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Time To Connect With Your Teens

Both parents normally find it easy to hug and show affection to their children when they are little, but it's not so easy when they get older. According to one new study, teenagers who had better relationships with their fathers had fewer depressive symptoms.

Psychologist Robin Goodman tells The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith what was interesting about this study is that it did not look at parents as a unit, but separated the fathers from the mothers.

The researchers asked 359,000 teenagers to evaluate the quality of their relationships with their mother and father when they were 14 and 15 years old in 1998/99 and then two years later when the same teens were 16 and 17 years old.

Goodman says, "The study basically showed that mothers and fathers are both important to kids, but one of the interesting things was that kids/teens perceive their relationship with mothers as pretty consistent in terms of feelings of closeness, affection and understanding."

Interestingly, this Canadian study also found that boys rated their father higher in those kinds of things than girls did, Goodman explains. "It seems to suggest that fathers are providing either a different kind of relationship with their sons and daughters or that the sons and daughters want a different kind of relationship with their father," she explains.

The participants also reported on their relationship with their peers at both periods and even though at this age, teens would rather be with their friends, Goodman says parenting should not stop.

She says researchers "found out that peers and friendships were important, but that parents are still important, and actually, if the relationship got better especially with the dad, it helped."

According to the study, teenagers "who reported higher levels of closeness, affection and understanding from their mothers and fathers had lower depressive symptoms scores at both times in their lives."

Boys reported having closer relationships than girls with their fathers during the teenage years. The study also found girls are more prone to depression than boys. So it is very important for fathers to be particularly involved with their girls.

Goodman explains that although teens may roll their eyes in response to their parents and argue or disagree with them and label parents as too strict, they need to know what the limits are. "Kids want to hear about their parents' values and know what their parents think. This is one of the ways kids form their own opinions," she says.

So what should a parent do to encourage that closeness?

Goodman says, "In terms of kids and depression and engagement, it's hard to know which comes first, the chicken or the egg. If you see a withdrawn, 'I don't care' teen, don't pass it off as teenage behavior. It's a kind of warning sign. The reason they are withdrawn is because they are not feeling connected or that they are depressed. Either way, it's a red flag for parents to stay involved."

Goodman notes parents will tell you that they learn the most about what is going on in their teens' lives when they are driving. You can get to know their friends if they are in the car, too. Going out and shopping together or walking together is another way. She says that dads might feel like all they are to their teen is an ATM machine. If so, they should go shopping with their daughter.

Goodman says that fathers will say they don't understand girls and leave it at that. "It's not fair," she says. "That means you have just given up on half of the world. Try harder."

Here are some tips on how fathers can be more involved with their daughters:

  • Be interested in their world – Goodman explains "You have to listen to the news and you have to ask about that."
  • Show and tell feelings – "Boys and girls need see and hear that from their parents," Goodman says. "If you think about it, fathers are modeling how boys should be when they're growing up, and boys are seeing it's OK to be a thinking, feeling kind of guy."
  • Don't give in (e.g. money, set limits) – Goodman explains, "You don't want to be the ATM machine or say, 'I can't take another argument.' Kids need to know the limits because that's how they gauge and develop their own ideas and their own opinions about things."

    And if, like Harry Smith, your child is a master litigator, Goodman says it is important to negotiate and have an adult-like conversation, but adds, "You're still the parent."

  • Don't give up – Goodman says, "The interesting thing about the study is when fathers actually improve their relationship, it had a great benefit for both boys and girls. It's never too late. Friends come and go; your parents are your parents for a lifetime. Work on that relationship.

    "Remember when our kids were very small, the more order there was, the more limits you put in their lives to know when something was OK or not OK, their behavior was immeasureably better.

    "If you think about it, teens are so bombarded with peer opinions and all sorts of pressures and they would say whether it's drugs or sexuality, whether it's grade school, they really want to know what is appropriate, and they really know their parents are wiser and older about this things," Goodman says stressing the importance of parents leading the way.

The study also found that those who reported having good relationships with their peers were less likely to be depressed.

"Kids and teens need to be 'connected' with people who care about them," Goodman says. "They have to feel like they have an interpersonal connection with someone, a coach, a teacher, and it's great if it's their parents."

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