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Connecting With Your Teen

Some parents may feel disconnected from their teenagers, but that doesn't always have to be the case.

Family and adolescence counselor Mike Riera visits The Early Show Thursday to discuss his new book, "Staying Connected To Your Teenager," which is full of advice on the times, settings and tactics that help communication between parents and adolescents.

In the book, Riera offers a wealth of ideas to help parents through those times when they wonder, "Now what?" The counselor draws on psychological and developmental research, along with his 20 years in education and family counseling to provide some tips for parents.

"[The parent] needs to think about when are the times to talk to kids? You have younger kids, they come home after school, you can ask what their day was like," says Riera. "They take you for granted so much they don't need to catch you up on everything."

But parents should treat adolescents differently. Teenagers tend to get a bad rap, but it's not entirely their fault, Riera writes. They are moody, self-centered, and full of mixed messages, which is perfectly normal and healthy.

The fact that it's normal, however, doesn't make it any easier for parents to understand.

Riera writes in his book that the best time for parents to talk to teens is during their children's moments of transitions.

"That's the best time … a transition might be before they're going to bed," says Riera. "It means when they're going to bed on a weeknight, you might go in there and linger a little bit as they're crawling into bed and they might open up a little bit with you. It means in the car. The car is a great place. It's a transition from one place to another and this is when they'll have these conversations that you'll just sit there and nod and go: 'Oh, my goodness, I can't believe she's really saying this.'"

So, listen to your children in the car ride. You may never know what you might find discover about their lives. But Riera says, its important for the parent to ask opening-up questions. These will help the teenager rethink his experiences.

"If we can ask questions that help them feel more interesting to themselves, they're going to keep us close," explains Riera. "So instead of [asking]: 'What grade did you get on the history paper?' It might be: 'In the game, when the referee made a bad call, instead of getting down, you dug deeper. How did you do that?'"

The right questions asked might not have an immediate answer, but it sends the teenagers on a search that is interesting to them.

Riera says the stronger the parents' connections, the more influence they'll have on their teenagers.

Also he explains that a teenager's views might be different from his parents.

"Because adolescence is a time of contrariness, they want to be different," says Riera. "This is how they establish their autonomy, their independence. So you want to listen. You want to ask questions. You want to state your view. But then you want to move on … You're not trying to convince them. You're trying to get them to dig a little bit deeper into what they're thinking. And after awhile they'll come around. Most of us really disagree with our parents when we're 16. By the time we're 19, we find we come pretty close to what [our parents']views are."

The contributor to The Saturday Early Show has written four other parenting books, including the popular "Field Guide to the American Teenager" (co-authored by Joe Di Prisco). Riera also hosts a daily syndicated radio show, and he lectures educators across the country.

Read an excerpt from "Staying Connected To Your Teenager":

"Psychologists and various social scientists often talk about the theoretical concept of separation, and the need for adolescents to separate from their parents and families and establish their independence.

Adolescence is thought of as a time when teenagers venture out on their own to discover themselves, so that they can come back to their families as fully individuated adults. Fat chance. The simplistic notion of independence versus dependence in the context of separation is outdated and inaccurate —if indeed it ever was a reflection of reality — and it needlessly pits parents and teenagers against one another. Connection is the foundation of a healthy parent-teenager relationship — a connection that is based on interdependence.

Therefore, you need to erase the idea of separation from your mind and replace it with the concept of extension. That is, during adolescence teenagers need to extend away from their parents, all the while staying connected to their parents. Their job is to extend; your job is to connect.

During infancy, our kids are not only within our sight but also within our reach. In childhood, they are within sight and sometimes within reach, and at the very least, always within the sight and reach of some trusted adult. In adolescence, they are often out of sight and out of reach of us, or any other adult for that matter. Of course, adolescence is also when the stakes go way up. The fallen bike is replaced with the crashed car. The cookie thief is gone in favor of the anorexic. The running round and round in circles to get dizzy and fall down is transformed into the six-pack on Saturday night. It is during adolescence, as much if not more than at any other time of life, that our teenagers need to feel our connection to them and their connection to us. The difficulty is that, at least at first glance, normal, healthy adolescent development seems to obviate this type of relationship. (For proof of this last point, just reflect on how "talkative and sharing" your teenager is with you when he gets home after school on just about any day.) But this stereotype of teenagers not wanting anything to do with their parents is wrong. In fact, healthy adolescent growth is predicated on a solid relationship with parents.

Be clear, this book does not advocate that you give up your parental responsibilities and obligations so that you can stay friends with your kids. Far from it. Teenagers need their parents as parents first and friends second. Sometimes your relationship will include aspects of friendship and at other times it will feel nothing at all like friendship. (In fact, it will feel strangely familiar, kind of like the perpetual limit-setting role you had when he was two.) The payoff to staying the parent first and the friend second is that your teenager stands a much better chance of successfully navigating adolescence with a parent at his side rather than a grown-up who behaves like a kid trailing behind him. Sure, there are lots of moments of friendship between a parent and teenager, but there are also those critical moments when he needs parents who are willing to fall out of favor for his overall well-being, and, believe it or not, staying connected all the while..."