cover image Second Family

Second Family

Ron Taffel. St. Martin's Press, $23.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-312-26137-5

In the wake of the massacre at Columbine High School, child and family therapist Taffel and writer Blau (authors of Parenting by Heart) contend that parental anxiety about teen violence is misplaced, when the real danger is that ""children are somehow slipping away."" Packed with gripping stories drawn from kids he's helped in his private practice and from more than 200 interviews, Taffel's book explains why it is imperative that parents extend ""the empathic envelope,"" or balance empathy and expectations, to reach their kids. The culprit, as Taffel sees it, is not peer pressure per se, but the enticements of what he terms ""the second family,"" or the combined effects of pop culture and peers. For kids on today's so-called Planet Youth, belonging means not imposing one's values, and fun and comfort are paramount. Despite the pervasiveness of teen lying, the allure of sex with many partners and the easy availability of drugs and alcohol starting in the sixth and seventh grades, Taffel holds out hope to struggling parents that it is possible to rein in out-of-control teens. He encourages parents to ""listen without judging,"" and to regard phone time, e-mail and privacy as privileges that can be withdrawn as punishments. In today's fast-paced world, he believes parents shouldn't wait for big red flag issues, like lower grades, before they get to the heart of what's going on with their kids. Taffel's suggestion that parents carve out comfort time, as opposed to quality time, may seem like old-fashioned advice, but his frank quotations of real, R-rated teenage talk prove that he's in tune with the pulse of contemporary, urban teenage culture. Agent, Eileen Cope, Lowenstein and Associates. (Mar.) Forecast: Boosted by a national media tour, Taffel's detailed look at the lives of contemporary teens, combined with his measured advice, makes this a thoughtful complement to recent first-person accounts of parenting difficult adolescents, such as Martha Tod Dudman's Augusta, Gone (see review below) and Adair Lara's Hold Me Close, Let Me Go (Forecasts, Dec. 11, 2000). Displaying these titles together could boost sales of each.