Friday, August 26, 2011

Last Man Standing!

Parenting is not easy, regardless of who you are.  Marriage is tough, but parenting is like trying to hit a moving target - the goals keep shifting, what worked before just makes things worse now, and when we start to feel comfortable we realize we have entered a whole new game.  This is especially true of the shift from raising a child to raising a teenager, a shift that happens at different ages for different kids and rarely are they kind enough to send you a memo giving you a heads up.  "Dear Mom and Dad, thanks for the great job so far raising me, you have kept me alive in spite of regular decisions on my part that have been working against that.  Just thought I would let you know that all those tools and techniques you have developed so far are now worthless, you'll have to develop a brand new approach and you may or may not be good at it."

What is the shift that needs to happen in order to effectively parent a teen - move from overpowering to empowering.  What starts off as a reasonable enough way of establishing authority becomes less and less practical - whoever is the biggest, loudest, smartest, strongest person in the house gets to make the rules and tell everyone else what to do.  Often we don't even think through the situation we are creating, we just follow suit from our parents who just told us what to do - or else!  It would take a whole other blog just to cover why parents no longer have inherent authority like they used to but the who system of our society is different than it once was.  So when we have a two year old who is running into traffic we just yank them up by the collar and tell them to do what we say because we are bigger, stronger, and smarter.  When they are 16 and they won't do their homework we try the same approach and we find a new challenger in the ring wanting to see if maybe THEY can now be the biggest, strongest, and smartest.  We can escalate and try to assert our dominance silverback style, and for the first couple of years of adolescence this just might work, but inevitably it results in one of two responses based on their available assets.  If you have a big dumb oaf then their best bet is to bully and intimidate you with their burgeoning size to get their way, if you have more of the bookworm type they will probably just smile to your face and then passive aggressively do whatever they feel like. Either way it really won't work unless you were blessed with one of those people-pleaser teens who will be great now but struggle their whole adult lives because of the pressure to keep making everyone happy.

The solution - recognize the real power you DO have, and then solve your own problems while letting them have theirs, so you end up giving them all the power in the world.  You provide them a place to live, nice clothes, food, spending money, rides around town, etc. and those are all privileges not rights.  You can't make them talk or not talk, obey, make good decisions, or really much of anything so if your approach is MAKING them do something they'll quickly pull back the curtain on your wizard of oz.  What you CAN do is set them up in a world where when they do good they are rewarded and when they do poorly they see the consequences of their actions.  This is where it is good to inventory their problems and your problems - hygiene, social preferences, homework completion, and what they spend their own money on are THEIR problems - whether chores are completed, whether you are addressed respectfully, and how your money is spent are all YOUR problems.  Let them see the natural consequences of their own problems and then set up effective rewards and punishments to make sure your problems are taken care of.  They don't want to mow the yard, that is fine, they are completely in control - it just means the gas and spending money you would have used to take them out that Friday to hang with their friends is now going to hiring the neighbor kid to mow - either way YOUR problem gets solved, their problem gets worse but that is their decision.

Ultimately if you want to go head to head with a teen in a control battle they have a distinct advantage - youth, energy, and far fewer responsibilities - winning can be their full time job.  So drop the control battles and give them all the control, you just make sure they see the consequences of their decisions.  Often we fight hard to get teens to do what we want, never offering them alternatives other than do what I say, then when they fail to do it we rescue them from the natural consequences like arguing with their teacher for them to get an extension on their project deadline, but then set up an artificial consequence like grounding them.  What do they learn, two things - they can do their project whenever they feel like it and their parents are buttholes for grounding them.  If in some rare instance you have to fight a control battle - then win it no matter what - step away from 99% of the control battles and if one must be fought, do not lose.  Great resource on creative ways to make this happen?  Parenting Teens with Love and Logic by Cline and Fay.

No comments:

Post a Comment