Lets Talk About It

Parent with love and firmness

This column is for parents and all adults who supervise teenagers. In it, I am hoping to convince parents that they are in charge of their children and show them how to lead with love and firmness. Read with an open mind.

Where will your pre-teen and teenage children be tonight or Saturday night? Is this one of your concerns? Are you having a challenge with providing appropriate entertainment for them? Who decides where they will go and what they will do? How involved are you in directing the show? Who is the boss?

If you have no idea where your teens are going next Saturday night and at what time they will come home, then you are the child and they are the parent. Furthermore, if you are not taking them or going with them wherever they are going, you have a real challenge and are setting them up for a disaster.

On the other hand, if you are not comfortable allowing your teenagers to do something, or you are unable to go with them, then stick to your guns. It is best to err on the side of caution. Research suggests that parents don’t impose sufficient restrictions on their teens after they get their driver’s license and often underestimate their teenager’s use of drugs or involvement in sexual behavior.

Teenagers do need supervision not because they are bad, but because they frequently make poor choices. Most of the time, poor choices are made because parents or adult supervisors are not available to guide them. Teenagers are oftentimes impulsive and have supercharged energy that dissipates after a rush of adrenaline. Parents, guardians, adults – teenagers are begging for your help and guidance. They may not act that way, but they really need you. They do not want to do bad things. They may act stupidly, but they are not crazy. Let’s help them. Parents must remember that you once did foolish things and wished there were adults to guide you through the thick, muddy wastelands of decision-making, temptations, self-centeredness, and passion.


Teenagers can make lifelong positive decisions. It is during the pre-teen and teen years that many make their career choices and stick to the choices throughout their adult lives. It is during the pre-teen and teen years that many Christians make their lifelong decisions for Jesus and stick to it the rest of their lives. Many pre-teens and teens choose not to smoke, drink, or use illegal drugs and maintain that wholesome lifestyle through their lives.

Although teens are capable of making lifelong wholesome decisions, their ability to stick to them is reinforced or weakened by parental guidance or lack thereof. The ability to make wise choices does not nullify the power of raging hormones, impulsion, and adventurous behavior. This is why, at all times, toddlers, pre-teens, and teenagers (disciplined or undisciplined) must have supervision.

In a column, titled, “Teenagers, Violence, and Culpability”, I shared some interesting facts about teens. One was that the age of majority (the legal age of adulthood) should not be 18 but 21. This is why mental health professionals sometimes refer to those 18 to 20 years as emerging adults not full adults. Scientists, to their surprise, discovered that the teenage brain undergoes an intense overproduction of gray matter (the brain tissue that does the thinking). Then, a period of “pruning” takes over, during which the brain discards gray matter at a rapid rate. This process is similar to pruning a tree: cutting back branches stimulates health and growth. This continues into the early 20s. Researchers at Harvard Medical School, the National Institute of Mental Health, UCLA and others are collaborating to “map” the development of the brain from childhood to adulthood and examine its implications. The results so far are astonishing.

Dr. Elizabeth Sowell, a member of UCLA research team, states, “The frontal lobe where this change occurs undergoes far more changes during adolescence than any other stage of life. It is also the last part of the brain to develop, which means that even as they become fully capable in other areas, adolescents cannot reason as well as adults: maturation, particularly in the frontal lobes, has been shown to correlate with measures of cognitive reasoning.”

In other words, the research is suggesting that the ability for teens to make good choices is high but the ability to stick to them without supervision is weak.

Occasionally, my wife and I visit a wholesome Saturday night spot in town. Often, while strolling and enjoying the sites, we would see dozens of teenagers without supervision. These teenagers were not all from the lower class of society. Most of them were from the middle-and-upper-class whites, Blacks and mixed nationals. It was amazing as we observed their aggressive behavior. A few years ago, I accidentally bumped into two teenagers who were passionately kissing in a dark corner. I was surprised to find out who they were. They were 15 and 16-year-olds I knew from well-respected families. Hotels and churches must have guidelines and proper supervision for teenagers and sometimes young adults whose untapped energies leave them restless.

• Barrington Brennen is a marriage and family therapist. Send your questions or comments to question@soencouragment.org, telephone 327-1980 or visit www.soencouragement.org.

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