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Raising Happy, Healthy Teenagers



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Raising Happy, Healthy Teenagers

By Patti Cummings

Children, Mary Ronan explains, are like the pull of the river’s current, running swiftly to adulthood. Their parents are the canyon walls, taking what is fluid and formless in their children’s lives and providing identity and structure. With discipline and loving guidance children can discover their abilities, innate worth, and what God desires for their lives. Then, like the river, they will reach their destination sparkling and sure.

Combining powerful images such as these with hard-hitting advice, educator and lecturer Mary Ronan spoke to more than 200 parents and teenagers on May 22 at St Rose of Lima Church. The two-part workshop, “Loving for Life,” was sponsored by St Rose’s Parish Education office. It was open to all Newtown teenagers over Grade 8 and parents of children of all ages. She met again with St Rose teenagers on May 29.

The Three L’s Of Parenting

“The only ones who can help our children,” Ms Ronan explains, “are parents, because we are the ones who love them.” We can’t expect teachers, counselors, coaches, or anyone else to do it, she says, adding, “there is nobody in the world we love more than our kids.”

The secret to raising happy, healthy children, she says, can be summed up in three words that begin with the letter L. As parents, we must love them, limit them, and lead them.

“I love you. Those three words are the most important words your child will ever hear from your mouth,” Ms Ronan says. Get used to saying them over and over, she instructs. Say them at bedtime, at the end of a telephone conversation, at the dinner table. If you have gotten out of the habit as your children have gotten older, she adds, get back into the practice.

Conversation with your children also is crucial. “How do you know each other, if you don’t have casual conversation?” Ms Ronan urges parents of middle school students to take advantage of the time when they are often traveling together in the car, to open up conversation. Regular dinnertime or breakfast conversations are very important, as are routine bedtime talks.

In speaking with teens, Ms Ronan has learned that nearly 50 percent of eighth graders have serious secrets – such as drug and alcohol use and sexual activity – that they keep from their parents. By the end of the ninth grade, this number is 60 percent, and it reaches 80 percent by the end of tenth grade.

Often the peer pressure comes from their best friends, she explains. “It’s welcoming, friendly, and bringing them into a group that’s doing things they are not supposed to do.” She says parents must encourage their children to find new friends, rather than to fight the ones who are doing wrong.

Most importantly, we need to listen to our children, Ms Ronan says, and they need to hear from us.

Limits As A Sign Of Parental Love

Children want structure and discipline from their parents, Ms Ronan says. Teenagers invariably tell her, “My parents should discipline me more. They should say no to me more often. When they punish me, they should stick to it.”

“Discipline needs to be done with open arms,” she says. “When we discipline our children, we love them.”

In explaining the difference between discipline and punishment, Ms Ronan says, discipline is structure. “They are the habits that help get us through the day. For example, if you have to get up early in the morning, you don’t stay up until midnight.” Punishment, she adds, is the consequence of wrong actions.

To teens she says, “It is something we do to you, not for you, as a result of your actions.” She suggests that parents let their child suggest what would be an appropriate consequence of poor behavior so that they remember well and never do it again.

Ms Ronan tells parents never to lecture or get mad when their children have done something wrong. Rather than conveying anger, it is more effective for parents to express their disappointment in their children’s actions. “Kids would rather have you mad at them than disappointed in them,” she explains.

Ms Ronan’s wide-ranging advice on child rearing also includes the following:

Make sure your children eat well and are well rested. Even teenagers need a bedtime, she says. Set a bedtime and make sure they stick to it.

Telephone the parents of children who are having parties to find out how many adults will be present. Then walk the children into the party and greet the parents to make sure the party is being properly monitored.

Rescue your kids when they are in trouble. Develop a no-fault plan. For example, when they need to come home from a party or get out of a compromising situation, allow them to call you on the telephone and use a secret phrase (such as, “Is Aunt Mary coming tonight?”) that will keep them from becoming embarrassed in front of their peers.

Help your children find their passion, so they don’t fill their lives with drugs and alcohol instead.

Provide limits on how children entertain themselves. Pay attention to movie ratings. “They protect children against stimuli they are not yet developmentally prepared to see,” she explains. Ms Ronan believes children under the age of 17 should never watch R-rated movies.

Limit the amount of time children watch television. Ms Ronan notes that the average teenager spends three hours in front of the TV and seven minutes talking to parents. “Where do you think their influence is coming from?” she asks.

As a family, plan at least one TV-free night a week. Go hiking, play cards, do a jigsaw puzzle, talk to each other.

Have rules about television content. Ms Ronan urged parents to learn what their children are watching by tuning in to the following networks: WB, Fox, UPN, Comedy Central, MTV, and the WWF. Watch these channels with your children and have a conversation about what they see, she instructs.

Take televisions out of your children’s bedrooms, because this permits completely unmonitored TV watching.

Pay close attention to Internet activities. As with TV sets, Ms Ronan believes computers should be kept only in a centrally located place. Children should be instructed never to enter a chat room or give personal information about themselves to anyone online.

Investigate where your children have traveled on the Internet by reviewing your computer’s History file. Ms Ronan warns, “The only successful business on the Internet is pornography, and there are more than 700,000 sites. Pornography denies our souls and give us misinformation about what is okay and not okay sexually,” she explains. “Pornography takes God’s gift and turns it into something dirty.”

Pay close attention to music lyrics. “Eminem’s lyrics shouldn’t be in anyone’s household,” she states flatly. Children should be told that sexually explicit and demeaning lyrics are against your family values, and your family’s resources will not be spent on this type of music, she says.

Talk about sex, often. Bring up the subject, she says, because teenagers never will. Plan the discussion, but never lecture. Don’t ask many personal questions. Help them understand that sex is not a dirty thing, she says. It is a beautiful part of a committed, married relationship – and it has no place in teenage relationships. “If we have to tell them 30,000 times to brush their teeth, how could we only tell them one time not to have sex with their girlfriend or boyfriend?” she asks.

Pay close attention to video games, especially the violent ones. “Sex is great in its proper context – a married relationship,” she says, “but violence never, ever has a proper context. We have to tend to this stuff,” Ms Ronan exhorts. “We have to be vigilant.”

Leading Them Boldly To Grace

“The message our culture brings – do anything you want, make yourself feel good – isn’t healthy for us,” she explains. “Our culture encourages divorce, encourages children to disobey, and to walk away from the root of our joy, which is our faith.”

Ms Ronan says that in her years of working with sexually active teenagers, she discovered that they were not looking for sex, but a way to be loved.

“God offers the ultimate way to be loved – not just for this life, but forever life,” she exclaims. “God shows us what to do, and we need to do it.”

“It is our job, as parents, to be the bridge in the middle of the 10 Commandments for our kids,” she says. “It is our responsibility to show our kids the link between our relationships with each other and with God. As parents, this is the most important thing we can do.”

Ms Ronan, a Brookfield resident and a registered nurse, speaks annually to thousands of teens and parents about parenting, teen relationships, and building family life with the love of God at its center.

For more information on Mary Ronan’s video/book package, schedule of workshops, and her ministry, you may write to her at 13 Longmeadow Hill Road, Brookfield, CT 06804.

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