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The teen commandments: part two

While sex, drugs and alcohol are demons most parents of teenagers worry about, the adolescent years can be a minefield when it comes to behavioural problems. Before your child hits puberty, there are clear ways to manage difficult behaviour, but as they grow older, it's often much harder to see the wood for the trees.

"The system of rewards and consequences may be effective until your child is 14 or 15, but beyond that you have to begin to appeal to their sense of what is right and what is wrong," says TV parenting expert, David Coleman. "Hold communication open for as long as is humanly possible and, even if you feel as if you've been betrayed, always be the one to offer the olive branch and say, 'Let's have another go at this'."

In the second part of our special feature on coping with adolescents in the family, David answers questions about the problems that can arise when teenagers behave in challenging ways.

I am a single mother and my 17-year-old son is increasingly aggressive with me. He intimidates me. What should I do?

If you don't feel able to cope with a situation, try and bring in outside support, an uncle or other male figure who is willing to talk to your son about what it means to be a man and when aggression is not an appropriate response, about what is acceptable and not acceptable.

For most parents the threat of throwing an aggressive teen out of the house is something they don't want to follow up on. Nine times out of 10, it's not the right thing to do, but in extreme circumstances, extreme measures are called for.

I don't think it is fair for any parent to suffer with an aggressive 17-year-old, but if it's a younger teenager, you need to set up firm boundaries from the get-go.

My daughter has no friends and always wants to be with me. I think she is too clingy and has low self-esteem. How can I help her out of her shell?

Usually we gather our understanding of ourselves and our value of ourselves from the people around us, so be careful as a parent about how you appear to be judging your daughter, or about how other people are judging her. She could be getting negative messages about herself. Talk to her about her skills and personality traits that make her an able and capable person and tell her in no uncertain terms that she is lovable and why.

You should make statements to youngsters that get them to positively value themselves. For instance, say your daughter got a really good mark for an English essay, instead of telling her how proud you are of her, you should say, "Wow, you must be so proud of yourself and what you've managed to achieve."

For some youngsters it's easier to form relationships in one-to-one situations rather than in big group settings. If you can, identify one or two people that she seems closer to, or would like to be closer to, and co-ordinate one-to-one time for her to develop a relationship with that person.

My 14-year-old son has lost all interest in school and has gone from an 'A' student to a barely pass student. How can I make him understand the need for education?

Find somebody that your son admires and talk about how that person got to be where he or she is today. It might slowly dawn on him that there are stepping stones towards where you want to be in life and that school is part of that.

If a teenager has a very sudden drop-off of interest in school, talk to him or her about drug use. It's quite possible they have discovered hash, which leaves a lot of young people directionless. Don't talk in an accusatory way, but talk about the side-effects of hash smoking and how it can debilitate and affect the ability to achieve.

My daughter is underweight and obsessed with dieting. I'm worried she has an eating disorder. How can I confront this?

With eating disorders it's very difficult for the parents to be the sole arbitrator of change because so many eating disorders are bound up in relationships with other people. With the help of a therapist, real change can often occur. So, look for professional help sooner rather than later.

I just lost my job and am on a tight budget. My teenage daughter can't accept that I can't buy her exactly what she wants and is angry with me. What should I do?

What's probably happening for her is that she is worried about how her image among her peer group is going to suffer because of the reduction in family income. In her anger, she's saying she's not ready for her lifestyle to change because your lifestyle has changed. You need to empathise with her.

The reality is you can't give her the money, or buy her the things she wants, so you need to say that you understand how she feels about this and you have experienced the same feelings about losing your job. It may bring you closer together if you can show her that you have similar feelings.

David Coleman's Parenting Is Child's Play: The Teenage Years (Pengiun, E18.50) is out