NEW YORK – This is straight from the mouth of two high-school girls: Parents should be flattered when their teenagers pick a fight. It’s likely a sign of unconditional love, they say.

And it’s out of concern that most parents sound their battle cry, usually relating to safety or sound judgment – and most kids know this. But, grown-ups aren’t very good at choosing what’s worth going to the mat for so their good intentions get lost in the shuffle, says 18-year-old Lara Fox.

Fox and Hilary Frankel try to explain other quirks of the teenage mind to clueless parents in a new book, “Breaking the Code” (New American Library). It comes with the subtitle, “Two teens reveal the secrets to better parent-child communication.”

The girls are both seniors at Fieldston High School in the Bronx. In the fall Fox, from Manhattan, is heading to Brown University, and Frankel, of Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., is going to Yale. They wrote “Breaking the Code” when they were both 16, preparing for the SATs and learning to drive.

The book is broken down into chapters by – for example, “No trespassing!” and “But everyone else is going!” – and the girls simulate conversations between parents and children, and then translate them into “teen speak.”

When a parent says, “We have dinner Friday night with the Smiths,” teens hear, “I don’t really care what you may have planned and I don’t respect you enough to check with you before making plans.” Fox and Frankel counsel parents to instead ask their children about their schedule before including them in family obligations.

Personal privacy, which extends from their room to e-mail messages and their calendar, is probably the most important thing to teenagers, Fox says, and it’s also the biggest source of frustration between the generations. “It’s the stem of everything,” she says.

It’s natural for parents to be curious what their children are up to, especially when they start closing the door – literally and figuratively – but parents have to trust that they’ve done a good job in raising sensible kids and give them their space, Frankel adds.

She notes a caveat, though: Snooping is unacceptable when it comes to friends, shopping, parties and even boyfriends and girlfriends, but not in “life or death situations,” such as drugs or eating disorders. That’s when parents might have to overstep normal boundaries, she says.

And whenever parents delve deep into their teenagers’ personal lives, they should be up front about it instead of trying to do it undetected. Teenagers’ rooms might look like such chaos that a little rearranging wouldn’t be noticed, but it would.

And, advises Fox, for anything that requires a “talk,” be it grades, relationships, alcohol or curfews, start out by saying, “I know you probably already know this but just hear me out.” It’ll do wonders if parents don’t take a condescending tone or use their age as a badge of wisdom, she says.

The authors say that one of the most effective ways to communicate with teens is to let them overhear casual conversations or be made aware of true stories.

Instead of reminding a teenager for the umpteenth time not to drink and drive, leave a newspaper article about a serious accident that happened the previous weekend at 2 a.m. on the table. That will get noticed, Fox and Frankel say, while another lecture is sure to be tuned out.

Other nuggets of parental wisdom likely to be ignored, or backfire, include:

n “I pay the bills so your room is my room.”

n “Look on the bright side.”

n “Because I said so.”

Teenagers are young adults who feel they’ve earned the right to ask “why?” Fox says.

And teenagers know they’re usually in control of the relationship because they’re the wild cards. They’re the ones who can choose to listen or not to listen to their parents’ advice, they’re they ones who can open up or clam up about their feelings and their day-to-day activities.

“We’re not rationalizing teenagers,” Fox says, “we’re rationalizing everything they think. We’re explaining how teens work.”

But when they were putting it all down on paper, Fox and Frankel realized that most of what parents say makes sense, it’s just presented wrong. And teenagers’ responses came out as bratty.

“What everyone has to realize is that teenagers are incredibly sensitive and defensive. Everything you (parents) say will be overanalyzed,” Fox explains.

Frankel adds: “We acknowledge that teens are manipulative.”

But if teenagers are investing their time and energy in battles with their parents, it signals a healthy relationship, as long as the fights aren’t too frequent or dramatic. “If you’re always hearing “Yes, yes, yes,’ then your teens aren’t getting it,” Fox says.


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