Interview with Darby Fox, Author, Rethinking Your Teenager: by Robin Gorman Newman, founder,

In your book, you discuss the concept of “who” you want your teen to be vs. “what”.  Can you elaborate? In my book, I discuss trying to focus on raising your children with the concept of “who “ they want to become vs. “ what” you want them to be because it allows for their individuality and passion to come through. If we focus on the “what” it frequently prevents our children from focusing on what their strengths and interests are, and instead pushes them to pursue interests that give them little satisfaction or sense of self-worth.  When we can focus on who we want to become our personal preferences can be cultivated. If we are pursuing the “who” it is a logical extension of our core values and sense of self. An authentic sense of self develops if we teach our teens to rely on what they love to do, encourage them to work hard for something they want and make it happen.  If we focus on what we want them to be sometimes it aligns with their strengths but often it becomes an empty path. Teens or young adults take their disillusionment to mean they are inadequate; feelings of inadequacy lead to mental illness.

Once a teen turns 18, colleges, banks, doctors, etc., no longer communicate with parents.  This can be concerning if you are parenting a child who doesn’t readily share, isn’t truthful, doesn’t self-advocate, or stay on top of things.  Any thoughts for parents? It is very difficult to know where to draw the line if you are a parent of an eighteen+ child and they don’t seem to be as independent as you’d like them to be. The easy thing to do is take over, handle all the little things for them, but it’s not the right thing to do. Parents can ask if there is anything they can help with if there is something very important that needs to be done, otherwise it’s best to withdraw. The best way for young adults to learn to manage their own lives is to let them have a mishap or two. An overdrawn bank account or a missed deadline are the best mishaps to teach responsibility. It is hard to watch, but I promise there is nothing like real experiences to teach them to self-advocate and be more responsible. Nagging doesn’t move the needle. Humans are experiential, especially young ones, need to live through events to grasp their importance.

During the teen years, children start to pull away from their parents as part of their growth toward independence.  As a mom, this can feel hurtful, however natural.  Any thoughts? It is critical for moms, parents, to not take much of their adolescent’s behavior or comments personally. Teens are hard-wired neurologically to be developing independence. They are not always thinking about how will this feel for my parents. If we can remember it’s not about us, we can pull back and respond less emotionally. The key is when you notice your feelings are hurt, withdraw and then speak with your adolescent if it still seems to be an issue 24 hours later. The old “never speak to a coach for 24 hours”, is a good rule to also apply to your teens.

How can you motivate your teen to spend some time with you doing something he or she might enjoy if their priority is being with a boy or girlfriend? When your teens begin to prefer the company of a significant other, either join them and take them out for a meal, cook a meal for them, watch a show with them or simply ask them when they might be available to do something with you. Don’t get hung up on being alone with them because that quickly seems like a contest. You don’t want to put that kind of pressure on your teen, so ask for what you want with the awareness it’s healthy for them to spend more time with peers especially if there is a romantic element.

Are you finding that teens are quicker to have sex these days?  Do they have higher expectations around dating in terms of gift-giving, dining, etc.?  Should parents set dating boundaries, and if so, how? For example, if they are hanging out at your home. Teens do seem to have sex or perform sexual acts at younger ages than would have been considered normal fifteen years ago. They have more casual sex than was seen before. In my generation, hooking up meant getting together.  Now “hooking up” usually means having sex, and it does not need to be based on prior dating familiarity.  For those who do find themselves in relationships, the level of gift-giving and co-sleeping is very advanced. Most of these relationships end abruptly and are much more complicated if elaborate gifts and trips are involved. It’s young love, so let’s think of it as a learning experience rather than a permanent one. Parents should set boundaries around what is reasonable in their homes and at what age. High school kids do not need to be allowed to sleep with their respective others overnight in their parent’s homes. College-age established relationships can be considered differently depending on the parent’s beliefs and the comfort level of younger siblings in the home. Teenagers have been able to find ways to interact intimately forever.  Parents do not need to be permissive enough to allow it in their homes at the discomfort of others. It is alright for teens to have to figure out how and where to be intimate on their own. Parents often forget high school relationships are usually transient. It’s important to set the expectation that sex should be based on a committed relationship particularly if it is around family members.

If the boy or girlfriend of your teen, 18, seems controlling, any thoughts? If a boy or girlfriend of your 18-year-old teen seems controlling, mention it to your teen, but do it carefully. Tell them of your concern expressing that you have noticed as opposed to telling them. The person is controlling. Say you feel uncomfortable.  Tell them you are worried about what you’ve seen. Tell them you want them to know how worthy they are and you just can’t help noticing behaviors that have caught your attention.  Likely your teen feels what you’ve picked up on, but they aren’t clear what to do. They need you to speak up even if it takes them a while to come to the same conclusion and act on it.

How involved as a parent should you get with the parents of your teen’s boy or girlfriend? It is okay to get to know the parents of your teen’s boy or girlfriend. It is healthy for your teens to know you have connected as parents. However, remember that young relationships usually don’t last forever, and you want your kids to be able to break up regardless of the parent’s connection.  It can be tricky if the respective parents become very close and get overly involved in the kids’ relationship. Monitor your closeness to the other parents so that your teen feels they remain your priority regardless of who they are dating.

Any tips re: giving your teen the tools they need to make smart decisions instead of controlling their decisions? You ask if I have any tips on how to give teens the tools they need to make smart decisions and my immediate response would be, “yes read my book Rethinking Your Teenager, published by Oxford University Press” where I give many tips!  A shorter response would be to encourage parents to allow their teens to try to manage their lives  on their own with you standing by as a safety net if things get too out of control. Very few teens look to their parents to control them. Parents fear their teens might do something wrong or that they will do something they did as teens so they assume controlling their teen will be more helpful. Teens will resist being controlled even if they sense their parents are right. The most important advice is to set strong boundaries. Make it clear what is acceptable or expected and then tell them you are there if they need help but you know they can figure it out. This makes them accountable for their actions and it gives them the message you believe in them. Teens are creative and bright they like to please adults so they will try to acquiesce if they feel supported instead of controlled and judged.

What is your feeling around giving a teen an allowance vs. motivating them to seek out a part-time job? It is hard to know exactly how to handle allowance with an adolescent. There should be chores they need to do because that’s what we do when we belong to a family. Then allowance could be given for tasks they perform that are over and above the weekly expectations. Allowance if small, can be extra for them to save for something they want themselves or if you give them a larger amount it should be something you expect them to use to pay for their extras. The concert ticket or new sweater is a want, not a need. It is always good to insist teens work according to what their schedule allows. Having a job where you are responsible to others and have to perform menial tasks builds so many important characteristics for your teen; respect, problem-solving, resilience,  empathy, and self-awareness to mention a few. There isn’t an exact right way but it is important to be clear what you expect them to pay for and equally as significant to make them earn money for things they want.

Are there any key distinctions re: parenting a male vs. female teen that parents need to know? When parenting teens it is best to approach each teen individually as opposed to by gender. A teen’s personality is much more critical to take into consideration than if they are a boy or a girl. I don’t like to generalize by gender it discounts individual personalities, motivation, and environment. I believe wholeheartedly you must have the same expectations for teens of strong character regardless of where they are male or female.

Parenting a teen with special needs, i.e. ADHD/Executive Functioning challenges can be difficult. How can parents empower their adult teens? Parents can empower their 18+ children with ADHD or anxiety etc. by encouraging them to find and connect with resources in the community relevant to their specific needs. By the time a teen is out of high school, it is time for them to handle these accommodations on their own. It’s okay to help schedule appointments or locate the resources, but a young adult needs to be responsible for their follow-through.

How can parents best support their teen once they start college and are living at home? If your teen is in college but is living at home, it is important to give them responsibility for some aspect of home life that they didn’t have as high schoolers. They need to have a discussion with parents about a shift in rules that reflect their college-age but still maintain respect for parents and younger siblings in the custodial home.

Any overall words of wisdom for parents of teens re: what they should be aware of that might not be on their radar. I like to encourage parents of teens to say ”No” when they feel it is warranted, have conversations with their teens instead of mandates, ask their teens what they think, and be vulnerable enough with your teens about your fears and occasional mistakes that they can align with you instead of shut you out. Teens are very sensitive ,and they want to please parents and be respected by their parents. Parents need to keep in mind the goal is to raise accountable, flexible happy young adults, not to control your amazingly capable adolescents.  I would also like to encourage parents of teens to be less permissive regarding drug and alcohol use. I find casual messaging regarding THC and alcohol use on raw developing brains is largely responsible for our current mental health crisis in teens. We don’t encourage pregnant mothers to drink, smoke, or do drugs so it makes little sense we should allow our teens with developing brains to do them either. Do not fall prey to the line “everyone does it”, not only is that not true it’s of little consolation if your teen develops issues. Remember adolescents under 16 who use alcohol or drugs on a somewhat regular basis are 85% more likely to develop problems with drugs and alcohol as adults. Parents should take a stronger stance.

Darby Fox, LCSW, is a child and adolescent family therapist in private practice in Connecticut and New York. With over twenty years of experience, she is an expert on parenting, child psychology, and family topics. Appearing regularly on-air and in print media, Fox covers a range of topics, from parenting questions and discipline techniques to current trends in child development. She has also collaborated with Meath Media Group to develop a television series called Fractured Family with Darby Fox. Learn more about Darby @ and follow her on social media: IG  | Twitter

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