Author Interview: Dr. John Duffy, The Available Parent

Evangelia Biddy explores the challenges of parenting today’s teens and tweens in an interview with Dr. John Duffy, author of The Available Parent, Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens. Duffy’s new book is filled with actionable solutions and practical tools for parents looking to quiet the wars that are erupting in our living rooms.

EB: What are the character traits of an available parent? What does the available parent look like?

Based solely on the title of the book, a friend of mine recently said he changed the way he parents. He asks himself, in any given moment, whether he is truly available to his child. This is one hallmark of an available parent. He considers how he parents. He is open to discussion with his child on most any issue. He is never cruel or dismissive. Available parents laugh with their children, even at the toughest times. They reserve judgment, and keep their own egos in check. They also put their fears about their teens to rest, choosing instead to trust their parenting, and their teenager.

EB: Does that mean that the available parent is a friend to their teens?

Not necessarily. But it certainly doesn’t mean they should be enemies either! At the very least, we want to be freind-ly with our teens. We want to be seen as allies, or any attempt at open conversation, or relationship satisfaction, will surely fall flat.

EB: You address the nature of teen rebellion and said you are most concerned with teens who don’t rebel or push back. Why? Isn’t this a parent’s dream?

The compliant teen would certainly seem, at first blush, to be the parental dream, for sure! The problem is that the ‘compliance’ scenario does not take into consideration the most basic and important task of adolescence – forming an identity separate and apart from Mom and Dad. And identity formation requires trial-and-error, experimentation, and often screwing things up and putting them back together again. This is how teens discover who they are, and develop an authentic sense of competence for themselves. The compliant teen skips this critical developmental step, and often feels incompetent to take on the world when the time comes.


EB: The scary conversation! What kind of conversation should parents be having around sex and when? What should that conversation look like?

Well, let’s face it. These conversations need to take place earlier these days than ever before. Kids are exposed to sex in the media with an almost incomprehensible degree of frequency, and without an open adult to talk with about it, many kids tell me they feel bewildered by it all. So, I think that parents need to start talking about sex when their children are very young. I encourage parents to seek out books that talk about the age-appropriate nature of these discussions as well.

Also, as the subject matter is awkward and tricky, many parents rush through a one-time-only anxious diatribe on sex, then call it a day. Today’s kids need a lot more than that from their parents. They need an open avenue for ongoing discussion. It needs to be open, even if this avenue is never used. They need to know you’re available to talk about it. Inject a little humor. It will make it easier.

EB: You spend a lot of time in your book on what doesn’t work. Give us the run down on these tactics and why they fail.

Yes, I found as I was writing that I wanted to tackle all of the interventions I have seen parents try earnestly that simply seem to fail, or worse, produce counterproductive results. These tend to be closed, one-sided, fear-based interventions, such as lecturing, micro-managing, bribery for good grades, and under-estimating. I prefer open communication and natural consequences over these interventions any day.


EB: You address how middle-school has changed. What is happening here that parents need to be aware of?

Many of the challenges of adolescence that we adults first encountered as teens, our children are experiencing as tweens. We’ve talked about exposure to sex, which certainly happens at an earlier age, and with a much higher degree of frequency, than it did in the past. But other teen issues, such as drug and alcohol use, present themselves earlier as well. Add to that the fact that tweens today have access to Facebook, texting, YouTube, and myriad other influxes of data and stimuli into their lives that none of us had, and you’ve got a very complicated middle- school setup.


EB: Define emotional role-modeling and it’s role in effective parenting.

You’ve probably heard the expression “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Well, I would alter it only slightly, something like “Embody the change you want to see in your child.” Our parental credibility drops a lot when we get angry with our children, for instance, for losing control of their emotions. Better to control our own emotions, as children often tend the emotional regulation, or dys-regulation, of their parents.


EB: What’s the biggest mistakes parents are making in teen discipline?

Too often, parents fail to recognize the link between their emotional connection with their child and the effectiveness of their discipline. With few or no positive interactions between parent and child, it is unreasonable to expect a child to respond favorably to a parental intervention, including discipline. So, yes, I am encouraging parents to foster a positive, warm, loving connection with their children, on even the most difficult days. Otherwise, their discipline will almost certainly lack teeth.



Posted in Author Interviews on May 13th, 2011 | Permalink | Comments »

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