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The Best Advice for Raising Teens and Adolescents

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Authors Lisa Heffernan and Mary Dell Harrington.
Photo by Cathrine White

Seven years ago, Westchester moms Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa Heffernan founded Grown & Flown, a website that’s become a go-to resource for parents of kids between the ages of 15 and 25. Last year, they launched their next chapter, a book titled GROWN & FLOWN: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books). The paperback copy hit shelves last month.

We asked the pair — themselves the parents of five children in their 20s — for their best advice on raising the not-yet-launched.

What do you wish you had known about parenting 15- to 25-year-olds that you hadn’t known when you started?
Reading neurologist Dr. Frances Jensen’s book The Teenage Brain would have been so helpful. She writes about the unique risks to teens’ brains due to drinking, how much easier it is for teens to develop addictions, and how these years are when they can learn more than they will ever again.

What are today’s parents most concerned about, regarding their kids’ education?
Because college is so much more expensive than it was when we attended, parents have to be very careful about considering the financial fit of their teen’s college choice.

What’s your best advice for parents whose kids are applying to college?
Do not start talking about college in ninth or 10th grade, or else high school will become all about college, and teens will miss some of the best years of their lives. This doesn’t mean that parents should wait to educate themselves about paying for college, testing requirements, etc.

What’s the most common question you get from parents?
“Am I doing too much or too little in helping my teen grow into an adult?” and “Why is it so hard to figure out how to guide our teens but not overparent them?” There has been a fundamental change in the way these kids relate to their parents that’s left us feeling confused. Studies show we are closer to our teens and young adults than we were to our parents when we were this age. This is wonderful and should not be confused with the controlling behavior where problems arise.

What will be the biggest challenge for these kids and their parents within the next
five years?

Technology will continue to develop in ways we can’t predict. There are always unintended consequences, and it will always be important for parents to stay current with the social platforms that their teens are using.