Are you a parent of an adolescent? Are you so upset with your teen that you’re ready to enroll him or her in the “Witless Protection Program?”
A new identity! Wouldn’t that be a superb solution to getting your teen to renounce his risky behavior, shut her mouth and show some respect, or stop brooding and be appreciative for what she has?
But alas, there is a 20-year waiting list for the Teen Witless Protection Program. So, as a second best option, I offer you alternative ideas about how you might survive those teen years:
- Appreciate that there is a natural tension between teens who crave adventure and parents who want to keep their kids safe. Your goal should be to accept your teen’s adventurous spirit, yet make sure that he is aware of the dangers that are inherent in risky behavior. Teach him how to assess risk, explore options, think critically.
- Know that you have a right, indeed an obligation, to create rules and express your disapproval of out-of-line behavior. How you do this, however, is important. Empty threats don’t work. Hysteria doesn’t work. Punishments may or may not work. Reflect on what leverage you have (including maintaining your goodwill) and use it.
- It’s a good sign if your teen is initiating conversation with you. Take her communication to mean that she wants to maintain a relationship with you. Respond in an affirmative way, such as, “I’m glad we’re having this conversation, even though what you’re telling me is upsetting. And thanks for speaking in a respectful manner. It’s easier for me to hear you when you’re not shouting at me.”
- Engage your teen in a dialogue, when it is a relatively calm time. Don’t just keep telling him what he should or shouldn’t be doing. If you believe he’s using drugs, ask him specific questions, such as: “What are you using? How often are you using? Did you ever have a bad reaction? What would you do if you did? How would you handle it if you’re pressured to take a drug you know nothing about?” Such questions can be asked all at once (if your teen is into it) or at different times, if he’s viewing you as the grand inquisitor.
- If your teen does respond to your questions, listen without lecturing. When you discover what’s really going on for her, your initial impulse may be to ground her for the rest of her life. Banish that thought. Try instead to shed your own skin and inhabit your teen’s skin. The goal here is to keep the communication open. Then, you have a better chance of understanding what your teen is experiencing and guiding her toward making good choices.
- Know that some behaviors that may seem disrespectful when viewed through a parental lens may actually be an expression of healthy adolescent development. Next time your teen acts in a manner that you think is out of line, consider if there’s another way to think about it. Might he actually be asserting himself in a way that would be respected if he were an adult? Might his acting out be a necessary precursor to his becoming a self-assured adult who knows his way around a system?
- If your teen is finding it difficult to talk with you, suggest having a third party in the room. It could be a trusted family member, a caring guidance counselor or a psychologist who works with families. An outside third party can help create an atmosphere of honest communication, genuine understanding and searching for viable solutions.