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Five minutes with Dr. John Duffy

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Dr. John Duffy, author of The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens

He talks about his experiences:

You’ve written one/several books on parenting, including “The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens” (Viva Editions). I also blog on parenting for the Huffington Post, and have served as a parenting expert for a number of other media outlets. Fatherhood has been a focus of my work since the beginning. It was, in fact, the topic of my doctoral dissertation almost 15 years ago.

What is the one thing you think parents should know about your work? 
My book is based on the patterns I’ve seen working with hundreds of kids and families. I’ve learned a lot of things that always work in parenting, as well as what never works. I use them in my own parenting, and in my practice every day.

What are your feelings about the role of the father in child development?
Parenting works best in my mind when there is balance in the roles of Dad and Mom in child development. And we fathers play a very critical role. I find that a great deal of a child’s self-esteem comes from gaining competence by learning from Dads, being praised appropriately by Dads and, perhaps most importantly, feeling close and connected to Dads.

What is the best thing dads can do in raising children? 
Great question. Fathers are, I believe, just recently starting to consider the ways we parent. So, I think Dads can, by and large, trust their parenting instincts. But they must attend to those instincts in order to hear them. So, I encourage Dads to consider the ways you parent. Think about it in real time. Place your own fears and needs aside and consider what will work best for your child in any given moment. I have a great deal of faith that the right kind of parenting will easily come from this approach. 

What is the biggest parenting mistake dads can make in raising their children? 
To borrow from my own book title, the worst thing Dads can do is to be dismissive, or un-available, to their children. Our parenting quickly loses effectiveness if we are preoccupied with work, e-mail, or the myriad other stressors in our lives. We need to protect time for our children, and look them in the eye when we are talking with them.

Is there one practical parenting tip you’d suggest to dads?
Yes. I think children feel good about themselves when their fathers protect time to listen to them, openly and without judgment. Listening, I have found, is quite a big deal for Dads, and many of us struggle with it. The payoffs are really high. First, there tends to be more peace in the house, to be sure. But also, your child is far more likely to heed your words if you make yourself open and available to them. A true win-win situation. 

It’s been said that the greatest regret aging men have is that they didn’t spend more time with their kids and paying more attention on raising kids. How do you feel about that statement? 
It’s heart-breaking. And I’ve definitely worked with enough Dads over the years to know that, for an awful lot of guys, it’s painfully true. And it does not need to be – perhaps that’s the good news going forward. It’s never too late to spend time with, and attend to, raising kids. It is, after all, the most important and rewarding job any of us will ever have.

Every generation worries that their kids aren’t strong enough to handle the real world. Do you feel kids need to be “toughened up” by experiencing rough times?
No, not exactly. I think it’s important that we Dads teach our kids that there are natural consequences to their actions, and we need to let those consequences take place -we do our child’s sense of competence and resilience no favor when we shelter them from the real world.
But the idea of providing “rough times” to toughen them up: I find this to be unnecessary. I prefer challenging our kids to do well, maintaining high, reasonable expectations for them. This will hold their self-esteem and self-worth high, without piling unnecessary stress on them.

Or conversely, do you think kids need to be smothered with love to give them storehouse of good feelings with which to deal with the inevitable challenges of life in the real world?
No, I do not find this opposite extreme to be quite so effective either. In fact, I have a section in my book entitled “Why Smothering Never Works” in which I discuss the fact that smothering in this way is somewhat disingenuous on the part of Dads. I think honest, constructive feedback works better, but with a foundation of positive regard for our kids. In my opinion, we can trust our parenting as Dads. We do not need to provide any artifice to our kids in order to provide them all they need to manage their world. 

Has anyone inspired you to be a better father? If yes, who?
My own father inspired me, to be sure. He loved his children unconditionally, and had a wonderful sense of humor that tempered his parenting style nicely. But he was not always available to me in the way I’m describing. He was not around much to listen, and we rarely did much together when I was a child. So, I suppose I learned some good parenting from my father, and some I wanted to do differently.

I’ve also learned so much from all of the Dads I’ve had the privilege to work with over the years. Many of the concepts I preach come from the way these men have parented. And I find this generation of fathers to be particularly inspiring, because I believe we are the first to really consider the way we parent. Most of us recognize the value of our influence in our childrens’ lives, and we’re open to doing something different in order to maximize satisfaction and minimize conflict in our relationships with our kids.

Much of my work involves honoring, and recognizing the importance of, the presence of fathers in childrens’ lives. I should note that, in that vein, my book launch will take place on June 18, the evening before Father’s Day, at the Border’s bookstore in La Grange, Illinois, my hometown.

Connecting with Teens in a Small Screen World
By John Duffy,
Author of The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens


We are on vacation in Florida with another family. Three young teenagers are on board, my 13-year-old included. A number of times over the past week, I have peered over to see each of their beautiful faces lost in a 3 ˝ inch screen: a Nintendo DS, iPhone, iPod Touch, or any other thing i!

One might be texting friends back home, another might be selecting a new song, while yet another is playing the latest downloaded game. There they were in the car last night, screens lighting their faces. There they were on the couch, in front of the giant TV screen! Even in bed, all faces illuminated, eyes entranced.

So how is a parent to counteract the draw of the tiny, sophisticated, intoxicating hand-held plaything?

Well, for one, recognize that if you can't beat them, join them. Whatever it is that is displayed on that tiny screen, your teen is clearly engaged in it. Sit down with her. Have a look at the contraption. Ask what it does -- teens love to be teachers. Most importantly, ask what your teen loves so much about it. This is a golden opportunity to connect, to get to know your teen better.

And you might want to write her a clever text once in a while: "How are you?" "What are you doing/listening to right now?" I worked recently with a father who took to writing his daughter an "I love you" text every day. He called me with glee the day he got one back.

You need to know that texting is the preferred mode of communication for many teens, whether we adults want that to be the case, or not.

Also, recognize your own addiction to the tiny screen. What I did not mention above is the myriad opportunity I have had to see adult faces lit up by an iPhone in the past several days. We serve as the strongest role models for our teens. Our screen time is seen as latent permission for their own.

Finally, you might want to engage your teen in a different way. For instance, my wife Julie and I designated yesterday's lunch as a "No Screen Zone." We engaged our teenagers in conversation. We talked about music, movies and politics. It was fun, and everyone was engaged and participating.

So make sure you protect some time together where all screens go dark.

© 2011 John Duffy, author of The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens

Author Bio

Dr. John Duffy, author of The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens, is a highly sought-after clinical psychologist, certified life coach, parenting expert, and proud parent. He has been working with teens, tweens, and their families for more than fifteen years. He has provided the critical intervention and support needed to help hundreds of families find their footing.

He has served as a contributing parent expert for a number of media outlets. These include AOL Health, AOL Parent Dish, Notre Dame magazine, Root & Sprout, bettyconfidential.com, makeitbetter.net, examiner.com, theteendoc.com, Chicago Parent, sheknows.com, Psych Central, Current Health Teens, The Oakland Tribune, and Working Mother Magazine. He has also served as a parenting and relationship expert on a number of radio programs, including the nationally-syndicated Mr. Dad program with best-selling author Armin Brott, and The Lite Show on WNTD in Chicago. Dr. Duffy has also contributed to a number of books, including Living Life as a Thank You(Viva Editions) by Mary Beth Sammons and Nina Lesowitz.

For more information please visit http://www.drjohnduffy.com/ and Amazon, and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter
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