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Teens not ready to live alone.

If confronted by a teenager who wants to strike out on his or her own, parents need to be prepared to present the strongest argument possible to prevent such a move. In many states, that action is illegal and parents are held liable for their children's actions, even if the youngster is living away from the family. The emotional and legal fallout of allowing offspring to slip out of the nest before their time is one which no mother or father should take lightly, even if the child is causing trouble at home, maintains Wanda Draper, a child development specialist at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

Typically, the urge to Strike out" on one's own hits between 13 and 18, with 15-17 constituting the "peak" years of rebelliousness. While some youths that age have mature decision-making skills and probably could handle living alone, they are the exceptions. When a teen begins threatening to move out, he or she is sending a psychological message that's saying, |Hey, I'm growing up. I can think for myself and be responsible.' On one hand, that's what they really want. But on the other hand, they still need family support.

"Teens think about fleeing and having freedom, because it's important to them at that time in their lives. But they don't think about the practical things that accompany being on one's own. As a parent, you need to ask them how they--on a practical level--plan to support themselves. Ask them, What's your mode of transportation going to be? How are you going to pay for gasoline and the car's upkeep? How are you going to pay the rent and the health insurance and the food bill?' "

Draper emphasizes that parents should approach the child in a nonthreatening manner, since putting a teenager on the defensive is just the "cue" he or she needs to move out. "Talk with them. Find out what they really want and see if you can make concessions. Don't let them walk all over you, just listen to the teen as an equal. The more you talk together, the more the child will feel that maybe it isn't really necessary to move out. Many teens welcome a chance to be defiant, so don't threaten them."

For a teenager who opts to live by himself or herself, the consequences usually are the same. Most kids left to run a household by themselves eventually will experience feelings of abandonment, experiment with drugs or alcohol, and get into some kind of trouble, Draper warns. Delayed gratification isn't a natural part of a teen's makeup. The vast majority of adolescents make decisions based on what seems to be most suitable at the moment and what brings the most satisfaction." In addition to such problems as picking up unhealthy eating habits, watching questionable shows on television, or forsaking homework for video games, teens also may become destructive or violent. Additionally, they often get together and experiment with drugs, alcohol, sex, arson, and vandalism.
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Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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