Reported on ScienceDaily.com: “In a study, teens rarely talked to their parents about potentially risky online experiences. Parents and children often have much different perceptions of and reactions to the same online situations. Some of these situations may include cyberbullying, sexual exchanges and viewing inappropriate content online.”

“When you asked why teens didn’t talk to their parents, a lot of times they mention risky situations, which they didn’t think were a big deal, but they add that if they told their parents, they would just freak out and make things worse.” (Pamela Wisniewski, the lead researcher of the study.) (Italics are mine.)

The Parental Freak Out

In America at least, teens have been fearing parental freak outs since teenage-hood first became a recognized phenomenon. It seems to have begun in the 20th century, with a real recognition in the 1950s, the Rebel-Without-A-Cause-era. Previously, entertainment, parties, music and so on, though often geared towards “the young,” were not necessarily exclusively focused on adolescents. Families spent more time together in those days. Multi-generational parties were common. Then movies, television, and finally the internet came along, contributing to an increase in social and physical isolation from other family members.

Do Teenagers Exist?

There is an ongoing debate about whether or not teenagerhood is a cultural phenomenon or whether it is a description of a transformation that occurs mentally and emotionally during adolescence. (Some cultures don’t experience adolescence in the same, intense way we do in America, except primarily for the obvious physical changes.)

Whatever the cause of teenagerhood, the parental freak out doesn’t help bridge the parent-teenager divide and may be making it wider.

Another Step On Life’s Journey

Building an open and honest relationship takes time, effort, and, I believe, a commitment to staying as positive as possible. Double, for parent-child relationships. Learning parenting strategies before having children, or at least when they are little – not when your children are teenagers – is the truly effective option.

Adolescence in America is often assumed to be a time of rebellion, difficulties with parents, and negative, even risky behavior. While it is true that adolescence is a time children develop more autonomy, in truth, all of childhood is about developing a separate self from parents. Adolescence appears to be an acceleration of this development. Perhaps it seems so because the changes can be startling. Also, teens begin to form stronger relationship with peers, as they sort out who they want to “hang out with,” which is code for, “who I want to be.”

It can be helpful to view childhood, adolescence, and adulthood as points along a spectrum, rather than semi-pathologizing the admittedly often bewildering behaviors of teenagers.

Don’t Freak Out, Get Help

If you’re the parent of young children, start getting parenting guidance now. If you have strong and healthy parental role models, ask them for their advice. Remember, they’ve been through the ups and downs of parenting.

If you’re clashing with your adolescent child, get parenting help now, too. Even belated changes to your communication style can make a difference.

If your teenager is engaging in risky behaviors online, in person, or on their phones, do not freak out. Again, get help now.

If possible, get advice and even direct involvement from clergy, therapists, and wise, loving and supportive family members. Do what you can to express your concern and love to your child in as positive a fashion as possible. Tell kid of any age how much you love them, how your job as a parent is (in part) to help them learn how to be safe, and how to take care of themselves.

It’s not an unhealthy guilt trip to let them know how devastated you would be if they were harmed in any way. Judicious use of sincere discussions will do a lot more than rehashing old scenes involving yelling and screaming. (The key is judicious, too much, and it’s get stale, fast.)

Try ending every conversation with a loving statement–a genuine loving statement. After all, that’s really why you’re tempted to freak out in the first place.