Dealing with Preteens Interview with Dr. Michael Bradley

Susie McGee
Dr. Michael Bradley offers tips on dealing with preteens.

Dr. Michael Bradley, the bestselling author of the book Yes, Your Teen Is Crazy is a psychologist and award-winning author specializing in adolescent behavior and certified by the American College of Professional Psychology to treat substance abuse disorders. His new book When Things Get Crazy With Your Teen: The Why, the How, and What to Do NOW offers immediate response strategies for dealing with young people.

Please tell us about yourself and your expertise on this subject?

Thirty years ago when I started out in this business I'd say that my expertise comes from my training and my work with teens in places such as schools, social service agencies, private practice and in prisons. Today I offer my best credential as being the father of two teens. That "hands-on" experience (as in I'm often tempted to lay my "hands on" my kids) taught me much more than all of my years of training. A parent (and author) by the name of John Wilmot said it best: "Before I got married, I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children, and no theories."

What inspired you to write your book?

All of those parents who came to my seminars and gave me exasperated looks when I over-answered their questions. After writing three books about adolescence, it finally occurred to me that parents of teens frequently need "down-and-dirty-what-the-heck-do-I-do-now-as-in-tonight" advice. Too often we shrinks give parents academic/theory types of answers when simple suggestions of "say this to your kid but never say that to your kid" can be a much more helpful thing. The specific suggestions teach the theory without all of the boring reading.

What are some common behavior issues that parents of preteens encounter?

School problems, excessive and dangerous computer/cell phone use, disrespect, marijuana/alcohol use, lying, and "disappearing into the cave" (withdrawing to their rooms and friends, and rarely coming out to interact with parents).

What are some dos and don'ts for handling behavior issues of preteens?

  • DO: "be what you want to see" (model good behaviors and values) stay calm; sidestep provocations; pick your battles; enforce your rules quietly but firmly; keep connected to your kid (especially when he thinks that you're dumber than snow); and be sure to apologize for the countless times you will fail to do all of those things (apology for our own failures teaches our children how to handle their own).
  • DON'T: put your needs for your kid's approval over your obligation to be her parent; take his behavior personally; think that the tough times will last forever; fear conflict (rage-free conflict feels like love to your child, a fact to which she won't admit until she's 25).

Is how you say something to your child just as important as what you say?

In fact, how you communicate with children is more important than what you communicate. The wisdom of Solomon is completely useless to a kid whose parent expresses it poorly (as in yelling, preaching or nagging).

Where can we read more about you and about this topic?

Check out my website Doctor Mike Bradley and get involved with the Forums. That's a kind of "Parents Anonymous" place where thousands of parents and teens have posted their problems, solutions, fears, joys and wisdom for other people to see. Other folks (kids, parents and shrinks) respond with some pretty amazing insights. If nothing else, it's a great way to not feel so alone.

Do you have any other information or advice you'd like to offer?

Keep your sense of humor. Much of what we get so upset about in life is absurdly funny, and the raising teens part can be the most absurd and the funniest of all, if you can learn that trick known to foxhole occupants and use humor to depower the fear. The vast majority of kids somehow manage to turn out just fine in spite of the world around them. I'm not quite sure why that is, but I strongly suspect it has to do with parents who manage to love their kids even when they hate their kids' behaviors. Remembering to laugh is a critical part of that magic.

Dealing with Preteens Interview with Dr. Michael Bradley