The Teen Code: A Wake Up Call for Parents
- Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Bookstore shelves abound with titles offering advice for parents. Various psychologists, self-appointed "experts," and medical doctors offer advice on a range of topics, reflecting an ever broader array of worldviews. Books on parenting adolescents have been a special growth industry for some time, with puzzled and harried parents often trying to figure out what is going on in the minds of their teenagers. A new offering in this field, The Teen Code, now offers advice on parenting teens with a unique twist -- the book was written by a 17-year-old boy.
Rhett Godfrey is a young man with a message. As author of The Teen Code, he conducted research involving over one thousand teenagers. Rhett displays obvious gifts and intelligence, and his new book offers an interesting angle sure to catch public attention. At the same time, the book's underlying concept tells us a great deal about the shift of authority from parents to children that marks our contemporary age.
As Rhett tells the book's story, "Over the course of almost 3 years, I've been exchanging ideas with teens of how parents can communicate with us better. In person, over the phone, and mostly over the Internet, I've talked to kids about their parents, what they have done right, what they haven't done at all, and most importantly, what they could do better."
What did this young author discover? "I found out quickly that it's not so much what parents say that causes problems, it's how they say it that causes us to shut down, tune out, and stop listening. And I couldn't believe how much of what our parents said was just not getting through." In order to help parents out, Rhett Godfrey now offers his book of suggestions, organized around themes ranging from drugs and alcohol to sex and privacy.
As the book's title indicates, Rhett points to what he calls a "teen code" -- a system of language and communication that parents often do not understand. As he explains, "it defines how we think and act, why we get tattoos and piercings, why we experiment with dangerous stuff, and how and why we are who we are, teens of today." Rhett invites parents to see him as "going off to spy on the other side to bring you back inside information: the little stuff your kids wish you knew."
Rhett offers some advice that is undeniably helpful. He stresses that teenagers would have their parents begin conversations on difficult issues earlier rather than later. "The most successful drug conversations are with younger teens, say 11 to 13 years," he suggests, "and the least successful are with older teens from 16 to 18." He also suggests that parents use events of daily life, and happenings in the news to raise significant and deep subjects. He calls on parents to use cultural "Jumper Cables" to "jump-start the conversation." He also suggests that parents not decide to have intrusive and substantial conversations on issues like drugs and sex in the teen's bedroom, where the young person may feel uncomfortable.
Throughout the book, the young author documents the frustration experienced by many teenagers when their parents make inadequate attempts at discussing an issue of importance. As "Willis," age sixteen, told Rhett: "I told my dad that you were writing a book about communication between parents and teens and then I told him that you are working on the chapter about drugs. His only response to that was, 'You're not doing drugs, are you?' I said, 'No, Dad, of course not,' and that was where the conversation ended." Similar frustrations were registered by teenagers who complained that their parents actually did not say anything about sex at all, and seemed reluctant to admit that their own children might be struggling with sexual issues.
Nevertheless, the most interesting aspect of this book is the particular kind of advice that Rhett offers parents about how to address issues likely to be flashpoints and potential trouble.
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