This doctor is trying to change the narrative around terrible teenagers - here's why

Teen on their phone at the dinner table
"We have to begin telling the truth about teenagers. Adolescence is an incredible opportunity." Photo credit: Getty Images

By Dr Edith Bracho-Sanchez of CNN

Editor's note: Edith Bracho-Sanchez is a primary care paediatrician, director of paediatric telemedicine and assistant professor of paediatrics at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. She is also a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Dr Ken Ginsburg is tired of swimming against the tide when it comes to public perceptions about teens.

After decades of work strengthening families and raising teens of his own, the founding director of the Center for Parent and Teen Communication at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia says it's time to change the narrative altogether.

"We have to begin telling the truth about teenagers," said Ginsburg, who is also an adolescent medicine physician. "Adolescence is an incredible opportunity," he added.

His most recent book, Congrats - You're Having a Teen! Strengthen Your Family and Raise a Good Person, offers a step-by-step guide for parents and caregivers looking to seize this opportunity.

Triggering joy and celebration

If the title makes it sound like one of the "What to Expect" books you purchased when your kids were little, that's because he aims to trigger that same sense of celebration you felt when you first brought your child home.

"The whole idea is to tell you what's going to come," Ginsburg explained. "But also for you to understand it, because when you understand it, you know how to react."

Ginsburg is under no pretence that the adolescent years are easy - for anyone. As much as he enjoys working with adolescents, and celebrates them, he also understands the teen years can be challenging for parents and their children.

"That's why you write a book about it," he argued. "You don't write a book about easy things."

But he doesn't believe his book gives parents more hard tasks to complete. Instead, Ginsburg believes a simple understanding of this time in young people's lives can make all the difference for families.

Teens are supposed to push you away, temporarily

Though Ginsburg does not like comparing teens to toddlers, he does want parents and caregivers to think of them within the framework of their developmental stage, much like we think of kids in early childhood.

The first few years of life are recognized as a time of rapid brain development. Children are expected, and further encouraged, to explore under adult supervision.

"The exact same is true for adolescents," said Ginsburg. Just like your toddler would go "No! Me!" when you tried to help with a task, your adolescent now needs to say "No! Me!" - and start taking steps toward becoming independent.

During their teenage years, you need to decide whether you will react as an adult in a way that allows your relationship with your child to grow for years to come.

"If your children see that you were controlling and prevented them from growing, as soon as they can stand on their own, they're going to run away," Ginsburg warned.

If, on the other hand, you understand this is a temporary period of growth where they need support and encouragement, but not your taking absolute control, "then when your child can stand on their own, they will continue to look to you for that support and encouragement throughout their life," he said.

A relationship based on respect

This type of relationship, one based on mutual respect, is also protective when it comes to teens' mental health.

"Families are always the first layer of mental health and mental support," said Ginsburg, who did not write his latest book in response to the mental health crisis currently widespread among young people. "It just so happens that human connection is the most protective thing in a young life."

It's crucial parents learn how to recognize all that is good in their teens and to build on their strengths. What results is a protective, deep connection that can last for decades.