03.27.2020 Friendship | Family | Intimacy

Dr. Darby Fox Says Parenting Teens Doesn’t Have to Be Hell

Marissa Stempien
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Being a teenager is hard. Trying to navigate the social minefield of school, understand the oddities of your changing body, and maintain control of all those raging hormones isn’t easy. Looking back on your teen years, it’s impossible to really remember how difficult it was, and now, if you have kids of your own, you might be trying to negotiate those awkward times all over again. 

Darby Fox, author and therapist, has spent the last 20 years teaching parents and children how to communicate with one another, especially during the difficult years of adolescence. Her new book, “Rethinking Your Teenager: Shifting from Control and Conflict to Structure and Nurture to Raise Accountable Young Adults,” helps readers better understand those years, from a new perspective — as parents.

Fox has a certain affinity for understanding children. Since she was young, she always seemed to know the best way to communicate and connect with kids. “I have always loved kids,” she explains. “I frequently babysat for families that had, what would be considered, tough kids. It never seemed difficult to figure out what different tricks I might need to employ to get even the most difficult kids to bed.” 

She received a BA from Middlebury College, graduating cum laude in Sociology and Biochemistry and went on to graduate from Columbia University summa cum laude, earning her Master’s degree in Social Work before extensive post master’s specialized training from Columbia University, Yale Child Study Center, NYU Silver School of Social Work, Mel Levine’s All Kinds Of Minds Institute, Harvard Medical School, and The Ackerman Institute for the Family. So yeah… she understands kids.

However, all the schooling in the world can’t prepare you for motherhood. And when it came time to raise her own children, she realized how every child — even those she knew best — came with their own set of struggles. 

“As I raised my own family of four, two girls and two boys, I realized how incredibly demanding and complex raising children can be. It would be a cop out to dismiss boys as misbehaved and rambunctious and girls as emotional or merely obedient,” she explains. “I became more empathetic and curious about trying to hear each family member’s perspective. I became more committed to assisting families in finding a balance between conflicting styles. Most often people want the same thing: approval and unconditional love. It’s the way it is manifested in the family that becomes challenging.”

Remembering what it was like being a teenager is a great step when it comes to understanding your own kids, but living through those teen years isn’t the same as actually raising a teenager.

Helping parents navigate those years from a parental perspective is Fox’s goal — especially, she says, when there are internal family struggles. “I wrote the book to serve as a resource for parents. I hope that readers will change how they look at raising their teenagers. Parents frequently come in stronger and try to control their adolescents every move, or they turn their backs stating it’s an impossible stage and there is nothing they can do,” explains the therapist. “Instead, I hope my book is influential in giving parents confidence to combine structure and expectations based on neuroscience and psychology, so they can then guide their adolescents through many of the pitfalls that are often attributed to this stage of development.”

Fox calls adolescence one of the most powerful and exciting periods of child development and wants to share her love of the age group with a broader group of parents. “I want parents to try to connect with their children and allow the connection based on mutual empathy guide their parenting style. If they consider raising kids to become accountable, happy members of a larger society, the essential shift will result in less conflict and stronger bonds based on trust and respect.”

Marissa Stempien is a freelance editor and writer based in Southern California. With a degree in English Literature and a minor in Asian Studies, she has written on travel, fashion, beauty, technology, culture, and food, and enjoys writing short stories in her spare time. Find her on social media at @paperandlights.

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