Parenting Teens (It’s a matter of freedom)
The teen age years are a source of high anxiety and distress for many parents. With teens having more freedom and autonomy, parents worry about the choices their children make without wise supervision and counsel from parents. Many parents tell me that their children are “good” but the world is such a perilous place they fear for their children. Often in the parents’ attempts to protect their children from these dangers, they try to hold children closer to home. What parents discover is the tighter they hold their children, the stronger many children fight against these controls and restrictions.
Recently a mother wrote to me overwrought having discovered that her sixteen-year old daughter was smoking with her friends. Not surprisingly this mother’s reaction was to restrict her daughter’s freedom by grounding her from any free time away from home. She also insisted that her daughter give up the friends and spend no time with these offending girls. The problem with this solution is that it will not succeed. Many teenagers will serve their time of the punitive sentence. But what’s to keep the daughter from spending time with these same friends while in school? The daughter probably has access through texting and e-mailing as well. Unless this mother is willing to spend all of her time, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, accompanying and supervising her daughter everywhere, there is no way the mother can be sure that her daughter is following her restrictions.
The solution? Accept the reality that you cannot control your child’s behavior. You can only influence it. You have never been able to control your child’s behavior, it just appeared otherwise. When your child was younger and you asked your son to stop shouting in the library or your daughter to come inside from playing when you asked, your children followed your request. This set you up to think that you could make your child do what you asked. Perhaps sometimes you had to threaten or punish or promise a reward or bribe for your child’s cooperation. These strategies seemed to work so you believed you were able to control your child.
But the reality is this process only worked because your child went along with the requests. Perhaps the fear of the stick or the promise of the carrot helped inspire your child’s cooperation. But even then you were only influencing your child’s behavior and choices.
Now, as a teenager, your child wants freedom and power to defy or cooperate more strongly than fearing your stick or hoping for a promise of any reward. This means that you, the parent, are experiencing the growing pains of realizing you never were in control, you only had the illusion of control all along.
You always had the ability to influence your child’s choices and behaviors. And this has not changed as your child has become a teenager. Your child wants to please you and she wants to please herself. When pleasing you interferes with pleasing himself, he is stuck in a dilemma. Punishments or rewards threaten your teenager’s ability to meet her needs for freedom and power. These needs are driving your child’s behavior most strongly during adolescents. So attempting to control using punishments, restrictions, or bribes are especially counterproductive during adolescence.
Instead attempt to influence your child by providing positive, successful and responsible ways for your child to meet his needs for power and freedom. Approach your child with calm, assertive, adult conversation.
Here are some examples of what this concerned mother could do:
- Explain your upset and concern about your daughter’s smoking choice both in the short term – the expense, smell and illegality of an underage person purchasing cigarettes – as well as the long term – psychological and physical addiction leading to ultimate health challenges.
- Express your upset, sadness and anger about your daughter’s choice (remember to do this calmly and assertively, not with the drama of the upset and sadness).
- Express your desire for your daughter to stop.
- Acknowledge your inability to keep your daughter from making all sorts of choices you wish she wouldn’t.
- Acknowledge that your daughter is increasingly in charge of herself, her life and her life choices with the accompanying consequences.
- Acknowledge your belief and evidence that your daughter is responsible and makes many good, healthy, loving and responsible choices.
- Remind your daughter to accept and respect the family rule that there is no smoking in the family’s home.
- Commit to stop nagging, asking about, and indicating your disapproval if your daughter decides to continue to smoke.
- Commit to continue to work with your daughter as you face this as well as the probability of more differences between you.
- Commit to continue to discover ways that enhance and keep your relationship good, positive, loving and close while you work through your differences.
Ultimately your goal is to maintain a loving and respectful relationship with your children, even when they behave differently from what you want. Aiming for an unconditional loving relationship means you love your child even when they make choices you wish they wouldn’t.
Your love has no conditions. When you do this, you have a much greater chance of influencing your child, his behavior and his choices. There will still be times when she does something you wish she wouldn’t, he chooses something you wish he wouldn’t. But as you get to know your adolescent more, talking and working things out calmly and respectfully with one another you will also hear how you are making choices your child wishes were different. Parenting your teen is an exciting, eye-opening, challenging and rewarding developmental growth period for both you and your child.
Grocery Shopping, Weekday Evenings and Other Family Hazards (Discipline with the Brain in Mind)
The best place to observe the wide range of parental discipline styles is any grocery store between the evening hours of four and seven. Here you will hear one mother screaming at her whining toddler, one father threatening to withdraw a privilege from his nine-year old who is not paying the least bit of attention to what his father is requesting or requiring, another mother bribing her children with treats and sweets if her children will only cooperate so they can finish their task quickly, and finally another father grabbing his pre-teen by the jacket as he walks/drags his son out of the store.
Do you want to improve your family life and discipline methods, even when faced with every day family hazards? Try implementing these two strategies based on how the brain works and yours and your child’s biology.
- Eat, drink and breathe deeply
The second worse time of the day for every family is in the evening, when all are transitioning and switching gears from the busy day into the evening time. For most people, children and parents alike, this is physiologically when the body is tired, needing more energy through nourishment and oxygen. Too often parents choose this time to run needed errands including grocery shopping. But neither children nor adults have the necessary physiological stamina to handle this seemingly mundane task.
What’s the solution? Before you go to the store, eat a snack, sing a song and dance a jig. Fear you would feel foolish engaging in such silly or childish behavior? Then drink a cup of herbal tea while your children drink a glass of milk and you all enjoy some raisins and peanuts. Then do ten jumping jacks or play tag or musical chairs. If this doesn’t sound like it fits your style either, then make up your own ritual. Just be sure that you include drinking and eating a modest amount of nourishing food (over indulging on sugar will only contribute to the physiological drag) and engage in a moderate amount of deep breathing. With children, the best way to get them to breathe deeply is by playing an active game for a short time. They will gladly participate! And if you can just lighten up a little and play a game, you not only will improve your oxygen level, you will also inspire a lighter spirit.
Now you and your children are ready to face the challenge known as shopping for groceries.
- Choose an open position for growth and learning
What you do and say will either put your child in an open position for learning and growth, or protection. New research of the human cell has revealed that a cell can only be in one of two positions; protection or growth. Biologically, we are a binary system, with the choice of either protection or growth. And since the brain is a system of cooperative cells, the brain is then only in a position of protection or growth.
Have you ever wondered why you must continually make the same kind of correction for your child’s repeated misbehavior? Are you tired of threatening or punishing your child, only to discover that you must repeat the same process many, many times?
The reason is that you are using strategies that put your child into protection rather than asking your child to grow and learn. Your child perceives your scold, threat or punishment as something he must protect himself against. He is not in the frame of mind to be open to learn and grow. Instead he is protecting himself from you.
This may be shocking to hear.
The last thing you want is for your child to feel as if she has to protect herself from you! In many parental situations when you scold, threaten or shame your child, you aren’t even thinking about anything other than trying to get your child to do what you want her to do. But your mindless behavior is perceived differently by your child. On a cellular level your child believes he must be in protection. He may comply with your request, but he has learned nothing. His mind is not in a state to learn, grow and change. His mind simply goes into protection. With this new information perhaps you are less surprised that you must repeat the same correction, or threat, or punishment, over and over again. Your child’s brain is not in a learning state of mind.
What’s the solution? Stop doing the kinds of things that your child perceives as threatening. Make a simple request for what you want your child to do, rather than attempting to get your child stop doing what you don’t want. “Sit please.” Use your inside voice please.” “Hold my hand and walk with me please.” Can you see how each of these requests keeps a child in an open position for growth and learning rather than “No standing.” “Quite shouting and screaming.” “No running.” It is equally important to use a neutral, calm, friendly tone of voice. How you speak to your child is as important as what you say. Remaining calm, friendly and engaged with your child, even during nonverbal times keeps both of you in an open and growth state, rather than needing to retreat into a state of protection.
Now you are your child are ready to face any challenge you encounter at the grocery store and beyond.
Nancy S. Buck, Ph.D. established Peaceful Parenting Inc to bring her knowledge and experience with effective parenting to the greatest number of parents and other caretakers of children. She developed her Peaceful Parenting® program from her years of experience as a developmental psychologist, trainer and educator, and as the mother of twin sons. She has authored How to Be a Great Parent and Why Do Kids Act That Way? The Instruction Manual Parents Need to Understand Children at Every Age. Check out the online store to purchase your copies today.