Parents often remark how quickly their children grow up. They think back to their once lovely, energetic, helpful little charge and remember with fondness all the reasons that they thought this special being was wonderful and tender. Parents may also look back to a time that this tiny person looked at them as a source of heroic greatness, and gazed with intrigue, amazement, and interest at everything the older, wiser, magical parent did.
With lightening speed, time passes, those tiny beings become teens and the faces of their shell-shocked parents are easily spotted. Parents look bewildered to discover they live on the set of some strange reality show where the star is a brooding adolescent with futuristic clothes, a language all his/her own, and bionic appendages in the form of smart phones, mp3 players, keyboards, and gaming equipment in the place of once adorably small hands and fingers.
It’s no surprise that these stars of the show also feel like they have been transplanted into some weird environment. Teens feel like aliens that have landed on a primitive planet with residents of archaic views and small-minded mentalities. Naturally, as when any two cultures clash, the corresponding results are not rewarding to either side. Defensive resistance, hostile take-overs, anarchy, self-righteous indignation, and individuals feeling not accepted or understood can all be expected.
If you see interactions in your home playing out in this manner, fear not, you can prevent World War III or Jersey Shore level blow-ups in your household. You really can create an environment where both civilizations (adult and teen) can live in copacetic harmony with mutual respect, shared goals, and tools for problem solving when needed.
The first step to a harmonious household is giving positive, consistent expectations. The clearer and more positive you can state a direction the more likely your child is to follow it. This is the same for teenagers, thus, reducing tension for both you and your teen child. Giving clear directions means getting your teen’s attention, making a statement, saying what you want him to do, staying calm, paying attention to timing—not 5 minutes before a favorite TV show begins, being pleasant, polite, respectful, but firm, and following through.
Be in close contact until your teen begins to follow and praise the behavior when your child does follow through. As much as you can, stay clear, short, and simple. Avoid long, redundant explanations. I don’t need to remind you they often go unheard, especially by teens. Also avoid discussion. Arguing reinforces noncompliance, angers you and your child, and does not convey the message that you expect cooperation.
An example of a positive direction parents can give to teens is, “Please pick up your back pack and hang it on the hook now.” This direction is clear, short, simple and to the point. It avoids sarcasm unlike, “Does this look like where this belongs?” or threats, “If I find this bag on the floor one more time I am going to throw it away.” This example also does not leave room for discussion or rebuttal like a question, “Do you want to put this up now?” Even though you may think your teen should know to hang his bag after 10 years of schooling if you make the comment in a positive, appropriate way it will seal future success by offering reinforcement at the end. A simple “thank you” goes a long way.
Often, although teens may say they don’t care about their parent’s approval or opinion they truly just want to be seen. Gratitude is a great way parents can “see” their kids.
Often by teenage years some problems in the household have escalated beyond noncompliance and not following directions. Parents feel like they cannot resort to “time outs” because they are too juvenile and the teen’s sheer size may keep parents from being able to keep them still.
A first rule of thumb is to focus on what you want to see. A saying I regularly repeat to parents is, “Shine the light on what you want to grow.” This means to first focus on what you would like your child to do more of as opposed to less. The best way to support positive behavior is to incentivize it. Teens are very adept in the art of negotiation and often suggest incentives spontaneously. Be wary when your child says, “If you get me this, I will do that.” Such as, “If you get me an iPhone I will get straight A’s.” Your child cannot predict the future and cannot guarantee straight grades. If you splurge up front and your child doesn’t follow through, it will foster resentment and anger in your relationship and create unneeded negativity.
Instead flip the script. The parent giveth and the parent taketh away. Give small incentives for small behaviors. Parents can create point or allowance systems that give teens small points for demonstrating good, healthy behaviors such as study habits, like 30 minutes of reading, bringing all work and books home, or showing completed work to parents. Then create a menu in which the teen can exchange points for various levels of rewards such as a trip to the movies with friends, which could represent a smaller weekly reward. Or, if the teen and the parent agree, the teen could save up points over time in exchange for larger incentives such as mp3s, phones, etc.
Consider using your teen’s input for what motivators are relevant to them. This additional communication strategy also helps to remind them that their opinions are important. Although teens make astronomical requests at times, they do have the insight to know what is feasible and appropriate in a family’s budget and, given parameters, they can identify what are small, medium, and large valued goods and privileges for earning. Teens will be eager to earn and you are teaching them an invaluable lesson for the real world about earning, saving, prioritizing, and valuing personal belongings.
Even with the best laid offense sometimes it’s necessary to have a good defense. Parents need tools for setting limits with teens, and teens are likely to push those limits.
Privilege loss is a consequence in which a teen loses an object or access to an activity. Examples for privilege loss for teens may be losing driving privileges, losing computer or Facebook privileges, or turning off texting on the phone. Parents should only take away privileges they are willing to control. For example, if your child’s cell phone is how you contact them while you are work, avoid threatening to take it away if your discomfort at leaving them without that tool means you will be unlikely to follow through.
As with earning rewards, consequences should also be small and easy. Parents should avoid saying, “You are grounded all summer for sneaking out after prom.” Parents will not be able to monitor their child all summer long and will likely give up. Heavy punishments punish parents.
More appropriate privileges to take away are small for smaller misbehaviors. For example, losing car privileges for a day following a late curfew may be a punishment you would be likely to enforce. Your child will know that you are keeping track and will trust that they can count you to be observant and consistent in addressing small issues. Additionally, you will also feel confident and in control that you can maintain the punishment.
Another helpful consequence for teenagers is work chores. Work chores are for more serious behaviors that require a longer and stronger consequence. Problem behaviors may include lying, fighting, swearing, destruction of property, and shoplifting. The time it takes to complete the work chore should depend on the age of the child and the degree of the behavior. Parents should intervene early but can postpone reactions to egregious offenses by saying something like, “We both agree what you did here was wrong and we want to meet as parents to discuss what is an appropriate response to handle this. You will have your computer taken away now and we will let you know what work chore must be completed for you to earn it back.”
Examples of work chores may be pulling weeds, raking leaves, cleaning rain gutters, cleaning the oven, washing windows, cleaning dog droppings in yards, sweeping garages, etc. Parents should be prepared to remove privileges until the assigned chores are complete. This may take multiple days.
There are some problems in families that teens may offer helpful and healthy perspectives on solving. It’s important for families to have a format for addressing the large and small problems that might come up in a household. For example, in the case of teens, family members may be sharing cars. If a family meets weekly to discuss household issues, a topic that may arise is a method or plan for refueling the car. As stated earlier, teens like to feel understood and accepted by their parents. Even though their views may be strange at times, the varied perspective is especially helpful in brainstorming.
Parents create the structure of the meeting by scheduling and following through. Parents can help by modeling good listening skills and how to manage emotions. Meetings should be short, positive, interesting, and focus on just one problem a week. The first meeting item should be identifying a problem and making a good goal statement. In the example above the problem is that the gas tank is nearing empty. A good goal statement would be, “The car will be refueled at least once per week.”
Next, brainstorm solutions. Accept all ideas. Let each other be funny. After collecting all of the ideas, consider solutions. Agree to cross some off the list and consider the advantages and disadvantages of each solution you have left. Maybe even combine some solutions. Once you have selected a course of action, write an agreement and review after a week or two to see how is it going. Revisit and troubleshoot as necessary.
A common thread of all of these solutions is positive, present parenting. A parent most wants to maintain their role as leader of the household while demonstrating respect and consideration for the other family members. By providing consistent monitoring, follow through and reinforcement for positive behaviors, parents are well on their way to accomplishing these goals. Adding consistent monitoring and follow through of reasonable consequences for negative behaviors helps your teens begin to be able to predict consequences to their behaviors.
Parents who structure and supervise family meetings are demonstrating their belief that each family member has reasonable concerns and valuable contributions that should be considered. Teens will be relieved and comforted that they are being heard. Ultimately this will help them to lower natural resistance and rebellion to what they see as a hostile take over of their own views and values.
Probably the most important tool a parent can implement to prevent and reduce problematic behavior with teens is staying consistent with monitoring and supervision. Parents need to be plugged in to the details of the who, what, where, and when of their child’s life outside of the home. Whether that life occurs in person, on the internet, or the other side of a text message, that information is vital. You can then respond quickly and appropriately with positive feedback, enforce consequences when necessary, or help your child use problem solving techniques to apply to issues with friends, school, or other life issues.
All of these steps develop confidence in the child and sets up the teen for success as a capable adult in the future. Seeing the buds of a burgeoning adult is what these teens desperately want us to see in them in the first place.
(2007 Training from Oregon Social Learning Center/Implementation Science International, Inc.)