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Interview with Amy Newmark of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Your Teen interviewed Amy Newmark, Publisher of Chicken Soup for the Soul, Just for Teenagers, a compilation of 101 autobiographical essays written by teens.

Amy Newmark On Teens Today

Q: How can parents help teens lead a healthy, balanced lifestyle?

Newmark: Teens need perspective instead of getting bogged down in the details of their daily, very busy, lives. In our books, teens describe their ups and downs: academic stress, issues with friends, crushes, family problems, or even a pimple ruining their lives FOREVER on the eve of the prom.

Advice from parents does not always help. Especially when parents say, “You will laugh about this one day.” Or when they relate a similar experience from the Dark Ages (that would be the 1970s or 1980s). The best advice for teens may come from sharing the experiences of other teens, either through first hand stories or from books, because teens believe their peers.

Parents can also help their teens by having reasonable expectations. Don’t push them to take on more than they can handle. Also, parents should encourage teens to select activities based on interest and not based on resumé value. Teens shouldn’t play sports and join clubs just to enhance a college application. They should pursue activities that they are truly interested in, not just the ones they think will look good.

Q: What themes seem run through the stories that you publish for teenagers?

Newmark: Friends, crushes, braces, pimples, first bras, death of loved ones, loneliness, etc. The themes are remarkably similar to the ones you remember from your own teen years. The themes have hardly changed from our first Chicken Soup book for teens to our recent versions. People are people, and human emotions don’t really change from decade to decade.

Q: Is life harder today for teens than in previous generations?

Newmark: The feelings are basically the same. Life is more difficult with regard to college admissions. The admissions process is more difficult and more intense than in the past. Kids have always worried about getting into college, but admission is much more difficult. Record numbers of kids are applying, and the number of spots has not increased.

Q: Do parents have unrealistic expectations or put too much pressure on teens?

Newmark: Surprisingly, we didn’t see reports of that in the stories submitted for our teen books. The teens are not complaining about pressure from their parents. It seems that most parents are behaving pretty well but that the teens are putting pressure on themselves.

Q: How are your books helpful to teens?

Newmark: We have lots of stories in which kids talk about how good they feel about themselves when they make the right decisions—how that improves their self-esteem. We also have lots of stories in which girls and boys have an epiphany and realize they are terrific just the way they are, whether it’s in the area of weight, appearance, talent or any of the other factors by which they measure themselves.

Self-esteem is so powerful. It frees up kids to make choices that are more about what they want and less about what they think they should do in order to feel better about themselves. If they already feel good about themselves they are less likely to make those bad decisions. Although every teen makes bad decisions, no matter how well we raise them. A girl with healthy self-esteem isn’t as likely to be persuaded to do something stupid with a boy in order to be “popular.” A boy with healthy self-esteem may not be persuaded to take a drug or drink too much in order to “fit in.”

Q: What should parents understand to make parenting a little easier?

Newmark: Don’t take anything personally. They don’t mean it when they say, “I hate you.” They are really saying, “I am frustrated that I am not a grown-up but also no longer a child, and I wish I had more say in my life.”

If you keep feeding them, and you keep them from drinking and driving, they will stop being teenagers after a while! Just stick it out. Your biggest job is to keep them safe.

Teens become so critical of their parents. When they are young, children think their parents are perfect. It is a rude awakening when they realize that we have flaws, and they have to work through accepting those flaws and finally loving us for who we really are despite our perceived faults. It is also a natural and healthy part of the separation process.

I have my own story. Each of my kids was just awful the summer before they went to college. In preparing to separate, they became overly critical of everything at home, including me. I remember one evening, right after my daughter graduated from high school, she was poking around in the refrigerator, so I tried to be helpful and started telling her about the leftovers that were hard to identify since they were inside plastic containers. She turned to me and snarled, “The last thing on my mind is food!” and stormed upstairs to her room, without anything to eat!

Chicken Soup for the Soul, Just for Teenagers.

Susan Borison

Susan Borison, mother of five, is the founder and editor of Your Teen Media. Because parenting teenagers is humbling and shouldn’t be tackled alone.