02 March 2011

Teen Expert FAQs

Adolescence can be a minefield, but the Teen Expert is here so you don't have to navigate it alone.


Whether you are a teen or the parent of a teen, don't try and negotiate that minefield called adolescence on your own – write in to the Teen Expert for some practical advice.  Here are the questions most frequently asked.

Q:  14-year-old smoking

I am worried about my son he has started smoking is there any way that i can get him to quit?He is only 14 and I fear that smoking will lead to him trying other drugs.

A:  There is no sure way of him stopping unless he decides to. The best thing to do is to make all the disadvantages clear to him and then let him decide for himself.

At home you can also have a no smoking rule either inside or outside in the garden.  Many young people will try smoking at his age, but not all of them will continue with it.

Q:  She thinks she's fat

I have an 11-year-old stepdaughter. She is tall and skinny. She stands in front of a mirror the whole day and tells everyone that walks past that she is so fat. She wears a jersey when it's 40 degrees outside, because then a school dress can be shorter and nobody see her "fat" .

I am sick and tired of it. I told her that if she is looking for attention, she is not going to find it. She gets a lot of attention at home (with us where she stays) and from her mother (where she visits). Her mother spoils her a lot, so she really should not be saying things like that.

She eats a lot. She loves her sweet stuff, so it is not that she is going to get one or other sort of illness because of it. I know that her friends (wrong friends) at school are also like this. They started shaving the beginning of the year. (Waaay toooo young). Stepdaugther cried and asked her parents and they said yes.

What can I do about the fat story?

A:  It sounds as if she is entering puberty and as a result has become body conscious. This is not unusual, but it does need to be monitored as eating disorders develop from a belief that one is fat or overweight.

Overall, it sounds as if she needs support and reassurance. Her parents being separated can be a source of anxiety for her and there needs to be a joint response from everyone involved as she has to negotiate her way in two families.

If it is possible I would recommend that everyone involved in parenting her get together to discuss the way forward. She is just entering adolescence and there are more challenging times ahead. She will benefit most from a very consistent approach from everyone.

Q:  Big party

My son of sixteen would like to attend a big bash - if he goes will I be promoting alcoholism, or is it good for a teenager to experiment?

A:  At 16 a teenager is very likely to experiment whether a parent "allows" it or not. What can be thought about is the type of event he is going too, will there be adults attending, or monitoring? Is it an event for under or over 18's?

You can also set your own boundaries in terms of either not allowing him to drink, or making it clear that if he overdoes things he may not be allowed to go to such an event again. Essentially, with freedom comes responsibility and the amount of freedom given to a 16 year-old still lies with the parent as legal guardian. You have to weigh up the risks and benefits with the information you have about the event and your son's maturity level.

Q:  Pregnant daughter, 16

I have a 16-year-old daughter, well balanced, good mannered, obedient and respectable.  I have one problem though, last year in GR10 she fell pregnant and the baby was born in January. He was at the same school, she will be returning to school now to finish her GR 11 and 12.

My problem is that I thought I was ok with this boy while she was pregnant and his parents were supportive, but since the baby is born they seemed to have wanted to be in control and take over my daughter’ s life. 

I put a stop to it so fast, and I told them they should be glad that I didn’t chase away this boy from the word go, and I feel that if there are decisions to be made for my daughter I will make them. Every time these people push my buttons I end up going ballistic on my daughter. My daughter and I have a very good relationship and understanding and I’ m afraid I am going to lose my child and ruin our mother-daughter relationship. How do I handle this?

A:  your dilemma is based within the situation that your daughter is still a young person who needs guidance, boundaries and parenting, and at the same time she has become a mother herself and so finds herself between two worlds.

It is important that as her mother you still feel empowered to make decisions with her reagrding her future. However, something important to be aware of is that he is the father of the child and it is important for everyone and especially the baby that the father's role is integrated.

I would suggest that you try and have a family meeting involving the father and his parents to discuss how to proceed as this is a huge learning curve for all of you. It is important to outline that both sets of parents still remain crucial in assisting your daughter and their son in dealing with the situation. Where possible you need to make your feelings known and so do they.

If it doesn't initially work out I would suggest you all consider involving a family therapist. An excellent organisation that will be able to give you advice is the Family Association of South Africa (FAMSA) wh0 can be contacted at

This is a major change in both families and assimilating that change will take time and inevitably negotiation.

Q:  What are the rights of a 16-year-old?

At what age can a child decide where he wants to stay (not with family)? I know of a boy who is 16 years old and is extremely unhappy with the current situation at his home. His mother drinks excessively, and he has to endure her physical and psychological abuse on an almost constant basis.
His father is currently in prison, and the boy has no contact with him.

Can he come and stay with us, so we could give him the love can care he needs? How will this work?

A:  The best route to go with this is via Social Services, or to involve a private social worker. Although he is still a minor his living circumstances and his wishes will be listened to, and if he has a place of safety with you then that could certainly be a possibility.

You would need to contact your local social services child welfare department and take it from there. The new Children's Act certainly enshrines the rights of he child, and his safety and care would be paramount.

Q:  Son, 13, reacting violently

I would like to know how do I get my 13 year old to open up to me?  I've been divorced from his dad for 8 years.  Yesterday I gave him a hiding and he turned around and hit me.  How do I deal with this?  Please help.
I love my son very much and don't want him going the wrong way.

A:  Sometimes a young person finds it difficult to speak to their parents and so you may find that he will open up more readily either to another family member or a family friend. If he has no contact with his father you may want to think about an adult male who he might speak to. Many young people and especially boys find it difficult to speak about emotional issues in the early teens. With the onset of puberty arrives a lot of emotional and physical turmoil, and the hormonal changes can cause a surge of aggression in teens.

Hitting a child is teaching them that when you get angry it's ok to hit people, so if you think about it in those terms, its not surprising he hit you back. Different types of disciplining take longer than hitting, but they are more effective as well as preserving your relationship with him.

If family or friends are not able to help I would suggest you consider consulting a psychologist who specialises in adolescents for an assessment.  If your son refuses, it would still be useful for you to meet with them.

Visit the Teen Centre

(Joanne Hart, Health24, March 2011)




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