Preparing and dealing with adolescents
“Wisdom chooses now what it will be satisfied with later on.” Joyce Meyer
Many adults do not realize that an adolescent’s FRONTAL LOBE is only fully developed somewhere between 18 and 25 years of age. They are not yet capable of making totally wise decisions. Their ability to reason is not fully developed. When alcohol is abused, that same part of the brain is affected, which is why they think they are capable of driving when everyone around them can see they are not. So when your teenager looks at you as if you are from mars, visualize a huge “L” on his forehead and say to yourself “Frontal lobe – underdeveloped.”
This will help you to understand what you can or cannot expect from them.
When they say things like “I hate you”. Be sure to find ways of reassuring them that you will always love them regardless of what they do or say. However, you cannot allow the bad language, behavior, reactions etc. to continue.
Common Issues and Frustrations
Invariably there are common issues that parents of teens encounter and find challenging. I will deal with some of these and suggestions on how to ride the temporary storm.
Avoid falling into the trap of “You don’t trust me!” Keep in mind that this discussion should be handled very calmly.
Remind him that you trust him, but that in however many years he has been alive, it has not given him enough wisdom to make all his decisions. Wisdom is experience mixed with knowledge.
- Until he has sufficient of both, he will have to be cross-questioned and ‘controlled’ by you and answer all the necessary questions.
- Trust is earned. I
- try explaining it to young adults by using the analogy of a bank account.
- I tell them that a bank account has to have money in it before you can withdraw from it.
- Trust happens much the same way. If they want to be trusted, they have to earn it; build on it so that at the appropriate time a withdrawal can be made.
- The difference is that with a trust account, one lie usually wipes out the account and they have to start depositing again.
Fighting in the Car
Suggest that they have 2 minutes to resolve the issue between themselves otherwise you will be forced to intervene.
- Then, simply pull the car over and wait till they finish.
- You could charge them an amount off their pocket money for every minute they waste of your time or they could suffer the consequences of arriving late to the place where you were taking them.
- You could also require them to remain silent until you reach your destination.
I have had grown ups tell me that they grew up in a home where there were no curfews because their parents ‘trusted’ them. They would lie and complain to their friends and say that they had a curfew because they interpreted this as their parents not caring about them.
- There can be a rule concerning curfews but it is important to remain flexible. In other words have the discussion with your teen about what the evening entails and what he would think would be a reasonable curfew for that specific event. Often times they will come back with an earlier time than what was agreed upon.
- However, once the curfew for that evening has been set, they are held accountable for that time, and punished accordingly if late.
- A suitable punishment could be that if they were 15 minutes after curfew, then the next time they go out, they will have to come home 15 minutes earlier.
- A non-negotiable house rule is, cell phones on at all times. When he walks out the door, he needs to check if his phone is charged otherwise he has to stay home. Requiring him to stay home one night will help him to remember the next time. If his excuse is he did not hear it ring, then there is another consequence like coming home a half hour earlier from the next event. This will help him make a plan to place it where he can hear it.
- This is a commonly used excuse when they do not want parents to know where they are. Do not fall for the excuses. Always have a secondary number to phone.
- Another non-negotiable in our home was if they were dropped off in one place, we needed to be consulted if the venue changed. Failure to do this was an immediate and serious consequence.
Not a Morning Person
Parents often say that their daughter is not ‘a morning person’.
I do not see the sense in allowing a child to behave in such a manner and get away with it.
- If you allow them to be miserable and take out their moods on their siblings, why wouldn’t they do the same with their colleagues one day?
- Why should the other people in the house have to suffer?
- If she is tired in the morning, she needs to go to bed earlier.
- Does that mean that she is equally welcome to take out her PMS on everybody?
- Children need to learn to control their emotions.
- They have to be taught to verbalise their discomfort or emotions in an appropriate way and choose a way to act that is sociably acceptable.
- Everyone else in the house should not have to be walking on eggshells.
- For girls that suffer from PMS, they need to be put on Evening Primrose oil and eat healthy foods.
- There can be a calendar visible for everyone to know when it is that time of the month and they can be considerate, but certainly not have to put up with abuse.
- Food has a huge affect on mood swings, bad skin, and weight problems. Sugar and flour contribute largely to these.
- Help your child to understand this and to make wise choices for themselves.
- Teach them that they are responsible to choose what goes into their mouths.
- Your responsibility is to have the right foods in the house.
- Some resent research has shown that during puberty changes happen in the brain and the hormones needed to calm down at night are not as active. Therefore they stay awake easier in the evenings and battle to wake up in the mornings. That is why it is a universal problem to wake teens on a Saturday morning!!
- Some schools in the United States have tried to accommodate this by adjusting school times to start 1 hour later and have had great results with better concentration
Dealing With Conflict
Conflict is unavoidable.
How you deal with these situations will teach your child how to handle conflict. It is a good idea to start with something positive before you address a sensitive issue.
Think of something that you appreciate about him. Adolescents need to connect the dots.
There are always logical consequences to the choices we make in life.
If you interrupt the process of them making that connection, but letting them off the hook or by saving them, you could cause other problems like:
- Emotional crippling
- Lasting characteristics of dependency
- Perpetual adolescence
The most common consequences are taking away cell phones and earlier bed times. However, do not take away cell phones or screen time for ‘three months!’ or say, ’an hour earlier to bed for the next month!’
This just shoots you in the foot and leaves you with no leverage. If you take off in small increments, then you can increase the amount as you get attitude from them. So if you say, 15 minutes earlier to bed and they argue, you take off another 15. If they argue again, you take off another 15. If they continue, you take off a day of cell phone etc. They will finally understand that you are not going to give in.
If you felt tempted to ground them from a party, rather start with saying that you will be picking them up half hour earlier from the party. If they complain, make it 45 minutes and so on.
I had one lady tell me she remembered slipping out of the house as a teenager and the father of her friend realized that they were gone. He is a famous comedian and decided to surprise them by arriving at the club in his gown and slippers and calmly stood smoking a cigarette behind them while saying, “time to go home girls!” They almost died of embarrassment but never did it again.
One mom told me of how her son really wanted to have guitar lessons. She had paid up front but decided to take the lessons away as a consequence to disrespect. However, she has always wanted to learn to play the guitar, so she went instead. This ‘hurt’ in the right way and he soon changed his attitude.
Another mom told me how her son was rude, disrespectful and unappreciative. So she refused to take him to school. He countered that it was dangerous for him to walk to school, so she rode behind him all the way to school. She had to drive slower so it took her longer, but it was worth the investment of her time.
“So what happened last night?”
When teenagers go out at night, it is a good practice to be the one picking them up or at least requiring them to kiss you good night. This way you can smell on them whether there has been any use of alcohol or cigarettes.
In the morning ask something like, “So, how was last night?” with a little knowing look. What they need to realise is that you could possibly have some inside information of what happened the night before, but that they have to tell you, not you tell them. The rules can be, “If I find out from ANY other source, then you are in for double punishment. If you tell me, its single punishment”. So when they start telling you what happened, stay expressionless, as if you know whats about to be shared, then say, “Yes, and what else?” (as if you know more). “Remember you only have one chance to tell me.”
- After a few times of being caught out, they make sure to tell you the whole story. NEVER reveal your sources! They must always wonder where and how you found out.
- Keep your nose to the ground, team up with the parents of their friends, snoop around without them knowing, but be aware of what is happening in your teens life.
- Stay out of it if it is not potentially life threatening, but most importantly KNOW what is happening in their lives.
- Often teens do not know how to tell you and are hoping you will find out to ‘save’ them because they do not know how to save themselves or get themselves out of the mess they are in.
Do not wait too long.
Tone of Voice
- Focus on keeping your tone of voice respectful, firm and friendly. The same way you expect to be spoken to.
- When they snap at you or reply in a disrespectful tone or attitude, simply state, “I do not like that tone, so I am going to walk away and think about a way to help you remember not to use it again. I will post my decision on the fridge.”
- It is impossible to have a reasonable discussion with someone when they are in ‘a mood’ or angry. This is when you need time out. Remove yourself and resume the conversation later.
- Tone of voice and body language say far more than words, so do not accept it. If you accept it, you are teaching them they are allowed to talk to other people like that too. There is a way of expressing your hurts, disappointments and frustrations without being abusive to others. Teach them how. Make sure your example is impeccable.Keep in mind that boys and girls are very different.
- Shoulder to shoulder is the way men bond with each other, so driving is non threatening (they also cannot run away). Especially in teenage years, boys can feel that their manlihood is threatened when a mother challenges them. The best time to talk to male is while driving in the car. This way he does not have to make eye contact. They need a lot of praise, admiration and motivation. Girls on the other hand, need a calm sensitive environment, where they can feel safe and where they feel they belong to a group or a club.
- I remember when my oldest son was at a very difficult 12 year old stage, asking God to help me find something to just like about him. It was hard, but I tried to focus on that one thing!
- It is really tough backing off and allowing your child to suffer the consequences of their decisions, but at sometime they have to learn this. And the earlier they can learn this lesson the less permanent damage it can cause.
- Stick to your reasonable boundaries, but remember to choose your battles first. Once you have made the choice do not waiver. Calmly and empathetically stick to your guns.
- At first he will rage against your boundary but if you calmly stick to your decision, consistently, then his rage will turn into sadness and disappointment but he will realize that you still love him. Teens can deal with sadness and disappointment but they cannot deal with a broken relationship. Love them unconditionally through their disappointment.
- Lay down ground rules and explain that rugby teams do not use soccer rules, so when they start with “But everybody else…” you can make it clear that your house rules apply to your house.
- Help them to think outside the box. Give them a scenario of a problem that someone else is having with their child. Ask them what they think the parent should do. It will possibly amaze you when you hear the answer.
- You will notice that all the seeds you planted in their heads will start appearing when they make suggestions for OTHER kids!
If you feel your child is extremely messy, keep in mind that this is not a character issue. This is usually merely a stage that they outgrow. One day when they are adults, they generally keep a neat ship. Focus rather on character issues like kindness, gentleness, serving others, respect etc.
I remember a story of a dad that had a fight with his teenage daughter. She was furious and stomped out of the room and he went outside to work on his car.
She phoned a friend to pick her up. Inappropriately dressed in a revealing tiny skirt and thick make-up, she walked passed her dad to climb in her friend’s car. Her father darted her a look and continued to work.
After climbing in the car she pulled out an extra change of clothes and wiped her face clean of all the make-up. She was testing her father to see if he cared enough to send her back and say, “You cannot leave the house looking like that. Go and change before you go out.” Sadly her father did not.
- Keep in mind that children at this stage need to feel part of a group and not ostracized. But being fashionable can still be achieved within certain boundaries of modesty. Have a discussion about what is acceptable and what is not. Then when you are shopping there will be no arguments. Remember you are the one paying for the clothing.
Discuss with them what kind of ‘look’ they are going for.
A friend of mine related this story about her 13 year old:
“Sally and I went shopping to find her a dress for the school’s yearly Valentine’s party. I left her to pick out any style to try on. Finally she came out with a stunning, red dress that looked like she was melted down and poured into. It took my breath away as she looked so grown up and beautiful.
I composed myself and commented, “Sally, you look absolutely gorgeous in that dress. What would you do with your hair? What type of necklace and earrings would you consider?” We oo..ed and ah..ed for a while and then I asked, “What age boy do you think you would be attracting looking like this?”
“No, mom, I just want to look good”, she replied
“Oh, well Sally, this look would definitely appeal more to the 18 year old boys in your school! Are you sure that is what you want?”
Sally thought for a while then quickly tried on other beautiful but more modest looking dresses.”
What was important here is that she received recognition but with gentle guidance she came to her own conclusion that the dress was not suitable for her age.
Another mom related her story:
“Her husband was embarrassed to have his 16-year-old son go to church with them with all the earrings in his ears and so many bracelets on his arm. This young man turned to her and said, “Mom, I thought you taught me that what is inside counts more than what is on the outside and that we should not judge others by their appearances! If those people cannot accept me with all my jewelry, I would rather not even go to church.”
- Making a rule to have meals together each evening is a wonderful way to share what is happening in each other’s life. Even if they are going through a stage of not contributing much to the conversation, they are still present, and listening, even if it does not look like it.
- It should be a non-negotiable rule to have this time together with no cell phones or TV’s on and no outside interruptions.
- Imagine how important your children would feel if you could commit 45 minutes a day to family time?
- Some studies have shown that families that practice this could possibly have less chance of teenagers being involved in drug or alcohol abuse or promiscuity.
- If dad’s really are not able to be home in time for meals, then having a sociable breakfast every morning can be considered.
Helping in the Home
I once heard of a foster child that went to the same family every school holiday. The children of the family had chores to do but they felt bad that their mother would include the ‘poor foster child’ in the chores when he only came in holiday time. They felt this was not fair. On the contrary, this made him feel accepted as one of the family.
Make a booking for your young adult’s driver’s education lesson or learner’s license test but if there is any irresponsible behavior, like alcohol abuse, the date can be delayed; it could be a month or 2, whatever is necessary. Remind him that people have to behave in a responsible manner to earn the privilege of driving. Lives are at stake. Suggest that maybe a bit more time would help to develop the attitude of responsibility.
“I Want to Leave Home”
Many parents have heard these words: When I’m 16 I will leave home!
During a home visit 14 yr old Brenda threatened to leave when she turns 16.
“Brenda, that’s fine if you want to plan on moving out. Lets plan how that is going to work. Let’s draw up your very first budget. Remember to include a clothing allowance, food, rent, school fees, transport to and from school, school books and entertainment.” Mom then interjected, “Manicures and pedicures”. Brenda darted her a look. “Well, I am certainly not going to pay for these if you do not live here!”
“So,” I continued, “you do not have to be concerned, you still have two years to save towards this. However, you still have two years that by law that you still have to stay in this house with this mother that you do not like. I can teach you to get along with her for 2 years or you can be miserable. It is your choice.
A Parent’s Story
“I loved serving my children. I was the mommy that would take children home, give lifts in between events, travel along for outings etc. However, when my youngest was in her early teens I started realising that a new attitude was rearing its ugly head. She became unappreciative and more demanding of my time to be her and her friends personal chauffeur She also gave me attitude when I asked her to do something for me. So I had this little chat with her and said, “Sweetie, I love serving you, but if it is not reciprocal then I am actually creating a selfish, demanding, entitled individual. So, I have to resign. Once your attitude has changed, we can review the situation. She quickly realised the privileges she would be missing out on and changed her attitude towards me. After a period of time when I saw it was consistent, I offered to help again.”
Setting an example
This is the time when your life is under a magnifying glass. They watch you like a hawk! What you say means far less than who you are.
If you tell them not to swear, but you swear at the driver that cut in front of you, what example are you setting? What about not accepting their lies, but you brag about how you cheat on your income tax? Or, tell them not to talk bad about their friends, but when you put down the phone after a friendly conversation with a less popular friend, your facial expression or comments reveal your disgust or disapproval?
“Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying,” said Emerson
Be transparent and honest with your teen. If you have made a mistake, admit it and ask their forgiveness. This is not the time to be best buddies (especially if you are a single parent) but it is important to have fun, laughter and lots of discussion time.
Encourage relationships with other adults that you can trust. Sometimes it is easier for a teen to open up and share with another close family friend or relative.
Understanding their sibling’s differences
I remember taking my friends two adopted girls out for coffee to discuss their fighting. I let them blow off steam about how Mady would just barge into Claire’s room in the middle of the night to share her news or concerns.
This would frustrate Claire as she was trying to sleep. Claire felt that whenever she touched Mady in passing, Mady would pull away and be irritated.
After much discussion we came to realize that Mady’s love language was quality time and she did not respect Claire’s need of sleep. She was excited to share her news with her sister. We spoke about Mady rather requesting to talk at a suitable time.
Claire loved physical touch and would lovingly squeeze Mady’s arm in passing. We realized that she was needing to feel loved. So, we agreed that Mady would give her a shoulder massage on request.
Later I heard that Claire invited Mady to a ‘tea party’ in the garden to have a chat. Mady designed vouchers that Claire could exchange for a massage when she needed one. Understanding each other’s needs changed their whole relationship. It was also easier to talk to me as an outsider where it possibly could have ended up in a fight if it were with mom.