Challenging myths and making choices about how we think about things can bring us a sense of relief and the peace we so desperately crave when we are raising our teens. And you know, it feels good to control something, even if it is "all in our head".
The translation: There should be some kind of punishment to teach my child to behave. Let’s face it, although we have packaged the term "consequences" very nicely into our parenting repertoire, the effectiveness of removing something, grounding someone or making somebody do something they don’t want to do is questionable. After years of teaching parenting and raising kids, I can say that, other than an occasional time out for anger management, I have used very few consequences/punishments with my kids. I may feel like taking away everything they own when I am upset with them, but when things calm down, I gain perspective. Kids learn from natural, life experiences and that learning will go deeper if they have the support of their parents rather than a fear that their parents will punish them.
The statement: My teens should be honest with me. Okay, so are you really going to keep your cool when your teen comes home and says, "Today I took a puff of a joint on my way home from school?" How about "Right now my friends feel more important to me than school work" or "Yes, as a matter of fact I am having sex?" When parents say they don’t trust their teen, they often mean they still believe he should tell them everything he is doing, even if he gets in trouble for doing it. We make it hard for teens to be honest, and maybe that’s not all bad. But isn’t there a point when a teen is allowed to have some privacy about his life experiences? Perhaps teens would share more honestly if we become less intrusive about their business.
The belief: Teens need unfettered freedom and less connection with parents. Actually, true autonomy doesn’t exist without a relationship with a parent or caregiver. When we listen to our teen and respect her ideas and values, she develops confidence and a positive sense of who she is. In this exchange between a teen and a loving adult, true autonomy can flourish. Freedom without a connection can simply be translated into the word "lost."
The Bad Influence
The story: A teen’s friends will lead him astray. Like adults, teens tend to choose friends based on interests; most close friends will have shared values. Values come from family and they will be churned, regurgitated and spit out as something teens call their own. The positive influence of peers is underrated. Friends can keep each other safe, give each other honest feedback and teach empathy. Friends of the opposite sex can help teens think about what they want in a person when considering a relationship. Parental judgment about friends, along with with a poor parent/teen relationship, is more likely to lead a child astray not his friends. So stay cool, don’t judge, and maintain your position as consultant.
The fear: Most teens participate in high-risk behaviour. Eighty per cent of teens go through these years without any high-risk behavior or serious mental health issues. This 80/20 statistic is no different for adults. Teens want to take risks and jump into the adult world. They want to be seen as older and capable. Risktaking in the teen years becomes more likely to occur when parents don’t give teens enough responsibility. Teens look for ways to meet an urgent need for respect. They want somebody to notice and respect them doing older things. If family applauds their abilities and views them as capable, they are less likely to turn to a group who plays with much greater risks.
The complaint: Defiance and mouthiness shows complete disrespect. Because parents play such an important role in a teen’s self-concept, teens have to work hard to gain validation, fighting for the recognition they desperately need. Shocking parents can be a wonderful way for teens to force them into submission. How else can they get a parent to view them as adults rather than children? Teens are smart; they know the value of shock. Appreciate the energy your teen expends to teach you to treat her differently. Consider that the behaviour isn’t disrespect; it is deep love in motion.
The impossible dream: As a parent I should know how to handle things. Raising human beings is complex, as are our feelings as parents. There is no exact science to this process of growing people. Neither psychologists, educators or members of Mensa (the high-IQ) Society have all the answers when it comes to parenting. There are many approaches; if what you’re doing isn’t working, try something else. If you don’t have the answers, ask for help. If nothing seems to be working, perhaps you need to adjust your idea of what "working" is. Accepting there will be times when you simply don’t know what to do is one of the most important aspects to parenting. It keeps us humble, open and possibly teachable. Just don’t be surprised if your guru happens to be your child!
What is discipline? One definition is to obtain obedience by using punishment and reward? If you think that word still fits, you might want to, Cut it Out! It might be time for a new word or at least a new twist to that word...
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I often joke with parents in my classes about the expression my face has grown accustomed to wearing around my teens. It’s a neutral look, free of judgment and negative emotion. With amazing self-control, it manages to stay there...