I know how badly parents want to find a cure for their teenagers' at-risk behavior and make their problems somehow go away. We live in a pill-oriented society where there are endless, over-the-counter brands of medicines for you name it, and we have begun to expect the same quick fix for all areas of our lives - including parenting. Just last week, a parent came to talk to me about the trouble her daughter was having in school. This 15-year-old teenager was flunking in two key subjects, getting into trouble with her teachers and hanging out with the wrong crowd. Desperate for a solution, her mother wanted to know if I could give her a pill that would cure her daughter's at-risk behavior. I told her that the "pill" she was looking for was to start working on her relationship with her daughter. I call this novel yet remarkably simple idea "Relationship Theory," which places priority on the power and impact that a good relationship can have upon children, both young and adolescent alike. According to Relationship Theory, the greater the relationship, the greater the ability parents have to connect to their teenager. Another way of stating this is I = QR where the impact (I) a parent can have is directly proportional to the quality of the relationship (QR) that a parent develops with the teenager. After all, what better present can parents give than that of themselves? Nothing can beat the pleasure of a true and loving human relationship, a factor that is often overlooked in the increasingly complex and pressurized world in which we live. There is also mounting evidence that building a quality relationship is the key to raising healthy teenagers and responding to at-risk behavior. A comprehensive research brief published by Child Trends, entitled Parent-Teen Relationships and Interactions Far More Positive Than Not, showed a direct correlation between the quality of the parent-teen relationship and the impact the relationship has on a teenager's life. The research brief revealed that
"Good relations between parents and adolescents lessen the likelihood that teens will exhibit problem behaviors."
"Better quality adult child-parent relationships have been associated with lower levels of psychological distress among both adult children and parents."
"Close relationships with parents during childhood and adolescence have been positively associated with adult children's self-esteem, happiness, and life satisfaction."
As the father of a large family, I know that spending quality time with each child is one of the keys to being a successful parent. Although it's difficult, my wife and I try to schedule time alone together with each of our older children at least once a day. Recently, we even started making "dates" with them.
Sometimes we go to a restaurant to eat or take a walk. Other times we just go for a soda at the local convenience store. It really doesn't matter what you do or what you talk about during your private times together. What matters is to give your teenager a feeling that he or she is the most important person in the world.
Someone once said that parents should spend at least twenty minutes a day thinking about their children's education. Today we need to spend about twenty minutes thinking and twenty talking. And I'm even willing to bargain: If twenty minutes is too much, try ten - or even five.
If you want to break through to that teenager who is going "off the derech," here's my prescription:
20 minutes a day to think about your child's special qualities
20 minutes a day to just talk with your child
1 minute to reflect on the fact that you did something great
The most important point about this "pill" is that you start taking it every day. And, unlike certain medicines that can't guarantee results, I promise that this prescription will make a difference in your child's life.
Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch is the executive director of Shalom Task Force and author of a new book about parenting teenagers called At Risk - Never Beyond Reach: Three Principles Every Parent and Educator Should Know. He maintains a practice in family counseling and is a popular lecturer on parenting and relationships. You can visit Rabbi Schonbuch on the web at www.neverbeyondreach.org or e-mail questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.