Is Age Thirteen an Unlucky Number for Parents?

For most people, their adolescent transgressions — whether they were mild or wild — are pretty much past history by the time they hit their 30s.

"Most adults do relatively well with their lives, irrespective of their adolescent activities," Fishbein said.

Bennett L. Leventhal, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Chicago, says that 13 isn't necessarily a pivotal age.

"It's not so magical; it's the first year of being a teen," Leventhal said.

For most girls, the physical changes associated with puberty happen quite a bit earlier. But there are definite cultural landmarks associated with entering the teen years.

For Jewish kids, 13 is the age of the bar or bat mitzvah, a ceremonial bridge into adulthood. Being 13 often means leaving the safety of elementary school for the unpredictable halls of a junior high. Girls who were shopping in the kids' department can suddenly fit into low-riding jeans and belly-baring shirts in the juniors department.

Teen rebels who take truly dangerous risks are not as common as many think, Leventhal said. Perhaps anywhere from 3 percent to 10 percent engage in dangerous behavior such as sexual promiscuity, taking hard-core drugs and joining gangs. But there are scores more who settle for tamer thrills, such as skateboarding.

The majority grow relatively gracefully into their teen years, and those kids who become risk-takers as teens likely were almost certainly risk-takers as children too, Leventhal said.

Parental Fear Factor

Beata Zuba, a 17-year-old from the New York borough of Queens, says she knew plenty of kids who got into trouble with drugs and sex once they reached their teens. She didn't, thanks in part to her own personal fear factor — mom and dad.

"Both of them were strict," Zuba said. "I was scared of my parents. If I did anything like that, they would get mad, and I would get grounded."

She said she hung out with friends who didn't do drugs and stayed involved in extracurricular activities — stuff that kept her too busy to get involved in much mischief.

Many adults overestimate the power of peer pressure, and perhaps underestimate the impact that loving adults and positive role models can have on a teen, Lipsitt said.

"Parent A may think it's Parent B's child who is dragging down their child," Lipsitt said. "But it isn't a matter of bad kids dragging down good kids."

Although kids labeled as troublemakers may be influenced by other children, it is often pressure from adults — and the anxiety that some parents feel about their own adolescence — that can create problems.

Teens And Sex

For instance, a parent who had sexual problems as a child of 13 or 14 might have dealt with them by withdrawing from sexual activities altogether, and they may expect their child to do the same, Lipsitt said.

But in this generation, there is a much more permissive attitude about sex, and what worked for mom or dad may not work for their children, he said.

"A generation ago, kids were worried about syphilis; now it's AIDS," Lipsitt said. "Parents think their kids are even more at risk."

But in fact, statistics show that today's teens are pretty savvy about sex, he said.

In a report released this past spring, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy said one in five young people — boys and girls — has had sex by the time they reach 15. But the same organization also reported the U.S. teen pregnancy rate fell 19 percent between 1991 and 1997.

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