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How Adolescent Power Is Challenging the American Family

by Ron Taffel with Melinda Blau

Pub Date: March 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-312-26137-3
Publisher: St. Martin's

An unnerving look at teen and preteen behavior, with some advice on what puzzled parents can do about it.

Assisted by his frequent coauthor Blau (Nurturing Good Children Now, not reviewed), Taffel draws on his experience as a child and family therapist to create a hair-raising picture of today’s adolescents and the serious problems their attitudes and actions present for their parents. Adults and adolescents occupy separate worlds, he writes; teens live in the embrace of what he calls “the second family—the aggregate force of the pop culture and the peer group.” The rituals, definition of identity, and sense of belonging once supplied by the parental family unit are now furnished by this second family, which also offers excitement and instant gratification. It’s not primarily rebellion or peer pressure that draws teens to the second family, advises Taffel, but the comfort of a system that provides support, understanding, and shared values. He urges parents to develop a protective “empathic envelope” of values and expectations that encompasses not just the first family but also the second. Only by entering the teens’ world, suspending judgment about their interests, and making the home a place where teens want to gather, he argues, can parents achieve a balance between authority and acceptance, guidance and empathy. Throughout, Taffel makes liberal use of case studies from his files to illustrate particular problems that parents have faced, and many readers will be shocked by the language and sexual attitudes of teens and even preteens in these examples. For those who stay the course, Taffel includes a checklist to help identify signs of trouble, a list of dos and don’ts for adult involvement in children’s activities, and, in an appendix, specific guidelines for setting up parent-school alliances.

Parents of young children will be truly alarmed by this glimpse of what lies ahead, but it may give a glimmer of hope to those whose offspring have entered the terrible teens.