After a previous article: “Parents: How to Transition to the Teen Years”, Mike Henry (children 8 and 10) asked if I’d elaborate on the reasons behind my methods. He’s heading into the teen years with his kids soon and wants to be ready.
If this isn’t for you, here are a couple of recent articles you may enjoy:
I’ll elaborate on the DO’s and DON’Ts from my last newsletter:
DO Listen – Listen to understand, not to gather information to use for a future lecture. Teens who feel heard and understood just can’t stop talking. They end up telling you everything, even if they don’t mean to. Everything just sort of falls out of their mouths. We’re all naturally drawn to good listeners, especially when we have a problem.
DON’T Lecture – Lecturing is just another word for nagging. Teenagers hate being reminded that you know more than they do. They’re spreading their wings so don’t clip them. If you lecture it’s almost like pushing them to make the wrong decision out of rebellion.
DO Stay Calm – I blabber on about this all time because it’s so important. Let’s say you have a teenager in your face yelling at you. Yelling back is a natural instinct but it’s wrong. It just escalates matters. Do they deserve to be yelled at? Probably, but that’s not the point. Don’t be a right fighter, have self-control and stay calm. It’s very difficult for a snarly teen to keep being abusive to a wall which is what you have to become when they’re out of control.
DON’T BE A RIGHT-FIGHTER.
DON’T Set Curfews – Having a standard curfew in place for a teenager is a sign that you are out of control and don’t trust them. You negotiate a time for every single time they go out. And be flexible. If they’re having a lousy time and want to be picked up early, then go get them. If they’re having a great time and want to stay later, then let them … within reason. But don’t text with them, have a phone call so you can hear their voice and make sure they’re okay. My teenage son was a night owl and I had him call me every 90 minutes just to check in. I’d let him stay out all night if he was having a great time. But only if it suited me. Sometimes I’d want him home early as I needed a good night’s sleep and he’d come home early. Was mutual respect there.
DO Offer Options (sort of like advice but a bit milder, like a multiple choice) – Your 15 year old daughter wants to stay at a friend’s house overnight as they’re having a party there while the parents are out of town. You could say something like, “I’m not comfortable with that so either I pick you up at midnight or I arrive at the party at midnight and let it continue for another 2 hours, with me there as chaperone.” You didn’t use the word “no” or the phrase “that’s not going to happen”. You offered options. Of course she’s going to pick the one where you pick her up at midnight. You can even negotiate that time a bit but you’ve shifted the discussion from her staying overnight unsupervised to what time you’re picking her up. It’s making her part of the decision making process.
DON’T Look Disappointed in Them – You can look disappointed in their actions, but not in them. Treat any negative behaviour as if it’s out of character. This is setting them up for success, not failure. This one’s a bit tricky as how do you not look disappointed in them if they’ve done something awful? You separate their actions from their identity. Sure, what they said or did may have been rotten, but if you start to look at them as rotten kids they’ll live up to that image.
SET YOUR TEENAGER UP FOR SUCCESS, NOT FAILURE.
DO Negotiate Rules – Ask your teen’s advice on what they think is fair. Have rules for yourself also. If either of you break a rule, you’re punished. Make the punishment fit the crime. If you yell at them, you have to stop talking for an entire day. If they don’t put their dirty laundry in the hamper they have to do the laundry. I’ve gotten the best advice on how to help parents from their kids themselves. Negotiate with them, they’ll be adults soon and you want them to learn how to make their own decisions effectively. Give them chances to fail with the small stuff so they’ll be better prepared for the big stuff. Let them make mistakes and learn from them. That’s what you did so fair is fair.
DON’T Roll Your Eyes – Teenagers often complain that their parents roll their eyes at them which infuriates them. Eye rolling is passive-aggressive. Sure, they may do it to you but they’re still kids, take the high road and refrain.
DO Praise Often – This seems obvious but it’s often overlooked. Parents often ask me, “What the heck do I praise? The fact that they keep their rooms like pig sties, treat me like crap, ignore my rules?!” It doesn’t have to be much, can just be about their outfit, their hairstyle, their artistic talent … anything. BUT … make sure it’s something that matters to them, something they’re proud of or that makes them feel good. They’ll start seeing you as a source of good feelings and turn to you more often.
DON’T Expect Too Much From Them – Be realistic with expectations, or even lower than that so that you can be pleasantly surprised rather than constantly disappointed. Teens will naturally go through stages where they are lazy, snotty, slobby, stupid, etc. Everything’s temporary. Be patient and they’ll come around.
DO Forgive Their Mistakes – This one is very important. I’ve worked with some families who just couldn’t forgive past mistakes. Sure, some of those mistakes were pretty bad but if you don’t let go you’ll regret it. The more you remind your teens of their mistakes the more those mistakes will become part of their identity rather than a temporary slip-up. Say things like, “I know you didn’t really mean that. We all make mistakes. I forgive you and just want to move forward.” That doesn’t mean they’re not accountable, just that you forgive them and want to help them make amends and do better in future.
DON’T React to their Outbursts / Don’t Stick Around for a Battle – Don’t let them pull you in when they are angry. They’ll push your buttons to get you involved but just put your hand up and say, “We’ll discuss this later” and calmly walk away. Don’t say, “We’ll discuss this when you’ve calmed down” as that’s passive-aggressive and just going to make matters worse. Pick your words very carefully when they are upset. Avoid anything that is accusatory or even about them.
KNOW WHEN TO WALK AWAY.
DO Show Pride in Them – That can be hard to do when they’re snarly and rotten but it’s extremely important to show that you are proud of them. Even if you have to refer to something they did in the past. Maybe they helped you with something without being asked. I’d refer to that as, “I love how thoughtful you can be, remember that time …”. Not, “How thoughtful you used to be”. As above, pick your words very carefully.
How do you handle your teenagers? Any hints or tips to pass along?
– Lisa Bunnage, Parenting Coach