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The teen commandments: part one

As the parent of a teenager who knows plenty more parents of teenagers, I've been privy to the gamut of family problems that arise from adolescence.

Having gone through the terrible teens themselves, most parents dread the hurdles that may arise as their own children negotiate their way towards adulthood, but few are fully prepared to deal with the fall-out.

"Read up," advises TV parenting guru David Coleman, whose latest book, Parenting Is Child's Play: The Teenage Years, is published this week. "You may have gone through adolescence yourself, but that may have been 30 or 40 years ago, so you have probably forgotten the worst of it.

"You should research the physical changes that happen, what the psychological changes are and what the whole process of adolescence is about. If you have an understanding of why your children may challenge you, then you can maybe work on changing your parenting style to fit with this time in their lives."

In this first instalment of a two-part feature, David answers questions around the three big issues that arise during adolescence for all modern families: sex, drugs and alcohol.

1 In the history of my 14-year-old son's internet use I have found several very explicit porn sites. What should I do?

In many ways, looking at internet porn is an extension of what teenagers have been doing forever, which is finding out as much information about sex as possible. It just happens to be much more available now, and much more explicit.

Let your son know what you found and talk to him about his understanding of what he has been looking at. If your teenager will not communicate with you about this, you should still say that you understand that it might be hard for him to understand everything he is looking at.

When you do that, it begins to break some of the barriers that are there for most parents and teenagers in talking about sex. Bridge the gap and let your teenager choose whether to meet you half way. If he won't, you might want to get someone outside your immediate family, an aunt, an uncle, a favoured teacher, to talk to your son about sexuality and the surrounding issues.

2 My daughter is spending a lot of time with her boyfriend in her bedroom and I'm worried they are having sex. What should my boundaries be?

Your boundaries need to come from your own value system. If you aren't comfortable about your daughter and her boyfriend having sex in your house, then you need to be very clear and firm about them not going up in the bedroom together and only staying in the public areas of the house.

They may transfer their activity to some other place, and so be it, but as a parent it is fine to have strict boundaries about what is okay and not okay in your own home.

Say to your daughter, "I don't mind you hanging out with your boyfriend and I understand that you need to have private time with him, but I'm concerned that if you are in your bedroom it increases the likelihood of you having sex. Whether or not you are having sex, it's something that would worry me because I think you are too young."

3 I think my son might be gay. Should I just come right out and ask him?

It's best to let your son come to terms with his own sexuality in his own time. If you have a close enough relationship with your son, he will tell you when he is ready to.

Unfortunately, in some youth cultures, there is still a lot of stigmatism attached to homosexuality and sometimes that puts teenagers off coming out. If you show through every action that you don't hold prejudices, and don't casually or accidentally joke about gay people, revealing the prejudices that you may have, then you are providing a comfortable space for your son to talk to you when he is ready.

4 I found an ecstasy tablet in my son's cigarette box. I'm worried because so many people use drugs these days and he could use harder things like cocaine. How should I advise him?

If your son is taking ecstasy, it is highly likely he will use other drugs too. It's important to be realistic and do some research so you have an understanding of how most drugs are used and what they are used for.

Let your teenager know what you found and then tell him what your worries are and give him a chance to challenge your beliefs about drugs. At least you are beginning a dialogue about it where you can give very clear messages about the dangers you know are inherent in drug use.

You can also follow through on some consequences for his actions, such as taking away his allowance, or depriving him of some kind of privilege. Consequences, however, are only effective if you follow up on them, so make sure you can realistically implement them.

5 My daughter has got into bad company with a crowd of girls who are known to be wild, drinking and causing trouble in our area. How can I stop this from happening?

It's very difficult for parents to criticise their children's friends and usually it just throws them further into the arms of whichever group they are hanging around with

Talk to a guard at your local station. Get them to take her aside and give her a fright about the company she's keeping. Sometimes that outside warning helps them click back on to an even keel, so it's certainly worth a try.

David Coleman's new book, Parenting is Child's Play: The Teenage Years (Penguin, €18.50) is available now