Your Brain on Adolescence by Judy Bolton-Fasman

When Anna was a little girl, she once asked me if she had to hate me when she became a teenager. “Of course not,” I told her. I wanted her to love me unconditionally. I wanted her to love me forever.

But unconditional love for a parent is not that helpful for transitioning into adulthood. The better answer is, “Yes, you’re supposed to hate me once in a while. It’s part of a healthy teen’s developmental separation from her parents.” But bear in mind parent teen relationships are not black and white. There are many shades of gray between love and hate.

A recent study out of the University of Virginia found that allowing a child to argue with a parent calmly is important preparation for her to cope with peer pressure down the line. Specifically, the study found that 13- and 14-year olds who backed down from an argument with a parent were more prone to succumb to bad influences when it came to alcohol and drug us at 15 or 16.

Helping teens to argue fairly and effectively is often a two-step forward, one-step back process. I know for the sake of my children I must have the last word on a sensitive topic such as drinking at parties or teaching them about sexually transmitted diseases. This is tough stuff so a dialogue – albeit one that is managed by a parent – is essential for allowing kids to talk through these difficult subjects.

When I’ve stepped back and listened, I often like what I hear from my kids. They’ll tell me that they have sound judgment and hang out with a group of like-minded friends. They’re right, but I’ll necessarily counter that there are strict under-age drinking laws in this state. Or that one careless physical encounter can saddle them with a chronic, or even fatal, illness.

Then there are the complicated mechanisms of the teenage brain. Over the past decade, researchers have found that a teenager’s wild mood swings and penchant for risky behavior are not just about raging hormones. The adolescent brain – particularly the prefrontal cortex that is responsible for rational thinking – is developing at lightning speed during the teenage years, causing dramatic changes in behavior. Complementary research on the adolescent brain has also found that teenagers don’t necessarily underestimate risk. Rather, they overestimate the reward that comes with dangerous activities.

Throw into the mix that many of us have prolonged our kid’s childhoods by giving them a free pass on making adult decisions. National Public Radio recently reported that a number of parents negotiate job salaries and apartment leases for their recent college graduates. This kind of interference short-circuits the evolutionary hardware that allows young adults to accumulate the hands-on experience to make thoughtful decisions. On the other end of the spectrum, a recent article in The Wall Street Journal pointed out that with puberty starting earlier and adulthood starting later for our children, emotional and physical maturity might not be in harmony until the late 20s.

“If you think of the teenage brain as a car,” wrote Alison Gopnik, a psychology professor at the University of California at Berkeley, “today’s adolescents acquire an accelerator a long time before they can steer and brake.”

This temporary brain disconnect brings about a couple of 21st century parenting conundrums. How do you deal with a 10-year old going through puberty when adulthood is so far off? How do you cope with a child approaching 30 who has postponed life in favor of shelter and dependence?

With the first stirrings of puberty, it’s important to avoid what Laura Kastner, a clinical psychologist and author of “Getting to Calm: Cool-Headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens + Teens,” calls “co-flooding” –adding to the high emotions with which your teen has already “flooded” a conversation. Simply put, don’t spar with your child. Have a full-fledged conversation and listen to each other. Even when parents offer praise with constructive criticism, a teen just hears that as blah, blah, blah. Sometimes it’s simply better to set the rules. When you tell your child that he can’t attend a party where trouble is likely to brew, make sure that he knows that it doesn’t reflect your level of trust in him. Your daughter should know that even though not every piece of clothing is going to flatter her, in no way does that detract from her beauty.

And then there’s a parent’s default argument – the one with a snappy catch-phrase that stops a discussion from veering further off course. Mine is: “Save it for the Supreme Court.” Even if my kids make more sense than I do, I’m still in charge. And I’m in charge because their brains are still developing and syncing, making them the most misunderstood of all people: teenagers.

The Children Who Brave The Homefront: Military Families by Judy Bolton-Fasman

There is one standing order that I’ve given my children with which they have never argued. When we see a woman or man in uniform, we go up to them and thank them for their service to our country. No exceptions. A few years ago Adam and I had a stark and unforgettable encounter with a veteran. We were out for lunch when we saw a young man in a wheelchair pull up to the table across from us. There was something about his demeanor that made me think this young man wasn’t in a wheelchair because he was reckless. And then I saw the Semper Fi sticker on the back of his chair.

“This man is a Marine,” I said to Adam.

My son didn’t have to be told what came next. He knew I’d learned it from my own father, a World War II veteran. Adam accompanied me to the man’s table. “I used to be a Marine,” the man said softly. We told him once a Marine, always a Marine. Adam shook the man’s hand and said, “Thank you for your service.”

“Any time, buddy,” said the Marine. “Any time.” His mother had tears in her eyes.

My children and I don’t know anyone personally whose sibling or parent is serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. All the more urgent for my kids to acknowledge a soldier. All the more urgent for them to seek out information in articles and books that will help them understand what families in our country sacrifice when a loved one in the Armed Forces is in harm’s way.

Novelist and playwright Laura Harrington published a novel in the past year that should be mandatory reading for parents and teens alike. It’s easy to remember the title, Alice Bliss. And it’s impossible to forget the eponymous protagonist. Alice is 15 and the older of two daughters. You see the deep father-daughter bond Matt and Alice share – a bond that’s already there when she’s a younger girl helping her father shingle a roof, trusting him as he coaches her through a bout of vertigo.

Matt, a National Guard reservist, signs on to fight in Iraq because he believes it’s the right thing to do. His patriotism is unquestionable, but there’s also a bit of the adventurer in his decision to ship out. Alice knows this about her dad in the same way that she knows that he can fix anything in the world.

When you read this quiet, contemplative novel, be prepared to be both enlightened and moved to tears. The book further piqued my curiosity about children with a parent deployed in a war zone. During the decade-long fights in Afghanistan and Iraq, the military has spent millions of dollars to train hundreds of American school counselors and psychologists to help children cope with the fear, confusion and the unthinkable. What if a parent returns with a physical injury? What if he or she needs psychological help? Or what happens if a parent doesn’t return at all?

As I surfed the Internet for information about kids with deployed parents, I imagined Alice Bliss doing the same thing in the bedroom she shared with her little sister. Skipping from link to link, I thought of my father refusing to answer a factual question. “Look it up,” he’d always reply. If I had been around when he served in World War II, how would I have borne his absence?

I eventually landed on a recent article in The New York Times that reported on the accommodations public schools near bases make for military families. If only fictional, Alice had been so lucky. Harrington is so good at capturing Alice’s isolation in her upstate New York community. She inhabits her character’s adolescent soul. When Alice is running off her fear and anxiety in a cross-country meet, we’re also short of breath and bumping up against hopelessness. Reading “Alice Bliss” is a visceral experience.

According to the Times, the public schools near Camp Lejeune, a military base in North Carolina, coordinate support services through the Marines with programs like the While You Wait Club. It’s a crowded club. Some 15,000 children in the area, including those of reservists, meet to talk, to journal, to draw – to do just about anything to make the waiting bearable. With a little luck and vigilance, counselors and teachers may catch a spiraling depression or notice mounting anxiety. According to a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, pediatric behavioral disorders steadily increase while a parent is deployed.

Maybe the study states the obvious, but the courageous Alice Bliss and her creator demonstrate that the obvious quickly becomes complex. Alice is a great character – an all-American girl that a military teen needs in her corner. She’s everyone’s daughter. And the Marine Adam and I greeted at lunch is everyone’s son