The situation: Your 16-year-old, a star football player, quits his team.
What to do: Ultimately, this is his choice, but sound him out to make sure it's a carefully reasoned decision rather than a reaction to some difficulty on the team or fear of not measuring up.
How to cope: Remember that this isn't about you. "We all get gratification from our kids' talents," says Dr. Sparrow, "but it may be time to face the fact that most kids are going to give up sports before they reach the Olympics."
How to move on: Understand that disengaging from the activities of the past is an important way for teens to figure out what they value. Says Muscari: "This is what you've raised him for -- to make decisions for himself."Challenge #6: Sexual Activity
The situation: The principal calls to say your 15-year-old daughter was among several girls caught giving oral sex to guys at a school dance.
What to do: Take some time -- maybe even overnight -- to deal with your shock and outrage before you talk to your daughter. "Keep the emotional temperature down," says Dr. Krell. If you convey disgust or contempt now, when she's no doubt feeling humiliated already, she'll absorb that into her self-image, making change much more difficult. Begin with something like, "I'd like to hear your version of what went on at the dance." Then find out what she knows about sexually transmitted diseases; kids are largely unaware that STDs can be passed on via oral sex.
From there you can move to bigger issues about sexuality, values, intimacy, and self-esteem. "There's no logical consequence for this, but grounding her for a couple of weeks is obligatory," says Dr. Krell. "This behavior is all too common, which signals that our teens need more supervision -- not only at dances." Talk to the school about extra vigilance, and volunteer to chaperone future dances.
How to cope: Know that you are not alone: This is a huge, baffling issue for parents and experts alike. Somewhere along the way in recent years, young people have gotten the idea that oral sex isn't real sex. According to the CDC, more than half of kids between 15 and 19 have engaged in it.
How to move on: Remind yourself that your daughter crossed the line, but she can come back. What will make the difference is your faith in her. Focus on her good traits and keep giving her support when she seems to be pulling away -- your opinion matters more than she lets on.Challenge #7: Drugs
The situation: You give your 16-year-old daughter a good-night kiss and her clothes absolutely reek of pot.
What to do: Forget the lecture. Instead, send her to bed with a promise that you'll discuss this tomorrow. Then, says Sachs, "engage her curiosity about her behavior -- why she does it, what she sees as the benefits and the risks." She needs to know that exposure to drugs and alcohol during adolescence is dangerous. "Teens are neurologically much more vulnerable," says Dr. Sparrow. "Some people can experiment and move on, but many drug addicts actually started when they were teenagers." Consequences might include two weeks' grounding and arranging random drug tests.
How to cope: Level with her: "I can't follow you around 24-7. But I love you too much to let you hurt yourself, and I will impose tough consequences -- and so will the law -- if you're caught." If you suspect serious involvement -- if you see extreme moodiness, apathy, or slipping grades -- ask your pediatrician for a treatment referral.
How to move on: Keep addressing the issue with persistence and firmness. Stay well informed about teens and drug use. And keep that bedtime kiss part of the evening routine. It helps you remain close, and it's a signal to your daughter that you're paying attention.
The situation: You borrow your son's computer and notice that the browser's log of "recent places" includes several porn sites.
What to do: As soon as possible, make a time when the two of you can talk, a time when neither of you is rushed or overtired. Then tell him what you've discovered and say, "Your curiosity is perfectly natural, but this isn't the best place to satisfy it. Porn shows you a very distorted picture of sexuality and intimacy, and it's degrading to women." Curb further adventures: Use filters and porn blocks, keep the computer in a public place, limit online and messaging time, and explain that you'll be monitoring the sites he visits. If you need some help figuring out how, see Parental Guidelines at asacp.org.
Finally, check who he corresponds with by e-mail for any names you don't recognize to make sure he's not the victim of an online pedophile who's feeding him porn. If you fear this is the case, call the police.
How to cope: Most likely this is normal curiosity, not the high road to perversion. While you can't make explicit sex totally unavailable -- it's everywhere -- you can certainly keep the hard-core stuff out of your house.
How to move on: Remember that your child absorbs your values more from what he sees you doing than from what you say he ought to do. If you keep living what you believe, he will too.