philadelphia.

Psychologist Peter Kleponis

Fathers for Good:  Many parents fear that their “good child” in grammar school will be exposed to temptations and go astray in high school – drugs, sex, drinking, losing their faith. What can parents do to keep kids “safe”?

Dr. Kleponis: I don’t believe a kid can just “turn bad.” Often kids who get involved with sex, drugs, alcohol, etc., come from homes where parents don’t monitor their behaviors or fail to correct their kids when they are doing wrong. Many kids get in trouble due to unresolved anger. These kids may come from broken homes and/or homes full of violence, addiction, abuse or neglect. These at risk kids often develop friendships with peers in similar situations. This increases the risk that they will engage in dangerous behaviors.

Parents can prevent these problems by monitoring their kids’ behaviors and knowing who their kids’ friends are. They need to make sure that their kids have a loving, safe home where their needs for love and security are met.  Fathers play a key role in this.

David Popenoe once said that it is the women who set the moral standards in society, but it is the men who enforce those standards.  Fathers need to guide their kids along.

They need to talk to their kids about drugs, alcohol and sex. By having a strong, bonded relationship with their kids, fathers can protect them from the dangers of adolescence.

FFG: As a clinician, what is the #1 problem you see in kids.  If there was one warning you could give, what would it be, so that kids/parents can deal with that #1 problem?

Dr. Kleponis: The number one problem I see in kids and families today is narcissism. Parents are overindulging their kids. They believe that in order to be good parents, they need to buy their kids the latest gadgets, have their kids in multiple sports, and protect their kids against criticism.

We’ve all seen the sports league where everyone wins a trophy or the parent who blames a teacher for his kid’s poor grades. Even schools are contributing to narcissism in kids by focusing more on children’s self-esteem than actual learning. All of this has led kids to develop an inflated sense of importance and a tremendous sense of entitlement. This extreme selfishness has harmed their ability to give of themselves and sacrifice for others. When things go wrong in life, instead of taking responsibility, they view them selves as victims. Problems are always someone else’s fault.

Parents can combat narcissism by making sure they don’t overindulge and spoil their children. They need to focus on character development in their kids, so that their kids will grow up to be humble and generous. This will help kids learn to appreciate all they have and will want to give of themselves to others. By helping their kids practice virtue, parents can help their children grow in healthy character.

FFG:  How big a problem is divorce and/or absent fathers?

Dr. Kleponis: Divorce and absent fathers are a huge problem. While feminists would have us believe that fathers are unnecessary and kids can grow up healthy without them, the research tells us otherwise. Except when there is abuse, divorce is rarely good for children. Studies have also shown that people who stay together and work out their problems are much happier in the long run. Children whose parents were divorced have a much more difficult time trusting in relationships and their chances of getting divorced are much higher than people whose parents didn’t divorce.

The problem of absent fathers is also evident in our society. All one has to do is look at our poor inner cities where generations of kids have grown up without fathers. Rates of drug and alcohol abuse, violence and teen pregnancy are much higher in these communities. These kids don’t have fathers to enforce moral standards.  Fathers are crucial for healthy kids.

FFG: What kind of drugs are kids into today and how do they get them?

Dr. Kleponis: The types of drugs that kids are into today are numerous. Two common drugs are marijuana and ecstasy. Many kids also experiment with cocaine and heroin. These drugs are obtained from peers in school who work for drug suppliers, and kids learn by word of mouth how to get them.

There are also prescription drugs that are abused by teens. These are usually pain killers (Percocet, Vikatin), stimulants (Ritalin, Adderol) and tranquilizers (Xanax, Tranxene). These are often found in their parents’ medicine cabinets or purchased online.

Then there is alcohol. Often this is stolen from parents, or even supplied by parents.

Although teens are more aware of the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse today, they are still willing to experiment with them. Here is where fathers are needed to talk to their kids about the consequences of drugs. Fathers are needed to keep their kids on the straight and narrow path in life.

FFG:  What is the issue behind eating disorders, and how can parents cope?

Dr. Kleponis: Let me say first, for parents who believe their child may have an eating disorder, my advice is to seek professional help immediately for their child. Treatment often includes family therapy where parents can learn about the disorder, how to cope with it, and how help their child.

There are a broad range of eating disorders: refusing to eat, binging and purging, following unusual diets, and overeating. There are many reasons why they develop.

For eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, the most prominent reason is control. Many people who develop these eating disorders live in chaotic environments where they feel they have no control. Refusing to eat or purging is their way of exerting control and expressing anger.

Eating disorders can also develop from low self-esteem, poor body image, and or perfectionism. There is the belief that the thinner they are, the more acceptance they will receive from others. Out of these emotional conflicts develops a fear of eating. While these people don’t have a death wish, some have self-esteem so low that they believe if they become thin and small enough, they will just disappear.

For those who follow unusual diets, the root cause is often anxiety. This is a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) where only certain foods can be eaten or else extreme anxiety or panic sets in.

For more information, visit maritalhealing.com