Teens do things they aren’t supposed to.
1. Parenting Style
Research shows that the authoritative style of parenting is the most effective for raising well adjusted kids.
When kids are young, they need and expect you to make decisions for them and tell them what they are going to do. I coach parents to say things like “I need you to clean your room right now”, not “Will you please clean your room?” It’s not a question, its a statement. Questions allow room for your kids to say “no”.
This doesn’t work forever. As your child grows up and enters adolescence, you will need to adjust your parenting style. You need to communicate differently to effectively get the results you want. It’s no longer about stating what’s expected, end of story. Over the years it becomes an interactive discussion where both parties get to explain their feelings and motivations for the desired actions. The adolescent begins to think through their options and make decisions regardless of what someone else — namely, a parent — tells them to do. The aim in parenting this age range is to tap into their values and teach them to 1) recognize what their values system is and 2) use it to make wise decisions accordingly.
If you continue ordering your adolescent to act as you wish, they will get very good at deceiving you. This is ineffective and the communication barrier will grow so wide you’re both talking different languages and don’t want to listen to each other at all.
Your goal is to help them thing through different options for working with a problem. Don’t give them a flat out answer. Aim to help them see other possibilities and be a sounding board. They will be much more likely to come to you for guidance and be open with you. This is very important because you want them to come to you if things do get serious.
Take into account the severity of the situation they are struggling with. Is it temporary or long term? Could this effect their life trajectory in a negative way? Unprotected sex, drugs, trouble with the law, a distain for learning and beliefs that it doesn’t matter, eating disorders, etc. There is a time when you do need to take control and make executive decisions for your adolescent. In this situation I want you to think about 1) your goal and 2) how you are going to achieve it. Be very careful not to act out of your own panic. Yelling at them aimlessly and throwing out every punishment you can think of is likely not going to get you what you want. Separating your own anxiety from what will be most useful for your child is imperative. When it’s serious, seek professional help.
If it’s not life threatening, try not to make the decision for your child without talking about it. If they’re staying out 10min past curfew, talk about it. See if they will explain (and tell the truth) and what they were really up to and why they believed it was the best decision to disrespect you and stay out past curfew? I once had a client who said she drove home at 105 miles per hour because she didn’t want to be in trouble for being 10 minutes late. If you catch them smoking weed. It can be disturbing but not life threatening. This can be discussed and make it about drugs in general (read more here). Explain the side effects of drugs like molly, cocaine, heroine and meth. Don’t panic and only say “Drugs are Bad, OMG!” and throw out a punishment. I’ve talked with so many kids on drugs who don’t know that’s why they’re depressed! Explain that if they do cocaine or molly, they’ll probably be sitting there a day or two later thinking “ohmygod, my whole life is so awful” and that will be the comedown from the drugs. There’s a reason not to do them besides mom said so. Ask them how it fits into their value system and teach them how to think critically about it. Same thing with protected sex (read more here). There’s way too many aspects of sex and relationships for you to make the decision for them. Love, peer pressure, wanting to fit in, be accepted, have a relationship, etc. These are important to talk about and you will miss it if you lay down the law and that’s it.
Tell them a story about your own values and how they guide you to make the decision you make every day. Tell them what’s important to you and why.
Then ask them about their values. Don’t expect them to be the exact same as yours. Help them think critically and bring up some situations they’re dealing with currently. Apply their values to the decisions regarding the problem such as sex and friends at school. Do they believe in following peer pressure? Do they want to do things that are physically unhealthy? Do they believe in talking bad about other people?
Overall, think about how you can be useful to your kids. They feel out of control and that makes you feel out of control. Remember to assess the seriousness of the situation and don’t overreact with actions that aren’t going to help your child make better choices. But step in strongly when necessary and seek outside help.
Your kid is freaking amazing.
I want you to enjoy the process of parenting, not just survive it. Adolescents are my little buddies. I love them to death. They’re so creative and so willing to talk if you can set up a trusting relationship where they come to you for suggestions and ideas, not punishments. Their inside worlds are fascinating and very emotionally complex. It truly is a different language, but when they let you in their thoughts are so deep with an innocent understanding of how they got that way. I see it everyday and I want you to see it too. If you are struggling to just survive these years, please call me and I will help you turn it around to thriving. Your child is such a gift, don’t miss out on having a closer relationship with them through these years.