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Couple Guide Parents Through Teen-Age Years

August 20, 1986|PENELOPE MOFFET

Concerned because your teen-ager is ecstatic one moment, "down in the dumps" the next? Worried because your child's attention seems to wander frequently into a "fantasy world"?

Relax, say Dennis and Andrea Evans of Newport Beach. Chances are it isn't madness but mid-kidhood crisis.

"If there are violent mood swings or if the child is living in a fantasy world almost 24 hours a day," parents shouldn't ignore the symptoms of what could be real emotional or drug-related troubles, said Andrea, who is a marriage, family and child counselor. However, she added, too often parents "panic over adolescence."

The child who is on "the emotional roller coaster of the teen-age years" is not necessarily manic-depressive; the boy who spends a lot of time "staring out the window" dreaming about girls is really "practicing" for real life, Andrea said.

Tonight in Costa Mesa, the Evanses will conduct a three-hour Coastline Community College class called "The Adolescent Years--The Parent's Survival Guide." The class is based primarily on the Evanses' own experiences as parents and professionals, supplemented by Andrea Evans' study of parenting methods. Enrollment for the class, which costs $14, is still open.

Of the two instructors, Dennis, 47, principal of Corona del Mar High School for the last 15 years, has spent more professional time with teen-agers and holds a doctorate in education. Andrea, 39, a former elementary school teacher who has a master's degree in counseling, only recently completed her therapist training and now works with both adults and adolescents.

However, both Evanses have plenty of practical parenting experience. Dennis has a 22-year-old son and 21-year-old daughter from a prior marriage, and Andrea has three--count 'em, three--about-to-be 13-year-olds, also from an earlier marriage. Only the triplets live with the Evanses, who have been married since 1981.

Mysterious Quiet

During most of a recent interview at the Evanses' home, Bradley, Matthew and Heather Schneider, the triplets, remained mysteriously quiet and out of sight. "These are just such model children," Andrea said, laughing. The youngsters seemed to be on their "best behavior," she added. "Usually it's like Grand Central Station here." When they did put in an appearance, the children--who are obviously siblings, but not identical--seemed to be remarkably self-assured for their age.

According to Dennis, the triplets are "right there at the beginning" of adolescence, "if you define adolescence as where they start looking for their identity and start challenging authority." For American--and, particularly, California--children, they are unusual in having had full-length childhoods, he said.

Children in the United States usually "enter adolescence earlier and stay there longer" than do children of other nationalities, Dennis said. Andrea said this, in her opinion, is because the American media "glorifies" the superficial aspects of adolescence and many parents seem to "want to hurry their children into (adolescence, but) I think kids need a chance to be kids, too." This trend is particularly strong in California, she said, where the weather, the beach and the way "things move quickly" is unlike what would be found in a state such as Nebraska or Idaho. Until recently, Andrea added, she has refused to let her children attend any of "the boy-girl parties that started in the fourth grade" and has discouraged childhood romances. The triplets don't always appreciate such parental guidance, she admitted.

Non-Negotiable Rules

Only a few rules are "non-negotiable" in the Evanses' household, Andrea said. For instance, the children are not to "go to anyone's house after school unless a parent is home," and "if I leave (the house), no other child comes in while I'm gone," she said. It's important for parents to stand firm on basic household standards, Andrea added, but there should be room for discussion, and it's natural for children--particularly teen-agers--to test those boundaries. Such testing is "part of development, part of the (adolescent's) breaking away from the family and the parent," she said. As her children grow older and "prove" their increasing maturity, she added, they'll be given more independence.

Communication is "really important with teen-agers," Andrea said, because teen-agers' self-esteem needs to be bolstered, and parents should learn "to look for the positive" when talking to their children. "Start looking for some good things in your adolescent, and you may see more," she said.

Andrea said that even during her two post-divorce years as a single parent, when she worked almost full time, she made sure she gave each child at least 20 minutes of her undivided attention each night. "I don't think you have to spend a tremendous amount of time with each (child), but it's the quality of the time," she said.

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