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Adolescence Takes Center Stage
By Sally Robinson, M.D. and Keith P. Bly, M.D.

Your daughter wants to stay home from school because she doesn't like her new haircut. Your son keeps interrupting the dinner table conversation with chatter about his soccer team. Welcome to early adolescence, where egocentricity runs rampant. Between the ages of 10 and 14, kids tend to think the world revolves around them. They are often narcissistic and inconsiderate of others, angering and embarrassing their parents.

On the outside, most adolescents try to assert their independence. They resent parental involvement, denying parents' attempts to control their behavior and take charge. Usually, teens see situations only from their point of view. They have a low tolerance for adults and tend to question and criticize parental behavior.

What's going on inside your teen? Although adolescents may put on a great act, they probably aren't as confident as they appear. This inner conflict holds true whether your teen is the quiet type or loud and expressive.

Here are some tips to make living with a young adolescent easier.

· Keep the lines of communication between you and your teen open. Try to be patient and tolerant of your youngster.

· Don't take your teen's self-centeredness personally. Give kids permission to be themselves. Their behavior doesn't have to do with you; it has to be with being an adolescent.

· Be conscious of displaying your parental empathy. Whereas too much parental concern can irritate a teen, too little can be viewed as uncaring.

· Set ground rules for behavior and discipline. It's important to lay down rules on issues you feel strongly about. If rules are broken, let your teen know the consequences. Once the ground rules are established, give your teen leeway in other areas that may not be as important, such as hairstyle or style of clothing.

· Teach your adolescent about the dangers of unprotected sex, substance abuse and other risky behaviors. Don't construct a personal fable of your own that holds, "My kid is smarter than that."

Don't ignore what your adolescent views as a problem. Remember that teens face anxiety about their appearance. If your daughter always complains about her hairstyle, give her suggestions on what she can do to change it. If your son is overweight, help him modify his diet. Being attentive to your teens can help build their confidence at a time when they need it the most.

Rest easy, because adolescent rebelliousness typically fades as your teen reaches the age of 16. Although adolescents of this age may still be critical, they're more likely to be constructive in their criticism and less self-centered. Teens also become more tolerant of adults and learn to accept differences as they reach their 20s. Alas, your adolescent will bloom into adulthood.

This information is not intended to replace the advice of a physician. For more information, contact your pediatrician.

Dr. Sally Robinson is Professor of Pediatrics, and Dr. Keith Bly is Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston Children's Hospital. Visit: www.utmb.edu

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