The Hallmarks of Good Parenting

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

In this episode, we’re going to discuss the characteristics of an “ideal” parent. I know it can be challenging, but it’s doable. Be sure to listen and chime in on your thoughts by visiting


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Dr. Daniel Amen: Hi, I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen: I'm Tana Amen.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. We're talking about teens and have they lost their mind? I've always said insanity is hereditary. You get it from your children and having raised now, my fourth teenager, it can be stressful. I adore all of mine and they are employed or raising children. Nobody's in jail.

Tana Amen: Paying taxes.

Dr. Daniel Amen: No one's been to drug treatment. It's work. Raising teenagers is very different than raising someone who is three or four. I mean, both of the groups talk back but [crosstalk 00:00:46]

Tana Amen: Now, that's interesting because we actually are going to have a specialist on our show who I adore. I've got my two favorite parenting experts I get to be on the show with: my husband and Dr. Jim Fay, who wrote the book "Parenting with Love and Logic."

I had a very stressful young child who is now an amazing teenager.

Dr. Daniel Amen: We had a very [crosstalk 00:01:09]

Tana Amen: I did not know who to cope with it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I'm like, "So where did she get the strong will from?"

Tana Amen: I don't know, but it was really challenge [crosstalk 00:01:19].

Dr. Daniel Amen: I'm the leader. I'm the boss.

Tana Amen: Yeah, hands on hips. I'm like, "There's only room for one of us honey." I had a really hard time with her. Fortunately, I had you. I had tools like "Parenting with Love and Logic."

You're going to get to hear from him soon, but because I learned, I took it upon myself to learn how to communicate with her and learn how to deal with her, we now have this amazing relationship. She's not a hard teenager. I just want to give you hope.

Dr. Daniel Amen: In this podcast, we're going to give you some very specific tips on how to raise a teenager.

Tana Amen: Right. One of the things we talked about, we ended the last podcast on teens with the melatonin and their sleep cycle. I actually want to dig into that a little bit because we think that is actually a big issue for teens. Teens not getting enough sleep is a huge issue. So much so, one of my favorite books called "NurtureShock" wrote about it and they actually discussed this study in their book. They call it "the lost hour".

It's that lost hour of sleep. It's actually probably more like two hours, but for sure, this lost hour of sleep that teens don't get because they're forced to wake up before they're ready and go to school. Some of them get up even earlier than that for sports and things like that.

They don't have enough sleep. Teens, we know, are responsible for more than 25% of fatal accidents. They are responsible for a lot of car accidents, in general, which is why our insurance goes down when you're 25, right?

Dr. Daniel Amen: It's because you're frontal lobes are myelinated. We talked about last time [crosstalk 00:02:53]

Tana Amen: Also, your sleep goes back to normal.

Dr. Daniel Amen: You're right. Sleep is just such a huge issue, which is why I'm not a fan of zero periods. I'm not a fan of letting children stay up late. I'm not a fan of letting them have their phones late if they are undisciplined.

Tana Amen: Well, we actually didn't let Chloe, she wanted to join one of the sports teams that practice was at six, which meant she had to get up before five to get there. I'm like, "Absolutely not." We figured out [crosstalk 00:03:23]

Dr. Daniel Amen: That means she had to go to bed at eight o'clock when she wasn't tired, there were still lots of things happening, she still had homework. Just managing this one issue, on average, children who get an hour or less sleep at night have a higher incidence of suicide.

Tana Amen: Depression and car accidents and their grades suffer dramatically.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I mean, really it's death from all causes.

Tana Amen: Right. There were two cities that studied this. Actually, they put in a program where they started school at nine o'clock and what ended up happening was dramatic. Not only did car accidents go down by 25% in their- but car accidents from teens. Just the teen accidents went down by 25% in their town, okay?

Depression rates went down. Teens reported being happier. Something very interesting. Their focus went up and their SAT scores went up dramatically. Math scores went up by 56 points. Verbal scores went up by 156 points. That's really cool.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It just shows that when you don't get adequate sleep, it actually turns off 700 health promoting genes and it is one of the major issues with everyone in our society, really, but especially the vulnerable among us, which are teens. Another reason teens are vulnerable, is parents believe this nonsense that they don't have influence over teens.

Tana Amen: Yeah, no, I get that one a lot.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It's like, "Oh, I can't control them. Oh, I can't have any influence." I'm like, "You don't have influence because one: you're not listening to them. Two: you're not bonded with them. Three: you're not living the message that you're trying to give to them."

Tana Amen: We're going to talk a lot about that with Dr. Jim Fay, but I want to just touch on that briefly because I get that a lot. Even some of my friends, who now have very large male teenagers, okay, so they're like, "They're too big. I can't do anything."

I'm like, "Really, you can't do anything? Who does the grocery shopping? Who washes their underwear? Who drives them everywhere?" I would be putting vegetables in the house and letting them wear dirty underwear if they didn't listen. I'm not kidding. There is a lot you can do, okay, so that shows them [crosstalk 00:05:41]

Dr. Daniel Amen: Let's step back and let's just talk about the hallmarks of good parenting. I always say the two words, if you just remember these two words, you'll be a good parent for a teen. That's firm and kind.

When you start screaming at them, they get angry and they stop listening to you. If somebody screamed at you at work, you would not be okay with that. Firm and kind. Then, it starts with bonding. I think one of the reasons Chloe is such a good kid, is you literally spent over a decade, every night in her room, reading with her.

Tana Amen: Dinner at the dinner table.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Those are the two things that actually predicted whether or not someone became a [Road Scholar 00:06:29]. You ate together and you read together.

Tana Amen: Those were the common denominators.

Dr. Daniel Amen: When you just cleaned out her room recently and you looked at all of the book [crosstalk 00:06:40]

Tana Amen: I had over 200 books and they were all these inspirational books. I was like, "Oh, maybe I do get some credit for this."

Dr. Daniel Amen: Firm and kind and it starts with clear goals. What kind of child do we want to raise? What kind of parents do we want to be? You got to ask yourself. We want to raise a responsible child that is competent, that has good self-esteem, but it's real self-esteem. We don't tell her she's smart. Never did that.

Tana Amen: Never.

Dr. Daniel Amen: We tell her she works hard.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Her self-esteem comes from working.

Tana Amen: She loves to work hard.

Dr. Daniel Amen: That actually came from the longest longitudinal study looking at 450 inner city Boston school kids over a 70 year period. The researchers at Harvard were looking at well, what goes with self-esteem? What goes with effectiveness in life? It was whether or not they worked as [crosstalk 00:07:45]

Tana Amen: You're the one who recommended the book to me the "NurtureShock", which I thought was fantastic. They talk about that study. They mention that one of the worst things you can do is praise your child for how naturally smart they are. One of the best things you can do is applaud their effort, even if they're a C student but they're working their brains out.

Dr. Daniel Amen: That means they will then work harder.

Tana Amen: It's a work ethic.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Where if you reinforce, "Oh, you're so smart." Well, when it's hard for them then they will go, "Well, I'm not really that smart." If you praise them because they work hard, then when something is hard they'll go, "I'm a hard worker." [crosstalk 00:08:17]

Tana Amen: I'll figure this out.

Dr. Daniel Amen: The next thing is clear rules. You are, more than me, rule bound in life.

Tana Amen: Very rule bound.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I think it's critical that there's rules at home. This is how we treat each other in this family.

Tana Amen: One thing, just about what you just talked about a second ago, I at one point, when you had talked about being firm and kind, I remember being so frustrated as a parent early on that I almost had a break down one day. I'm like, "This is not supposed to be this hard." It wasn't the kind of parent I wanted to be. I was frustrated, angry a lot about her behavior and thinking she should just do what I told her to do.

It wasn't working that way because I had a very strong-willed child. Once I figured that firm and kind thing out, one line that I used a lot that helped me whenever she would misbehave, I would give her the clear road to getting what she wanted.

I was very clear that when she didn't behave a certain way my line, my typical line was, "I don't do things for kids who treat me that way and you shouldn't do things for people that treat you that way either. You should expect respect in your life." She grew up learning that. The automatic answer when you behave that way is, "No." Those were just firm and kind. I stopped yelling at her.

Dr. Daniel Amen: The firm part is so important because if you give in to a teen that has a tantrum, you've just taught the teen to have a tantrum. It's like when you give into yourself when you know you shouldn't because the four year old in you is having a tantrum. You're creating your own internal behavior disorder. Don't demean them. Don't yell at them. Don't scream at them. Obviously, don't beat them. That is of no value. In fact, it's counter productive.

Tana Amen: It teaches them violence.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It teaches them violence. What we want you to do is when you say something, mean it, back it up, but do it in a thoughtful way, in a kind way. Another thing we say a lot to each other is, "Be curious. Don't be furious."

Tana Amen: Yeah. Along with the be curious, not furious, is educating them about what's going on in their brain. If you listen to the last podcast, explain to them what's happening, why they might be feeling so confused, right? It's really important. If you educate them and learn to listen. You actually taught me this really well because I used to very authoritative. It's my nature to be, sort of, authoritative. You taught me active listening.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It's so important. Clear rules and then it's bonding. You did it with the time, but because you have ADD, that when- and a lot of people do. We talk about it a lot on the show is because you have ADD. It reminds me of Trump sometimes, where somebody is about to ask a question and he starts to answer it before they've actually finished what they're going to say.

When you learned active listening, it actually made a huge difference because bonding requires time, actual physical time, which you've always given to her, but it also requires listening so people feel heard. There's a great book called "Never Split the Difference" about negotiation.

Tana Amen: Yeah, I love that book.

Dr. Daniel Amen: In it, the author talks. He says, "Mirrors work magic." Mirror the last three words, or one to three words, that someone has said, so let them finish what their question is or their comment or their thought. Then, mirror the last three words back and wait four seconds before you say anything. We just want to get our point across. We want to pour our incredible 62 years of knowledge into their little brains, right?

Tana Amen: Their job is to disconnect from you.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Their job is separation, right? Independence and separation and competence. What we need to do is help them figure out their own solutions because as soon as you tell them how to think they're not going to want to think that way.

Tana Amen: You touched on it earlier about consequences, letting kids pay consequences, is huge. One of the things we have made very clear to Chloe is that she is responsible for her behavior. We have let her pain some painful consequences early in life because let them learn lessons while lessons are cheap, right? That's one thing I learned.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I love the homework one. You have to talk about the homework one.

Tana Amen: Yeah, the homework one and letting her pay for her own babysitters and we would leave her at home when she misbehaved. She had to pay for it herself or use toys to pay for the babysitter.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Now, everybody, [inaudible 00:13:12] say now is you're so mean.

Tana Amen: Right. It seems mean.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It only happened once.

Tana Amen: Happened once. Both of those behaviors happened once. I cleaned her room out once for three months and let her earn everything back including her clothes. She only had school uniforms and pajamas. I know it sounds horrible, but she never did those things again.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I think it sounds awesome.

Tana Amen: Yeah, she never did those things again. She was a strong kid.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Talk about the homework. [crosstalk 00:13:36]

Tana Amen: We had this homework situation where-

Dr. Daniel Amen: You would really help her and [crosstalk 00:13:40]

Tana Amen: No, I didn't help her. It wasn't helping her. I had to drag her, okay? I somehow felt like my value, my self worth as a parent, was tied to her getting good grades, making sure everything was turned in on time, done right. She didn't want to do it. We would have this battle every single night over homework.

Finally, one night, along with all this help, I learned how to do this. It was uncomfortable for me at first, but then I just decided to try it. I walked in and I said, "You know, honey, I love you so much that I realized something. These are your grades. They're not my grades. This is your homework. It's not my homework. If you don't want to do homework ever again you don't have to do it."

Course, she looked at me completely suspiciously, rolls her eyes. She's like, "That doesn't make any sense." She got all mad. I'm like, "No. You honestly don't, but you have to be willing to pay the consequences that go along with that."

Dr. Daniel Amen: You [can 00:14:32] repeat third grade.

Tana Amen: Well, hold on. I said, "You have to be willing to pay the consequences." Now, I wouldn't have ever been comfortable showing up at school and explaining to my teacher why my work wasn't done. I wouldn't have liked sitting in the classroom at lunch time because I was being punished. I'm like, "It's okay because you're so cute and you're so sweet that I'm sure you'll make new friends next year when all your friends move onto third grade."

She got so angry she jumped out her chair. She was like, "I never said I'm not doing my homework. I just said I'm not doing it right this second." To this day, I've never asked if her homework is done again. If she doesn't do it, then of course we don't go anywhere fun. That's one of the consequences, right? The fun stuff gets cut out. I'm like, "No. We don't go."

Dr. Daniel Amen: She's doing school because it's her goal.

Tana Amen: She is obsessed with her grades and I don't have to say a word. She has been ever since. It's really powerful.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Firm and kind. Clear goals. Listen.

Tana Amen: Let me finish one thing about the homework thing, this is really important because one of the things I've figured out in helping people with this is they aren't actually willing to let their kids pay the consequences. What I mean by that is, I never took homework to school for Chloe if it wasn't finished. I never took lunch to school for Chloe if she forgot it. She had certain responsibilities and I expected her to do them.

She, one time, forgot her homework that was a huge group project. It means the whole group was going to get marked down. The teacher called me because Chloe looked at the teacher and said, "My mom won't bring it. I already know she won't bring it." The teacher calls me and she said, "Would you bring Chloe's homework to school?" I said, "No. Chloe already knows the rules. If she forgot it then that's on Chloe. She's going to have to explain to the group why they're getting a lesser grade."

That's a really uncomfortable consequence and the teacher said, "You're kidding, right?" I said, "I'm not kidding. If I bring it this time, she'll ask me the next time. If I don't bring it this time, she'll never forget again." I said, "There's one way she could figure out how to do it is if she has enough money, real word consequence says that if I forget something at home and I have a big meeting, I pay a courier. If she's got enough homework, she can pay for someone to pick it up for her. If not, it sits at home, but I'm in a meeting and I can't do it."

She never forgot her homework again. Ever. She's obsessed with looking, double checking, triple checking, to make sure she's go it. You've got to let them pay the consequences.

Dr. Daniel Amen: When you do, they become responsible. The idea behind love and logic is let them pay the consequences when they're cheap rather when they're much more expensive [crosstalk 00:17:06]

Tana Amen: And they go to jail or lose a job.

Dr. Daniel Amen: They go to jail or get fired or end up being divorced and so on. Firm and kind, relationships, bonding, clear rules. Notice what you like about them more than what you don't, but you have to supervise them until they show, they demonstrate, they can supervise themselves.

Tana Amen: In fact, what you're saying is so important. There was a study done at Columbia University. What they found is hands-on parents. It means, you don't have to control them. It means you need to be there with them and be bonded to them like you said. If you're there with them, they don't make those bad decisions.

In fact, they found that when people were there, hands-on parents, those kids were 25% less likely to actually engage in risk taking behavior like drugs and alcohol. They actually had less addictive behavior. It was really important.

Dr. Daniel Amen: That's one of the reasons, where if parents have issues with addictions or parents have issues with ADD or depression or bipolar disorder, PTSD, whatever.

Tana Amen: Get it treated.

Dr. Daniel Amen: You've got to get it treated because if you're not your best, it's hard for you to be able to focus on those you care about.

Tana Amen: We've got two things left that I want to talk about. One of them is don't forget what it's like to be a teen. I find this, it's so funny to me when I've heard people actually say this, that I know. My friends, I've heard them say this to their teens. It's like, "When I was your age I never did that stuff. I was such a good teenager." Blah.

I'm looking at them like they're from another planet because I was there. I remember. I'm like, "Okay, you weren't a good teen. You made really bad decisions. So did I."

Dr. Daniel Amen: You're lying.

Tana Amen: You're lying and your kids know when you're lying. I actually am honest with my daughter in an age appropriate way, but I use it as a learning experience. I will tell her, "Honey, I did make bad decisions. I'm not telling you that so that you can make bad decisions. I'm telling you that because I want you to learn. These are the consequences I paid and when you make adult decisions as a teenager, you get to pay adult consequences as a teenager. Teen pregnancy, STDs, getting arrested. There's a lot of things that your brain is not ready to handle. I'm hoping you trust me."

That's one.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, and you have to be your child's frontal lobes until theirs develop. One of the most important things you can do as a parent, and you do this very well, is you need to know their friends. Their friends, after about 13 or 14, their friends actually have more influence than the parents do. If you know who they're with, what they're doing and they know you're going to check, they're much more likely to be better at supervising themselves.

That's why get them involved with other kids who have parents who care about them who are involved as well.

Tana Amen: The last thing I want to talk about is using their biology to your advantage, right? Sounds crazy because it seems like they're just going so crazy but if you understand the melatonin thing and you figure out how to use the sleep to your advantage, don't get on their case on the weekends, let them sleep when they can and figure out how to work their chores around that. Also, oxytocin is also surging, so even though they might be wanting to be independent from you, if you do things.

Also, the dopamine factor. The fact that they do like to do exciting things, if you're that parent who teaches them. They have this need for high risk reward. Their risk reward center is going a little crazy. If you teach them that they can have fun in a safe way and you reward them for doing it in a safe way. You don't just punish them when they do it wrong, but you reward them for doing it in a safe way, you might be really shocked at what happens.

I do so many fun, cool things. My daughter's friends think I'm this cool parent, but really what I'm doing is teaching them that fun can be really safe.

Dr. Daniel Amen: You are a cool parent.

Tana Amen: I am, huh? So are you.

Dr. Daniel Amen: We hope this is really helpful to you. Brain Warrior's Way helping your teen because that will save your sanity. Stay with us.