Friday Five: Vanessa Van Petten

Vanessa Van Petten is one of the nation’s youngest experts, or ‘youthologists’ on parenting and adolescents. She now runs her popular parenting website,, which she writes with 120 other teenage writers to answer questions from parents and adults. Her approach has been featured by CNN, Fox News, and Wall Street Journal. Her next book, Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I’m Grounded? is being released in September 2011 with Plume Books of Penguin USA.

Vanessa was kind enough to stop by and chat for today’s Friday Five:

What are two things every teen wants their parents to know?

First, I think that the issues for parents and teens are the same but the circumstances are different. We know that every parent was a teenager once—although it is sometimes hard to believe it. Even though all teenagers have some of the same issues, like dating, curfew, pressure at school and bullying, we want parents to know that the circumstances are different. Colleges are more competitive and technologies like Facebook and texting add a new layer of complication to teen relationships. Please don’t assume things are the same as they were when you were a teenager and talk to us about what is different.

Second, just because we are rolling our eyes, doesn’t mean we aren’t listening. We often pretend to not listen to our parents or care what they think, but we do. Don’t let our eye rolling, lackadaisical attitude fool you, we are often listening and what you say matters to us more than you think.

What got you started writing parenting advice from the kid’s perspective?

When I was 16 I thought it was my Dad’s goal in life to make me miserable. I was convinced that he had a running list of all the ways he could embarrass me in front of my friends, trick me into doing more chores or make my curfew earlier. Our relationship would have continued to fracture until one day I saw my Dad reading a parenting book. I flipped through it while my Dad was in the bathroom and realized a lot of the things he did that drove me crazy he was getting right out of this book! I looked at the other parenting books on our shelves and realized that they were all written by adults. I wondered—has anyone ever asked teens to write to their parents?

I decided to build a website where teens could answer questions and write to parents called I couldn’t believe how quickly it grew and how happy both teens were to get their voices out and parents were to have a new outlet for connecting with their kids! We now have over 120 teen writers who give advice.

You talk a lot about how to make sure your teen is not lying to you. How can a parent tell if their teen is lying to them, what is a quick tip?

For many parents, being able to decipher truth from fiction in their kids is incredibly important. After studying human lie-detection and then implementing the principles while working with thousands of teens, parents and families, I know it is a very detailed issue. But here is a basic tip that can be extremely helpful: Learn your child’s microexpressions. A microexpression is a brief, involuntary facial expression that is shown on the face of humans according to the emotions that are being experienced. Unlike regular pro-longed facial expressions, it is difficult to fake a microexpression. They often occur as fast as 1/15 to 1/25 of a second. There are seven universal microexpressions: disgust, anger, fear, sadness, happiness, surprise, and contempt. In terms of lying, it is important to be able to recognize these (especially fear and surprise). After all, if you ask your teen, “Did you know about the cheating incident at school?” A fearful microexpression will tell you something very different than if they look surprised.

What is the most common question you get from teens about parents? What do you tell them?

Teens often ask me, “Do you think parents really care about us?” It is always surprising because I think teens misinterpret nagging or a parent’s strict rules. Parents do this because they care, but teens do not always know this. I think it is important for parents to remind their kids why they are making rules or asking them to do something.

What makes Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I’m Grounded so different?

This book gives parents a fresh way to reach their teenagers because it’s a book written with significant input from teens and tweens. We are hearing first-hand advice that actually works! It gets right to the heart of the problems and offers straightforward prescriptive – and effective advice.

This is a book that gets parents and teens talking. We also leverage the research into facial expressions to help parents discern when their kids are lying. We give parents key questions to ask to get to the truth. Finally, we offer solutions for when your teenager isn’t communicating with you.

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