Dear Dr. Elia: I am the mother of six children, the oldest three from my first marriage.
My first husband died suddenly when the kids were preteens. Although it was extremely tough on all of us, I was fortunate to find and marry a wonderful man who raised them as his own.
We ended up having three more children, and for the most part have been a blessed family.
My oldest three have graduated and moved on with their lives and are doing quite well, but my youngest three are now all teenagers, and I'm really struggling with some of their choices. I feel like I've raised two different families because the two sets are 10 years apart.
Some of the temptations facing my youngest three now did not even exist 10 years ago: social media, instant access to the Internet on cellphones, and the widely accepted view of marijuana. So my question to you is how can we as parents keep our children safe? — Beth
Dear Beth: You bring up a great point when you say that your oldest three grew up in a different environment than your current teenagers.
There are certainly more temptations than ever before, which requires us as parents to be extra vigilant.
Although every family faces unique struggles and issues, there are a few things we can all do to increase the odds of helping our kids negotiate the turbulent teenage years more successfully.
First and foremost, we must establish channels of communication based on trust, understanding and acceptance. This means that our children feel comfortable enough to talk to us about their struggles and temptations, as well as their disappointments and failures.
As parents we can encourage this type of communication by not overreacting emotionally, either through anger or tears (at least in front of them).
From personal experience, I realize this is not always easy, but any kind of overreaction has the potential of shutting them down. Anger tends to breed more anger, and tears make them feel guilt and shame.
In either case, the walls are likely to go up. When the communication lines are broken, that's when you should worry the most. I'd rather know the truth, even if I don't always like it or approve of it, than be in the dark.
Second, it is important that we communicate our "bottom line" in terms of what's acceptable to our kids and the exact consequences for the violation of those clearly understood standards.
Natural consequences should be part of any "course correction." We must avoid any type of power struggle because there will be no winners!
Parents might "win" the power struggle temporarily, but kids can always get sneakier and can act out much more if they really wanted to.
Having worked with hundreds of teenagers over the past two decades, I have found them to be remarkably fair about consequences, once they understand that you're not necessarily trying to control their lives.
If they see your parental attempts to protect them as genuinely motivated by love and not control, they will be much more open to your counsel.
Ultimately, they must understand that consequences are part of everyone's life, even for us parents. Nobody escapes them; that's why it is so vitally important that they learn this lesson early on in life. It will serve them well for the rest of their mortal existence.
Just like your three oldest kids have moved on, so will your three teenagers in a few years.
The time you have with them seems to go by so quickly. I'm sure you and your husband have done a wonderful job teaching them right from wrong. In the end, isn't that our primary responsibility — to teach, guide, counsel, educate, listen, encourage, challenge and love them unconditional?
We are not perfect as parents, and we can't expect them to be perfect either.
Looking at the big picture, it is our parents' love that has sustained us throughout our lives — and so it will be with our kids.
May God bless you and your husband as you strive to do what's right.
Dr. Elia Gourgouris is a personal and business coach. He is also a nationally known speaker, relationship expert and author of "The Multi-Platinum Marriage: Going from Surviving to Thriving." He can be contacted through his websites, LDSCoaching.com or www.AskDrElia.com.