Great Neck parents learn to navigate ‘the minefield’ of adolescence

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Rena Gombo, a mental health counselor and parenting educator, spoke to a room of parents on Tuesday night, hoping to help them better "navigate the minefield that is adolescence." (Photo by Janelle Clausen)

More than 50 parents attended “Navigating the Minefield that is Adolescence” at Great Neck North High School on Tuesday night, hoping to learn how to do just that: manage parenting their pre-teens and teenagers.

The event, sponsored by the United Parent Teacher Conference’s Health Education Committee, was hosted by Rena Gombo, a school psychologist and mental health counselor.

“Raising teenagers is not like raising children,” Gombo told the crowded room of parents.

Gombo said that the reactive and impulsive actions of teenagers can be attributed partially to flare-ups in hormones, but also the fact that grey matter in the brain is still developing, as are the parts of the brain responsible for judgment, planning and self-control.

She also said that teenagers are also in a phase where they are forging their own paths and trying to be independent, but they often “don’t understand” that parents can be in their lives at the same time.

“It’s like a mini-hurricane,” Gombo told the room of parents.

Consequently, Gombo said it is important for parents to choose their battles and validate the feelings of their children. Bad reactions can prompt worse reactions from teenagers, going in an endless cycle that can damage the relationships, she said.

“You are looking to avoid explosions in adolescence… The whole goal is to keep the relationship,” Gombo said.

With regard to social media, Gombo listed a litany of positives and negatives.

Teens go out less and thus get into less trouble, pregnancy decreases, and it helps people connect that otherwise would have trouble doing so. But in excess, it also drastically increases the risk of unhappiness and depression.

Gombo said that children need their phones today, because their whole “social strata” is there and it can be needed for homework.

That doesn’t mean that parents can’t set some rules for their children though, both with electronics and in general, Gombo noted. She recommended that parents stick to two or three important rules with consequences.

“It’s not the rules, it’s the consequences of the rules,” Gombo said.

There are times where parents will want to help their children with problems like poor self-image, Gombo said. But parents can gently approach it, saying something like “I wish you felt prettier,” because teenagers will often reject statements contrary to what they’re feeling.

“We have to let our teenagers know we are here without the constant badgering and the comments,” Gombo said, noting that parents tend to talk “at” teens rather than “with” them.

Ultimately, Gombo said that the children will have to figure out many things on their own, but assured parents that this turbulent period in parenting will pass.

“Adolescence is temporary,” Gombo said. “It feels endless and that it’s never going to go away, but it does.”

Sullay Mazzarelli, one of the parents who attended, said she came in with many questions but many good answers on how to parent her 12-year-old daughter and communicate with her better.

“The thing is, being a parent, as a mother, you always think that you have to control everything,” Mazzarelli said. “But I learned today that I can’t control everything.”

Claudine Sarraf Amirian and Jenia Yashaya, the co-chairs of UPTC’s Health Education Committee, said that the event went even “better than expected” and that they hope to have another event like this sometime in the spring.

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