The first part of this article focuses on ways of disciplining teenagers, and the second part on getting on better with teenagers, understanding them better and guiding them to make wiser decisions.
It first gives advice on how parents can tell their teenagers to do things without getting drawn into arguments with the teenager every time about whether they think it's fair, or whatever else they're trying to use as an excuse not to bother obeying. Then it gives advice on dealing with temper tantrums in a teenager and any threats they make.
Then it explains why it's a good thing for teenagers to have rules to obey, and suggests rules children can reasonably be expected to obey, such as rules about helping parents with housework. It suggests ways of persuading them to.
Then it gives advice for parents on steering their teenagers away from crime and unhealthy company.
It givs advice on the best kinds of punishments to use, and ones that don't work that well.
It gives recommendations on things that can be done to get teenagers to do their homework. Then it talks about things that can be tried if they're misbehaving at school.
It then advises on things that can be tried if a teenager's being moody, and ways of getting on better with teenagers and persuading them to take their parents into their confidence about what they're doing.
Then it recommends ways of helping teenagers make good decisions, and advises on ways of talking to them about sex and alcohol.
Near the end, it gives advice on things that can be done if a teenager's so unruly that nothing else works to control them.
Lastly, it gives suggestions on what parents can do to look after their own needs and relax.
Skip past the following quotes if you'd like to get straight down to reading the article contents and self-help article.
Dad, your guiding hand on my shoulder will remain with me forever.
Daughters are like flowers, they fill the world with beauty, and sometimes attract pests.
The beauty of "spacing" children many years apart lies in the fact that parents have time to learn the mistakes that were made with the older ones - which permits them to make exactly the opposite mistakes with the younger ones.
--Sydney J. Harris
If you want your children to improve, let them overhear the nice things you say about them to others.
Mother Nature, in her infinite wisdom, has instilled within each of us a powerful biological instinct to reproduce; this is her way of assuring that the human race, come what may, will never have any disposable income.
The one thing children wear out faster than shoes is parents.
--John J. Plomp
Children are natural mimics who act like their parents despite every effort to teach them good manners.
The ideal home:† big enough for you to hear the children, but not very well.
--Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic's Notebook, 1966
Setting a good example for your children takes all the fun out of middle age.
--William Feather, The Business of Life, 1949
Getting down on all fours and imitating a rhinoceros stops babies from crying.† (Put an empty cigarette pack on your nose for a horn and make loud "snort" noises.)† I don't know why parents don't do this more often.† Usually it makes the kid laugh.† Sometimes it sends him into shock.† Either way it quiets him down.† If you're a parent, acting like a rhino has another advantage.† Keep it up until the kid is a teenager and he definitely won't have his friends hanging around your house all the time.
If your kids are giving you a headache, follow the directions on the aspirin bottle, especially the part that says "keep away from children."
One of the very few reasons I had any respect for my mother when I was thirteen was because she would reach into the sink with her bare hands - bare hands - and pick up that lethal gunk and drop it into the garbage.† To top that, I saw her reach into the wet garbage bag and fish around in there looking for a lost teaspoon.† Bare hands - a kind of mad courage.
Children seldom misquote.† In fact, they usually repeat word for word what you shouldn't have said.
Anyone who thinks the art of conversation is dead ought to tell a child to go to bed.
Any kid will run any errand for you if you ask at bedtime.
Your children tell you casually years later what it would have killed you with worry to know at the time.
--Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic's Notebook, 1966
The young always have the same problem - how to rebel and conform at the same time.† They have now solved this by defying their parents and copying one another.
The thing that impresses me most about America is the way parents obey their children.
--Edward, Duke of Windsor, Look, 5 March 1957
This article is much longer than many on the Internet; but it isn't necessary to read anywhere near all of it before you might find you can make a real difference.
It's written slightly differently to most articles. It begins with a very short story about someone finding out information to tell fellow parents, - not a real person but a representative of a lot of others with similar problems, - and the article's presented as if it's what she's found out.
If after browsing this article you'd like more detail on similar topics, try looking at the related articles on this website.
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Go to the end of the article if you'd like to know the main sources used in creating it.
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Since this article's almost certainly too long to read all in one go, if you like the parts of it you do browse, feel free to add it to your favourites and read it bit by bit over the coming days or weeks as you choose, since it's really designed to be taken in as a step-by-step process anyway rather than a one-off. It'll also make it handy to read bits of it again and again, since it's normal for people to forget most of what they read the first time.
Anne is a mother of three teenagers, who are beginning to seriously misbehave. One of them is even starting to hang around with friends who drink and smoke and sometimes get into fights with others. She's longing for some help, or at least new ideas on how to raise them to be responsible adults.
She goes to their school for a parents' evening, and meets up with a few other parents. They get around to talking about their children. After one admits to being worried about how her son's behaving, the others admit to being concerned about their own children.
They agree to meet up every few weeks to discuss new ideas they have about what might help.
One suggests they read self-help books and discuss what they say. They like the idea.
Anne gets a few self-help books from the library, and reads through them. She thinks about all the things she could tell the others.
One of the books I've been reading is called Parent in Control. It gives quite a lot of advice.
One of the things it says is that talking to children and teenagers in different ways than the ways you might have spoken to them before can not only help you get on with them better, but actually get them to do what you want more easily. It says there are ways of talking to them that are less likely to start arguments, and when there are less arguments, you'll find your children easier to manage and won't get so stressed because of all the arguments you keep having with them.
It says there are several ways you can talk to your teenagers that will either provoke arguments, or calm things down so you have more chance of getting them to do what you want them to without hassle:
The book says it's important to concentrate on what the problem is or what you want your child to do, rather than on what kind of a person you think they are because they're not doing it or causing the problem. If you start saying things to your children that sound like insults to them, it's likely to start arguments, and what you want done might not get done in all the yelling it causes. Or you'll unfairly damage their self-esteem. So instead of saying something like, "You're a good-for-nothing lazy pig; why do you never take the rubbish out?" which doesn't even ask them to take it out, for example, the book recommends you just ask them to. Or instead of complaining, "You're so selfish and inconsiderate" because they don't do any work around the house, give them specific rules about what you'd like them to do, and then be there to make sure they do those things till they're in the habit of doing them and confident about how to.
Also, it says try not to rise to the bait if children say the same kinds of things to you: - "None of the other mums are as mean as you"; "You treat me like a baby" and so on. Still try to focus on what you actually want them to do, rather than on whether or not you're mean or whatever. They probably won't mean it any more seriously than you'd mean it if you said they were a good-for-nothing lazy useless pig just because you were irritated with them for not peeling potatoes when you asked them to.
But arguing about it can take some time, and maybe the thing you want done won't even get done at the end. So instead of belittling them or behaving like them in getting into arguments, it says try to keep the conversation on discussion of what you actually want them to do, or not do as the case may be.
You don't even need to tell them how them not doing what you want makes you feel. Talking about your feelings doesn't directly blame them, but it still focuses on their behaviour as a problem, rather than what you actually want to change.
It says getting straight to the point might be best, so for instance, if a child comes to the dinner table with a dirty face and hands, you could maybe say, "Honey, come with me to the bathroom so you can wash your face and hands. From now on, just before you eat, go to the bathroom and wash your face and hands with a wet sponge and soap until all the dirt is gone. Then squeeze the sponge out, dry yourself with the hand towel, and hang the towel neatly on the towel rail again. Do this every time just before you eat from now on; and for the next week or two, we'll do this together".
Rather than complaining about the behaviour, that approach focuses on what the parents want done, and gives the child clear directions. And the task's more likely to get done because the parent says they'll monitor the child to make sure they've understood.
So don't focus on the person as the problem when you're unhappy with something they're doing or not doing.
It's good, though, to focus on them when you want to compliment them, perhaps by telling them how pretty they look, how nice their hairstyle is; what a good job they did of the weeding, how much you love them, and so on.
Some children know that if they argue and provoke enough, they'll get their way, because their parents will give in and let them do what they want after all or become so busy arguing they'll forget what they wanted the child to do. There are ways of getting children to behave without getting into heated arguments with them. The key is not to take what they say personally or that seriously. They might say you don't care for them or aren't being fair, for example, but a lot of children say things like that when they're not genuinely concerned about those things at all; they're just trying to manipulate you into letting them off. They're just saying what comes into their heads on the spur of the moment to try to get out of doing what you want them to do.
Arguing with a teenager about what they say can just make you both angrier and angrier till your own behaviour's no better than theirs. They won't respect you if that happens. But worse, they're more likely to get away with breaking rules. What you can do instead of arguing is to deflect arguments with words like nevertheless and regardless. And for children who like to always have the last word, you can soak up their provocations by saying things like, "Uh-huh", "I heard you", "You said that", and "Anything else?"
The book I've been reading called Parent in Control gives examples of the right way and wrong way to talk to a child when trying to get them to do what you want:
"Tom, please pick up your dirty clothes and put them in the laundry basket," Mum said as she walked by fourteen-year-old Tom, who was playing a video game.
"Why do you always pick on me? You never make Clare do anything around here," Tom said, still playing the game.
"That's not true, and you know it," said Mum. "She has more to do around here than you do."
"Oh, right, Mum. And Father Christmas really brings toys to all the little children."
"You'd better watch that smart mouth of yours, Thomas. I won't put up with it."
"Oh, it's always my mouth that needs to be watched. Clare never says anything bad, does she?" asked Tom, continuing to play the video game while arguing.
He never does get up and put his dirty clothes in the basket.
"Tom, please pick up your dirty clothes and put them in the laundry basket," Mum said as she walked by fourteen-year-old Tom, who was playing a video game.
"Why do you always pick on me? You never make Clare do anything around here," Tom said, still playing the game.
"Regardless of what Clare does, pick up your dirty clothes and put them in the basket," said Mum, pausing the game.
"That's not fair. You wouldn't turn off the TV on Clare," said Tom.
"Regardless of whether it's fair or not, put your clothes in the basket right now please," said Mum, watching Tom as he went to put his dirty clothes in the basket.
Refusing to argue meant tempers didn't flare so much, and the conversation didn't move away from the subject of clothes onto other things, leaving the clothes forgotten.
The only thing that could have been done better in that scenario would be for the mother to make a rule that said the boy had to put his dirty clothes in the basket every time he took them off, and to make sure he stuck to it.
"Andy," Mum said as her thirteen-year-old son walked out the front door to play a ball game with some friends in the park in a brand-new expensive shirt. "That shirt cost too much for you to play in it. Put on an old one."
"It was on sale, Mum," said Andy, irritated. "And besides, I paid for part of it."
"You haven't given me any money for it yet."
"Mum," said Andy, giving a big sigh and contorting his body in exasperation, "why do you always do this? I was feeling fine, but you have to go and ruin everything."
Mum said angrily, "How have I done that?"
"You're always having a go at me about something. You can never just let me get on with life," he said, ready to say something he knew would be upsetting for her. "You drove Dad away by doing the same thing to him."
"You know that isn't true," said Mum, feeling very hurt.
"Have it your way, Mum," Andy said as he walked out the door wearing his brand-new shirt.
"Andy," Mum said as her thirteen-year-old son walked out the front door to play a ball game with some friends in the park in a brand-new expensive shirt. "That shirt cost too much for you to play in it. Put on an old one."
"It was on sale, Mum," said Andy, irritated. "And besides, I paid for part of it."
"Regardless, go and change your shirt now."
"Mum," said Andy, giving a big sigh and contorting his body in exasperation, "why do you always do this? I was feeling fine, but you have to go and ruin everything."
"Nevertheless, go and change your shirt now."
"You're really getting mean."
"Regardless of whether I'm mean or not, go and change your shirt right now," Mum said as she escorted Andy to his bedroom and watched him change his shirt.
This time Mum stuck to the real issue all the way through until the shirt was changed. She deflected Andy's provocations and kept coming back to the subject she wanted to talk about. The only thing she needed to add was a rule that Andy should never go out and play in new clothes.
Mum was bent over, sorting the washing when sixteen-year-old Kate walked into the room and asked, "Can I spend the night at Kim's after tonight's basketball game?"
"Kim who?" asked Mum.
"Kim Jeffries. You've met her. She was in my History class."
"When did I meet her? What does she look like?"
"Oh for crying out loud, Mum!" said Kate, rolling her eyes. "Do you want her fingerprints and Social Security number, too?"
"Sounds good to me," said Mum, standing up to start the washing machine. "Just tell me who she is."
"The one you saw in the car with David a couple of weeks ago," said Kate, exasperated.
"The one dressed in black with the sides of her head shaved? The one smoking a cigarette? The one with the filthy mouth? You've got to be kidding. There's no way I'd let you go over there," said Mum, bending over to pull dry clothes out of the dryer.
"But why? You don't even know her."
"You're right. I don't know her, but I know enough to say you can't go."
"That's not fair."
"I don't care if it's fair or not," said Mum, exasperated, as she folded the clean laundry. "You can't spend the night at Kim's or with anyone else I don't know."
"Because I don't want you spending the night with people I'm not comfortable with."
"But that's stupid. Why can't I go?"
"I told you why," said Mum, getting angry.
"But that's stupid. So why can't I go?"
"I don't want you to get into trouble," yelled Mum.
"You don't trust me? You think I'm going to get into trouble? I don't believe you! I'm sixteen years old and you're trying to tell me who I can be friends with. What's wrong with you?"
Mum picked up the basket of folded clothes and walked away without responding.
"Don't walk away from me. I'm still talking to you," Kate yelled indignantly as she followed her mother into the hallway. "Why can't I go to Kim's?"
"I told you why. Now leave me alone," said Mum, putting towels and sheets in the airing cupboard.
"Give me a good reason," Kate said aggressively.
Mum threw the laundry basket on the floor and screamed, "Leave me alone!"
"Not until you give me a good reason why I can't spend the night at Kim's," said Kate, grabbing her mother's wrist.
Mum wrenched her arm away from Kate's grasp and quickly walked to the kitchen in a futile attempt to get away.
Kate followed Mum, still demanding, "Why can't I go?"
Mum braced herself against the kitchen counter and said, "Okay, I give up. Go. Do whatever you want. Just leave me alone and get out of here."
Mum was bent over, sorting the washing when sixteen-year-old Kate walked into the room and asked, "Can I spend the night at Kim's after
tonight's basketball game?"
"Kim who?" asked Mum.
"Kim Jeffries. You've met her. She was in my history class."
"When did I meet her? What does she look like?"
"Oh for crying out loud, Mum!" said Kate, rolling her eyes. "Do you want her fingerprints and Social Security number, too."
"Sounds good to me," said Mum, standing up to start the washing machine. "Just tell me who she is."
"The one you saw in the car with David a couple of weeks ago," said Kate, exasperated."
"The one dressed in black with the sides of her head shaved? The one smoking a cigarette? The one with the filthy mouth? You've got to be kidding. There's no way I'd let you go over there," said Mum, bending over to pull dry clothes out of the dryer.
"But why? You don't even know her."
"Regardless of why, you may not go."
[Mum, in asking her questions about the girl's shaved head, her smoking, and her bad language, has through implication, clearly let Kate know what the problem is. Also, Mum knows that Kate is a pesterer and that no matter what she says, Kate will have a belligerent, provocative response.]
"You don't trust me, do you?" asked Kate, putting her hands on her hips and staring at Mum.
"Regardless of whether I trust you or not, you may not go," said Mum, continuing to work.
"All the other mothers are letting their daughters go," said Kate, trying a different tack.
"Uh-huh," said Mum, soaking up Kate's provocation.
Kate paused for a moment, not sure what to say next. "Well, they are. The other parents are letting their daughters go."
"You already said that, honey," Mum said, leaving the room.
"Well, can I go?"
"No." Mum walked into the bathroom and closed the door behind her.
"Regardless of why, you may not go," Mum replied through the bathroom door.
"I hate the word 'regardless.' "
"Nevertheless, you may not go."
Kate stomped off, not quite sure what had happened.
This time Mom stuck to the main issue. No matter how hard Kate tried to provoke her, she deflected the provocations and got right back to the subject of whether she'd give permission or not.
Do bear in mind though that your child might well raise valid objections to some of the things you say, and be prepared to discuss them and be flexible in your attitude if they do.
Not all your children's objections will be based on a wish to sensibly discuss things though. Even if they seem to be sometimes, the objections might just be ways of trying to justify things they want to do that are actually based on the simple fact that what they're doing feels good to them, no matter what consequences you can see it possibly having at some point in the future. So if you've given your teenager good reasons once or twice, there's no real need to keep going over and over them. They'll know them. They'll probably be able to repeat them back to you. They just won't happen to want to let them influence the way they behave, such as in the case of a girl going out with an unemployed man years older than her who's been in prison for a violent crime and made his previous girlfriend pregnant and then just left her, who refuses to believe he'd ever be violent to her or that the relationship could ever get into trouble, who dismisses your attempts to reason with her about how so many relationships like that do go seriously wrong by saying she's sure this one will be different, and using similar arguments. The real reason she says that will be that her feelings are making her want to stay with him, and her feelings are a far stronger influence on her than any good reason you could come up with for her stopping seeing him.
Even in South Africa, where AIDS is so prevalent, a lot of young people who've been educated about using condoms and the dangers of unprotected sex don't use condoms and have sex with whoever they want to, because they just feel certain something bad won't happen to them. That's clearly nothing to do with reason and logic. Their views are all to do with their feelings.
Feelings can be so strong and enticing that logic and reason are no match for them. You'll know it yourself if you've ever sat outside in the sun leaving the house in a mess when you should have been making it tidy for the guests coming in the evening. If anyone had pointed out that you should be doing the cleaning, you might have said something that seemed like a reasoned argument on the surface, such as that there would be plenty of time later, when the real reason you weren't doing it was because the sunshine was so lovely you couldn't bear to go in and miss it. Then you might have been in a great hurry later trying to tidy the house with too little time.
In the same way, your teenager might argue with you, trying to put forward points that seem as if they could be reasonable on the surface, when really, those things are just attempts to justify behaviour that is in reality just based on the fact that they want to do whatever it is because it feels good, or because they have a strong feeling of attachment to someone who isn't good for them, or they feel lonely when they're not with the people you object to, and so on. Feelings are powerful. Repeating your reasons for not wanting your teenager to do something will probably just make them frustrated and want to argue, because they'll already know your reasons but just won't like them.
To give an example, most people are taught from a young age that stealing's wrong; but if a boy who wants to be accepted by a friend is in a shop and his friend steals something and gives it to him to put in his pocket, his wish to be thought well of by his friend will be a far greater consideration than the lessons he learned about why stealing's wrong, so chances are, he will, unless he's equally emotionally bonded with those who wouldn't want him to steal.
So reasoned discussion isn't always a good thing. Sometimes, just telling them they can't do something and stopping them is the best thing.
One example is bad language. Telling children that it could give some people the impression they're uneducated with a bad character, and that they'll impress more of the people who matter in life by not using it, might persuade some children to stop; but it probably won't persuade anyone who's in the habit of using it and who's with a group of friends who all use it. So after reasoning things through with them a couple of times, it's reasonable to just tell them you don't want them using it.
Pick your times though. If something more important's going on at the time, focus on that and ignore the bad language for the moment. You can always come back to the subject later.
Mum was coming into the house with her arms full of shopping when fourteen-year-old Karen hung up the telephone and started to leave. As usual, she was dressed in her skinhead gear, looking as if she was planning on getting into a fight during the evening.
"Where are you going?" asked Mum, putting the bags down.
"Out," replied Karen, standing halfway between Mum and the doorway.
"It's none of your business."
"Yes, it is my business. Now, where are you going?"
"Fuck you!" Karen said contemptuously.
Mum took a long step and looked Karen in the eye. "Don't you ever talk to me like that."
"What are you going to do, hit me? Go ahead, bitch. Hit me. I'll report you for child abuse."
"Don't talk to me that way, ever."
"Fuck you, bitch."
Mum slapped Karen hard across the face. "I won't tolerate that language in my house, especially from a child."
Karen put her finger to her tongue. A small speck of blood was visible on the tip of her finger. "Look what you did!"
"You must have caught your braces against the side of your mouth when I slapped you. I'm sorry you're hurt, honey, but you can't swear at me."
"Bullshit. I'm reporting you for child abuse." And as she walked out the door she gave her Mom one more shot. "Fuck you, bitch. You aren't going to keep me from seeing my friends."
Mum was coming into the house with her arms full of shopping when Karen hung up the telephone and started to leave.
"Where are you going?" asked Mum, putting the bags down.
"Out," replied Karen, standing halfway between Mom and the doorway.
"It's none of your business."
"Regardless of whether it's my business or not, where are you going?"
"Fuck you!" Karen said contemptuously.
Mum took two long steps and stood in front of the door. "Uh-huh," Mom said, not about to engage in an argument or to let Karen leave.
"Are you fucking deaf?" screamed Karen.
"Karen," said Mum calmly, "regardless of how many times you say 'fuck', you may not leave home tonight."
"Fuck you, bitch."
"Anything else?" Mom asked as she watched Karen stomp off to her room.
There we see that no matter how hard her daughter tried to provoke her, the mother wouldn't lose her temper but stayed calm, brushing off the provocations and sticking to the main issue of not letting the daughter go out, not getting distracted by the swearing into arguing about that and forgetting about the really important thing.
The issues of the daughter's disrespect and foul language still need to be resolved, but the more consistently the parents refuse to reward the behaviour, by not getting into arguments where she ends up getting what she wants, as well as laying down a rule about it when more important issues have been dealt with, the sooner the behaviour will go away, especially if she isn't allowed to mix so much with friends who talk like that.
The book Parent in Control says that arguing is dangerous, because it makes people more and more angry. It says family violence tends to begin with arguments. So do your best to avoid arguing with children. Try your best to learn to deflect their attempts to provoke you. The book suggests you try learning the techniques in the above examples, and practise and practise them till you can do them automatically without rising to your children's bait and getting angry. You could practise using those deflecting techniques out loud. Practise on friends and relatives if you can.
I've been reading a book called Solution-Focused Therapy with Children. It's really a book to give therapists advice. But it's got some good stories in it, about the author's experiences of doing therapy with families who've come for help because they had problems raising their children.
One says a young boy was brought to therapy by his mother for "bad temper tantrums", which happened on average four times a week. Neither the mother or the boy could think of what they could be doing on the other three days in the week to make them "good days". The two of them would typically fight over doing schoolwork, watching too much television, and the new toys the child wanted.
The therapist gave the child and his mother the same task to do in the following week, asking them both to each separately make a prediction every night before they went to bed, as to whether the next day was going to be a good day or a bad day as regards tantrums. They should think about what would need to happen to make it a good day and what would make it a bad day, and then observe what had made it either a good or bad day the following evening, so they'd know what to change so there would be more good days.
The family came back the next week saying there had been several changes in their behaviour. There had been fewer power struggles, and only one temper tantrum. The mother had been so pleased with the son that she'd bought him the Nike T-shirt he'd wanted. She had discovered that when she yelled less and avoided power struggles, her son didn't have temper tantrums. The son discovered that when he didn't give his mother a hard time, she yelled less and they got on better.
The book Parent in Control says another way children can manipulate parents into letting them off bad behaviour is by lying. That's not necessarily because the parent believes them, but because if an argument starts about the lie, the worse behaviour can be forgotten about. It's best to concentrate on the most important behaviour and tackle the lying problem later. After all, children will often just be lying to cover something up that they don't want you to tell them off about.
The book gives an example of how not to deal with a child lying, and how to deal with the lying better. Here's an idea of what it says:
Brian, sixteen years old, and Craig, aged thirteen, were watching television in the living-room. Just as Dad walked in, Brian reached over and punched Craig hard on the shoulder with his fist.
"Hey, knock it off," Dad yelled.
"Knock what off!" asked Brian as he turned and looked at Dad.
"Don't hit your brother. Don't be a bully."
"I didn't hit anyone," protested Brian.
"Brian, I saw you hit him."
"No, you didn't. You couldn't have because I didn't hit him."
"Now, stop it. I saw you hit Craig. Admit it."
"There's nothing to admit. I didn't do anything wrong."
"Don't lie to me," screamed Dad.
"I'm not lying," screamed Brian, standing up and facing his father. "You never believe me."
"That's because you're always lying."
"Fine," yelled Brian, changing tactics and catching Dad off guard. "You win. I'm a liar. I hit Craig."
"That's right, you did," said Dad, unsure of himself.
"Of course. I confess," Brian said sarcastically.
"I give up," said Dad, and walked away.
Brian sat back down on the couch, reached over, and punched Craig on the shoulder again with his fist.
Brian, sixteen years old, and Craig, aged thirteen, were watching television in the living-room. Just as Dad walked in, Brian reached over and punched Craig hard on the shoulder with his fist.
"Stop it, Brian. Never hit your brother again," Dad said firmly.
"I didn't hit anyone," protested Brian.
"Regardless, never hit your brother."
"But I didn't hit him!"
"Nevertheless, don't ever do it."
"I didn't do anything wrong."
"You've already said that," said Dad soaking up the argument. "And, Brian, until I can count on you to leave your brother alone, you can stay with me outside while I work in the garden."
"That's not fair."
"Nevertheless, come into the garden with me now," said Dad, escorting Brian outside.
So Dad sorts out the main problem with no trouble.
You see that if you're not careful, children can use arguments about whether they've lied to distract you from more serious problems. So it's best not to argue with a child about whether they've told a lie when something more important's going on. It'll distract you both from the real issue, and just get you angry when you have to argue it out. The book says deflect and soak up arguments instead, and that only when the more important issue has been dealt with is it a good idea to raise the lying issue and lay down a rule about it.
The authors of a couple of the books I've read advise that when dealing with swearing and name-calling or shouting and so on, one thing parents should do is to give some thought as to whether they started it. It won't be any wonder their children are doing it if they start it.
So they ask parents to think back to the last few times their children said things they didn't like, and ask themselves exactly what they said just before it. Was it some kind of insulting put-down, such as calling them stupid? Was it an insulting name like "dummy" or "fatso"? Did the parent swear? Did they make an unfair accusation? Did they make a complaint? Do a bit of blaming? Ask a question? Give their child an order?
If you realise you're triggering off bad behaviour in your child by the things you say, you can be encouraged to know it means you've at least got some control over their bad behaviour, because if you change the way you speak to them for the better, their bad behaviour will diminish. You could perhaps ask yourself what you would have to do if you actually wanted your child to swear or call you names or say horrible things. If you realise you're actually doing some of the things you think you'd have to do, you'll know what to change.
The book for therapists says a couple brought their ten-year-old son to therapy. His school had referred him to the therapist. He'd been diagnosed with ADHD. He would be very "disruptive" in school, and wouldn't obey the rules at home.
His mother said he'd always been in special education programs, and had been to an ADHD clinic where several tests had been done on him that "proved" he had ADHD.
His mother said the ADHD had been affecting him for three years. He would "aggravate" his younger sister, and wouldn't listen to his mother. The mother said when she asked him to put his things away, he'd tell her to "shut up". She said he certainly had a mouth on him! She said he would swear at her, and she could tell he was having an ADHD attack when he would become agitated and swear and not listen.
The boy's stepfather said it was making their lives hell, and they couldn't leave him alone with his little sister.
He said the boy's ADHD was bothering him too, saying he always had to "scream" at the boy a few times before he'd do what he wanted him to do. Both parents said the boy wouldn't listen.
The parents said they would often argue about how to handle the boy. The stepfather said he didn't like the fact that the mother was too lenient with him, while he himself tended to scream at the boy.
The mother said she was lenient with the boy because she didn't like the way the stepfather would scream, so she would let the boy off the hook to try and keep things calm, although she knew it was wrong.
The therapist talked about the ADHD as if it was a separate entity, not a part of the boy's personality, as if it was something coming from outside that was oppressing the whole family, including the boy. When the parents began to think of it like that, they stopped feeling so angry with the boy, which meant the father didn't want to yell so much.
The therapist asked the boy what ADHD would make him do in class, and the boy said he'd fight and not listen to the teacher, and get angry.
The therapist asked the parents whether they'd done anything in the past that they'd found to be successful in calming the boy's ADHD, and the mother said that it seemed to be better when they weren't yelling so much. The boy would calm down faster.
The stepfather agreed, but said they needed to work together; she needed to stop giving into the boy, and then he himself wouldn't feel so angry and want to yell so much.
The parents agreed that cutting down on yelling helped, but that the mother needed to not let him get away with so much.
The boy said he tended to behave best when his parents weren't yelling or arguing, and when they were all happy.
The therapist asked the boy what the family did all together that made him happy. The boy said they'd play video games, and his stepfather would take them to baseball games.
The therapist asked the boy whether his teacher ever did anything at school to stop his ADHD getting to him. The boy said it helped when she didn't shout at him and she was nicer, when she could see he was trying to do his work.
After the therapy session, the parents started being friendlier towards the boy. They stopped yelling at him, and so did the teacher. They became more of a team working together.
When the atmosphere was calmer and more friendly, the boy's behaviour "dramatically improved". At the end of six months, during which they had five more therapy sessions, the boy was no longer being described as having ADHD. He was put back into mainstream education by the end of the school year. Some people didn't want to put him back into a normal class too quickly, but he proved he was capable by showing a lot of patience and good behaviour in class.
So it seems that what was happening was the kind of cycle I talked about earlier, where one person would do something to make another one angry, and their angry response made the person play up even more, and that made the angry person even angrier, and so on. Changing the way they handled the situations changed the behaviour.
If your children say things that worry you, such as that you don't care about them, or that they're going to run away, or that they wish they had better parents, and so on, at first, it's worth seeing if they have any genuine concerns that they need help with. If you've investigated that and they refuse to be helped but keep making the comments, it's possible they're just blackmailing you to give in to them again.
Another book I've been reading is called How to Deal With Your Acting-Up Teenager. It tells a few stories as well.
It says two brothers, aged 9 and 12, had their mother and new stepfather very worried because of the way they would talk. Whenever the adults tried to get them to do something, for instance to help out, to go to bed, to make less noise, and so on, the boys would say things like, "You can't make me". "I don't like it here. I'm going to call my father and he'll come and get me." Or they'd just laugh.
The things they said, and especially the low teasing laugh they used, drove the stepfather wild. He'd worked himself up into a state of nervous tension and high blood pressure after a few months of putting up with it. The therapists he saw, the ones who wrote the book, thought it was clear that by taking what the boys said so seriously and getting so upset over it, he was encouraging their teasing.
The therapists advised the mother and stepfather not to take what the children said with such great seriousness, but just to think of it as the chatter of little children. They also advised them to call the children's bluff on all the threats they made to phone their father, telling them they could certainly use the phone when they made one of their threats, but saying that meanwhile, they wanted them to do what they were told.
The book Parent in Control says threats aren't always what they seem, but can sometimes just be a child's attempts to manipulate you into giving them their own way. Even if they threaten to kill themselves, to run away or to go and live with their other divorced parent, it says don't let them draw you into an argument if you can help it, and don't give in to the provocation. It says unless you're worried they're being serious, try and sideline their threats, by saying things like, "Regardless of whether you kill yourself or not, you may not go to the party with your friends." "Regardless of whether you run away or not, you'll start attending your new school on Monday." "Nevertheless, clean your room every Saturday morning after breakfast from now on, before midday."
But the book says that if you're worried their threats to harm themselves or others might be serious, don't hesitate to call the emergency services, or in less urgent cases, make an appointment to see a therapist. If you're not sure how serious they are about suicide, do your best to watch them closely till they change their attitude.
The book Parent in Control advises that you never say anything to encourage your child to do what they're threatening, even as a joke. For instance, a teenager who doesn't like having to do their chores or doesn't appreciate the fact that you won't let them misbehave as much as they want might threaten to run away so they get put in a foster home where "people will treat them fairly" - really meaning they imagine people will let them do just what they want; or they might say they'll run away to Grandma's because she understands them, meaning they imagine she'll let them do just what they want. Or they might just complain about various things, such as the amount of things you buy them, and say all their friends' parents are better.
You might be tempted to respond by saying things that actually encourage them to leave, such as, "If you can find anyone else to put up with your garbage, go ahead and leave", or, " Don't let the door hit you on your way out." or, "Hey, I'll help you pack." or, "Don't let us stop you." or, "Go ahead and find a family willing to meet your champagne tastes". That kind of thing. Some children will be looking for an excuse to leave home, and when you say things like that, they might take them to heart, and not only leave but tell all their friends and others that you kicked them out.
Not only that, but they usually won't learn the lessons parents are hoping they will, instead successfully living off their friends and others, sometimes for weeks at a time. If they don't manage to do that, they might end up on the streets, and that could be disastrous.
So don't respond to teenagers' provocations by suggesting they could live elsewhere, unless they're grown adults and it really is about time they left. Instead, respond to their arguments by deflecting them or soaking them up as illustrated.
Again, don't argue with a child or teenager in a temper, because it'll probably just make them worse. Since most tantrums stem from arguments, you might be able to avoid most of them altogether by refusing to argue with children any more but just deflecting what they say.
But if they're having a temper tantrum, the book Parent in Control says one thing that can calm them down is a time-out, where you make them go somewhere quiet, where there's nothing to do but calm down. Good places to have them can include sitting on the stairs, standing in empty corners, or porches and the like. As soon as they start to lose their temper, send them there and keep them there till they calm down and are ready to do what you asked. The book says the rule will be that they be quiet - no talking, screaming, yelling, howling, singing, bird noises, blowing raspberries, or anything else, for at least five minutes. And they're not allowed to leave the time-out place during those five minutes. If they do, or if they make any noise during the first five minutes, the time-out starts all over again.
They might end up having to spend thirty or forty minutes or longer there the first few times a time-out's used because they won't sit quietly, but if it's consistently used, they'll know what to expect, so their tantrums should become fewer, and they'll get shorter and shorter, because they won't want to stay there.
It might sound like a real hassle and perhaps unrealistic to make children do time-outs when they might keep disobeying you so you have to start them all over again, since you'll probably be trying to do other things at the same time, like making the tea and so on. But if you find a way to make them work and persist with them, it might not be that long before you don't have to anymore. Use time-outs till you don't need to use them anymore.
The time-out is not a form of punishment but a practical way of helping them calm down.
If it's used for beyond the amount of time it takes for them to calm down though, or you put two children together, they'll play up and it won't work.
The book Parent in Control says that if your child's violent towards you, time-outs might naturally be impractical and you'll have to do more. It recommends that you never tolerate a child's violence towards you. If they're violent towards you, they'll probably be violent to others, perhaps people at school or in the wider community.
It says that if the situation's urgent - if they beat you up or threaten you with a weapon, do whatever you need to do to protect yourself, and don't hesitate to call the police. Don't take any chances.
When things have calmed down for a while and you think everyone in the house will be safe from them for the time being, you can think of a more long-term strategy. Professional help might be the best thing. But if you can't get any that works, there are other strategies.
The book says that if your child punches you, kicks you, throws you against the wall or on the floor or does anything else similarly violent, a good thing to do could be to go to a self-defence class, or better still, try and get private instruction in self-defence from someone who can show you various ways of restraining people, holding them in various positions. You don't need years of training to do that. Of course, you won't want to injure them. But there are ways of restraining them without hurting them much. What you need is to find a qualified self-defence instructor who can teach you the basic kinds of restraining techniques police officers, psychiatric hospital staff, and those who work in juvenile detention centres use to protect themselves against violent youth.
With consistent practice, you can learn how to put violent children on the floor and keep them there till they've calmed down enough that they're willing to go to a normal time-out to finish the calming down process, or to do what they were supposed to be doing before they had their tantrum.
But interestingly enough, according to the book, most parents who take self-defence lessons never have to use what they've learned, because the more confident they become in dealing with their out-of-control children, the less their children challenge them physically.
With smaller violent children, the book recommends you can sit them on your lap or put them chest-down on the floor, depending on their size, and wrap your arms around them in a firm bear hug, using your legs to pin their legs together. Naturally use the minimum amount of force necessary. If you've had to put them on the floor, it says centre your body weight on their hips and thighs, never on their chest. If the child is also swearing, screaming, calling you names, or making threats, it says use one hand to hold their hands together at the wrists and use your other hand to cover their mouth, cupping your hand so they can't bite it. It says you can softly say into the child's ear something soothing like, "As soon as you calm down and are ready to stop hitting (or kicking or biting], I'll let you go to time-out. Calm down, honey. Calm down. I love you. As soon as you're ready to stop hitting ..." etc., calmly repeating yourself over and over again.
Don't let the child out of your bear hug, though, until his or her muscles and voice completely relax. Even then, it might be that as soon as you relax, they'll start their tantrum again, so don't relax too far or fast till you can tell they've calmed down for real.
The first time you use the technique, it might take anywhere from five to more than sixty minutes for the child to finally calm down.
Use the technique every time the child has an aggressive tantrum or is violent. The more consistently you use the bear hug for violent tantrums, the more your children will learn to control their frustration and their temper tantrums so you end up not having to use it.
The book says that for most children - even obstinate, aggressive children - the safest, most comforting place to be when they are upset is in Mum or Dad's arms. So don't worry that you're being cruel to them if you have to use the holding down technique. It'll be a bit like hugging them. Give your voice a reassuring tone, not a scolding one, one that promises things will be allright again as soon as they calm down. Try doing that even if they're insulting you. That'll be easier if you don't take the insults to heart. Remember they may well not seriously mean them, but might just be repeating the kinds of things they've picked up from other people. Even if they do seriously mean them in that moment, it doesn't mean they'll still feel the same way half an hour later.
The bear hug technique might take a bit of thinking through before you can work out how to do it properly - restraining your children effectively while not risking injuring them. It might be as well to consult with others, or try to read up more about controlling violent children.
Still, it seems it can be effective if you know how to use it.
The book Parent in Control says there was a twelve-year-old boy who'd become an alcohol abuser, just like his father had been. He also smoked. He was clever, but failing most of his subjects in school. He could be charming a lot of the time, but was always getting into trouble at school. He was good at sports, being able to run faster than all the kids in the two classes above him. But he got involved with a bad crowd, dropped out of the sporting activities he'd been doing so well at, and started smoking and drinking.
He would have violent tantrums, and his mother would worry he was turning out to be just like his father who used to get violent. She was thankful his father had left three years earlier and gone back to his native country and she hadn't seen him since. Until he went back there though, he spent years making sure his little son understood that men never took orders from women, and that he should stand up to his mother and any other woman who tried to tell him what to do. He also thought it was fun when the boy got drunk on the beer he gave him.
Three years after his father left, the boy was still refusing to obey his mother and female teachers. He was throwing violent tantrums to get his way, and his mother's arms and shins were covered in bruises from his attacks. He was also being truant from school, smoking and drinking with some of the local louts, and not coming home till late at night.
His mother was scared she might hurt or kill him one day. She spent time and money on therapy, hoping she could learn to cope with him better, but a lot of it was unhelpful. But after trying several counsellors and not being given any insights as to how to control her son more, she found a program that worked.
She learned how to control her son's violent tantrums, and his smoking and drinking stopped on its own after that, and after she started keeping him away from the louts he'd been hanging around with and got him interested in new activities he enjoyed.
The program showed her how to restrain her son when he was violent, and the knowledge came in useful the very next evening. She tried to get him to sit down at the kitchen table to do his spelling homework, and he tried to duck out of the front door to go drinking with his friends. When his mother stopped him, he went on the rampage, yelling and cursing, shoving the kitchen table against the wall and knocking chairs over. As he tried to run out the back door, his mother grabbed him around the waist, put him on the floor, pinned his flailing arms to his chest, and wrapped her legs around his kicking legs. As soon as she had him physically under control, she started calmly repeating over and over again, "Calm down, honey, calm down. As soon as you calm down and you're ready to do your homework, I'll let go of you. Calm down, honey, I love you."
The boy used bad language and insults, wriggled, twisted and turned, trying everything he could to get away from her. But no matter how many times he tried to get away from her and screamed, "Fuck you", "I hate you", or "Get your fat ass off of me", she kept repeating, "Calm down, honey, calm down. As soon as you calm down and you're ready to do your homework, I'll let go of you. Calm down, honey, I love you."
It took the boy forty minutes to start to run out of energy. Then, he calmed down and relaxed his muscles. His mother asked him if he was ready to do his homework and he said he was. But as soon as he felt her grip relaxing, he tried to jerk his hands and feet free. She quickly wrapped him in her arms and legs again so he couldn't run away, and he stayed there for the next twenty minutes using up more energy. Then he calmed down for real.
A little over an hour after he'd thrown the violent tantrum, he was sitting at the kitchen table doing his spelling homework with his mother's help.
The next day his mother had especially secure locks put on the doors to stop him sneaking out.
Over the next two months, her son had to be held seven times to stop his violent tantrums getting out of control. But each time, it took less time before he calmed down. The seventh time, it only took five minutes before he calmed down and did what she'd asked him to do. It was also his last attempt to throw a violent tantrum.
His mother spent a day in school with the boy to help his female teacher regain control of him.
She stopped him hanging around with his loutish drinking and smoking friends by getting him back into after-school and sports activities, and both she and him got involved in community theatre.
Within two months, the boy was basically following his mother's rules most of the time with a moderate amount of supervision. He had no opportunity to use alcohol or tobacco, and none of the people he was now spending his after-school hours with did, so he wasn't tempted back into it by his new friends.
A year later, he had the best grades in the class, was doing really well at sports, and, like his mother, had a speaking part in a play his theatre group were putting on.
Best of all, his violence had been replaced with a loving, affectionate relationship with his mother. His condescending attitude towards women had disappeared, and he was no longer likely to hurt the women who crossed his path later in life.
The book Parent in Control says it's actually good to have a set of rules for children, both about helping around the house, and about their other behaviour, such as what time they can stay out till in the evening, and things like that.
You might think having specific rules for your children to obey is being too strict; but it says rules are good for children to have. It says rules get people into routines of good behaviour and work they might not bother with otherwise. Without rules, it's easy for anyone to act according to what they happen to feel like doing at the time. If children don't feel like doing any chores, for example, they won't go out of their way to do any. If they have routines where they're used to doing chores at certain times though, they're more likely to grow up to get into regular habits of work or commitment and be reliable about following them.
But the book says to get a child to consistently obey rules, they have to be supervised until the behaviour has become a habit and they're trusted to do it well, otherwise, it can be far too tempting for them not to do what you've asked.
It says unenforced rules can be worse than no rules, because children can pick up the idea that their parents don't have to be obeyed, since they'll know their parents have certain rules and yet they don't always make them follow them.
The book says supervision doesn't necessarily mean being with your children the whole time they're doing what you asked them to. Sometimes it might just mean checking up on them occasionally. It'll depend on how good they are at doing what you asked. And the same child might need different levels of supervision at different times because they're better at getting down to doing certain tasks than others.
For example, a 13-year-old boy who's perfectly reliable when it comes to feeding and walking the dog, moderately good at taking out the rubbish when it's his turn, and plain unreliable when it comes to doing his gardening jobs, will need a lot of supervision when he's asked to do the gardening, a moderate amount of supervision when it comes to taking out the rubbish, and hardly any at all when it comes to feeding and walking the dog.
The supervision levels can change as children show they can be reliable at remembering to do the chores where they had to be supervised before and doing them right, and maybe change back a bit if they start being less reliable.
The book says it's important to be consistent in your discipline. If something gets one punishment one day, and the next time they do the same thing nothing happens, children learn to push their luck, since they know they can get away with it sometimes. Similarly, if you supervise them one day and then don't the next even though they're no more reliable, they'll not only think they can get away with doing less, but will resent it the next time you supervise them, because they won't be so used to it and so won't see why you should. If they know a fair punishment or supervision is a routine, they'll get used to it and just accept it as the norm after a while. If you stop doing it for a while though, expect protests when you start again.
The less consistently you've been supervising your children or enforcing rules, the more they'll be used to not being disciplined, so the angrier their protests are likely to be on the days when you try disciplining them. If that makes you angry and you shout at them and even insult them, it's likely to make them angrier, so you can end up not wanting to bother trying to make them obey rules any more. But if you don't for a while, it can cause the same behaviour to happen next time you try, since you might not have had the stamina to try again for a while, so they get away with what they like, till you think you really must try again; and then because they're not used to being disciplined, they angrily protest yet again, and that makes you angry so you argue, and you're exhausted by the argument so you don't feel like trying again for a while, and then you do and it turns into an angry argument yet again, and so on.
On the other hand, if your child's so used to being disciplined and supervised when they do something that they expect it as the norm, then provided the discipline seems fair and you carry it out calmly rather than shouting or insulting and demeaning them, they'll likely accept it as just a natural consequence.
That goes for all kinds of things. For instance, if a parent consistently requires that their child be in the house every day at 6 o'clock to do their homework, and checks on where the child is to make sure they will be home then, the child will get into a routine of being home then. But if the parent doesn't say anything some days when they stay out longer, they're going to think it's unfair when the parent does try to enforce the rule, because they're not used to it. They'll likely push their luck, coming in ten minutes late, twenty, thirty, or longer. Then they'll get angry and think the parent's being unreasonable when they try to make them come in when they originally said the child should, even if the child agreed to come in that early at the time. If the child's used to the luxury of coming in later, they won't want to lose it.
That's why, though it might take more energy at first, it's worth being consistent about making your child obey your rules till it becomes a habit for them. You'll save a whole lot of energy in the long-term that way.
The book says children can grow up less belligerent and challenging of authority if you have no rules at all than if you have rules you only sometimes enforce so children get to expect not to have to obey them and make a big fuss when you want them to.
So if you decide to start enforcing rules consistently, you might have a big fight on your hands at first because your children won't be used to it, but as long as you stay consistent, they're quite likely to settle down after a while and just accept what you want them to do as part of a routine.
One thing is that you can be lulled into a false sense of security when they start obeying rules well, so you expect them to carry on. But then if you stop checking to see if they're obeying the rules, they can stop, and then have a big fight with you again when you realise and start trying to enforce them again. So it's as well to check on what they're doing, even if it's only briefly.
But while you want to enforce rules firmly, your child will want to obey them more and please you more if you can show them you care about them and feel affection for them at the same time, consistently.
The book Parent in Control says supervision's important, to the extent that you know where your children are at any given time. It says being with friends with bad attitudes can ruin the behaviour of even the best-raised child. If for some reason they start making friends with kids who are into drugs and shoplifting and so on, even if parents have tried to teach them not to do such things, if their friends are doing them and seem to be getting a lot of pleasure out of it, your child might want to experience the same feelings, so they might be tempted to get into those things as well.
What can help is if you investigate local activities run by responsible adults, and try to tempt your kids to join them in out-of-school hours, perhaps things like sports, drama groups, and whatever matches any interests they have that are worth pursuing or harmless fun. Children also often appreciate any time parents take out to do things with them.
If you haven't been either supervising your children yourself or guiding them into activities where they'll be supervised by a responsible adult, they might be with friends they'll really protest about leaving. The more they're enticed with alternatives they'll enjoy, the easier it'll be.
Get to meet their friends so you can find out what kind of people they are. That might also be a way to put your children off friends you'd rather they didn't hang around with. One suggestion I've heard is that instead of insisting they break up with them, which might well make them want to be with them more out of defiance, you ask to meet them. You might find you can influence those friends for the good. Or you might be able to have conversations with those friends where you ask them innocent-seeming questions, in such a way that you manage to show up their behaviour for what it is and make it seem less attractive to your child without you having to point out that it is. But then, if their friends are into crime or other types of obnoxious behaviour, you might not want to spend too much time with them.
In any case, the book Parent in Control says introducing your child to new healthy activities where they'll make new friends and enjoy themselves will be a way of weaning them away from their old friends without you having to argue so much with them about whether they see them.
It says try and meet your children's friends' parents as well so you can find out what kind of people they are.
It says as far as it's possible, only let your children go out to places with friends who you know to be responsible, whose parents supervise them well so they haven't learned many bad habits, who do reasonably well at school, respect adult authority, participate in school, church or community activities, may have part-time employment, and are quite good at obeying their parents' rules. Children who are trustworthy and caring, and who have proved they can be trusted with a lot of freedom to go out on their own, to school activities, shopping, to sports events, and to other places where they have fun but don't engage in harmful behaviour. But even children like that need close adult supervision if they go to places like nightclubs, teenage parties or rock concerts, if they go at all.
If you don't know your children's friends that well, it says wait till you know them better before allowing your children to go with them anywhere without adult supervision, including back to their homes. Let them go to places with them only if there is an adult supervising who you know to be responsible.
Don't let your teenagers go to parties unless you've personally spoken with the people hosting the party. Make sure no alcohol or drugs will be permitted, that the supervision is adequate - at least one adult for every eight to ten children is recommended, as well as an adult always monitoring the door, and that most of the kids at the party know each other.
It says never let your children go to the kind of parties where anyone could go so you'll have no way of knowing who might be there. And it says don't let your children go to teenage nightclubs. Even the best clubs have no way of excluding, or even recognising teenage alcohol or drug abusers or criminals, who might have a harmful influence over your child. It says even the very best clubs where supervision is very good and no alcohol or drugs or weapons are allowed on the premises can't stop teenagers emotionally bonding with other teenagers who abuse those things elsewhere, and spending time with them in other places in the coming weeks, learning to do what they do.
Of course, that doesn't mean keep your kids stuck in the house. There are ways to help make their lives enjoyable and fulfilling that aren't nearly as risky as some of the things their friends might be doing. Or if your kids have already been doing risky things, you might be able to wean them off them by introducing them to healthier activities. Keeping them busy with school, community, family and perhaps church activities could go along way towards protecting them from harm caused by binge drinking, drugs, risky sex, and getting into smoking and so on. In fact, healthy activities won't only protect your children because they'll be under the supervision of responsible adults, but if they're activities that build your children's confidence in their own abilities so their self-belief and self-esteem rise, and they're making good friends who don't drink or smoke or take drugs and so on, then they won't be so likely to fall under the influence of kids who try to get them interested in those things, because they'll have more confidence in standing up for themselves and the values you've taught them, about how it isn't a good idea to get involved in drugs and get drunk and so on. Children with low self-esteem are at highest risk for unwanted pregnancies, drug taking and so on.
While it's inadvisable to let your children hang around where they might come under the influence of children who could get them interested in behaviour that could end up harming them, if they're responsible and trustworthy, there's nothing wrong with them going out to public activities, such as to skating rinks, amusement parks, bowling alleys and so on, as long as each place is reasonably well supervised by adults and sometimes monitored by parents. Children who've behaved in untrustworthy ways in the past can go to places like that where they'll be under adult supervision too, if they enjoy going there. They're most likely to come under the influence of kids who get them into bad behaviour if they're hanging around out of doors doing nothing.
Don't try to force them to do activities you've decided would be good for them though. Try and find out about several healthy supervised activities, and try to entice them to take up some by giving them a choice.
The book I've been reading by a therapist who wrote it to advise therapists about things they can do when they're working with children says a young boy was brought to therapy by his parents, who explained his problems as, "low self-esteem", "withdrawn" behaviour and "isolating himself" from family members. The parents seemed to be very concerned and eager to help him.
The boy was very quiet in the therapy session. His parents said he was very shy and took a while to trust new people.
His parents' attempted solutions to his problems had been refusing to let him isolate himself in his bedroom, "forcing" him to join in with social activities, and "making" him go out to play with his friends. The parents said when they'd eased off on doing those things in the past, the boy tended to isolate himself in his bedroom or not go out after school. They couldn't think of anything they'd done in the past that had helped him get over his problems.
The therapist thought about how he could help the family. He wondered what their family relations would be like if the problems were solved and they were all enjoying themselves. He imagined the parents playing a game or drawing pictures with the boy sitting on the floor, and then offering him choices of what game he'd like to play, or asking him what local team sports activity he'd like to join in. He imagined the boy happier and smiling now he had more choice about what he wanted to do because his opinions were asked for. The therapist imagined that in future therapy sessions, the boy would be happier if he - the therapist - asked less questions and the session was more playful, with him putting the boy in charge of choosing a play or art activity for his family to join in.
He suggested to the parents the idea of giving the boy more room to choose what he wanted to do, while they just made suggestions, and they were happy with the idea. Also in the rest of the therapy sessions, the boy was put in charge of selecting what play or art activities the family joined in.
By the eighth therapy session, the boy wasn't isolating himself any more, was much more talkative, and seemed happier. The parents had found that the boy responded well to being given the responsibility to make choices, rather than being forced to do things or having his parents decide for him.
You might be worried about your child doing sporting or other extra-curricular activities because you think they won't have so much time for homework. But if they enjoy their activities, in moderation, the activities can relax them and make them feel more cheerful so homework doesn't seem like such a slog so they get through it better. And having to fit out-of-school activities in can give them practise at managing their time, so they might get better at it.
Naturally the situation will need to be monitored so you can tell how they're doing. But in themselves, out-of-school activities can have quite a lot of benefits, including helping children to make friends with people interested in the same things as they are, and increasing their confidence, if they're doing something they can tell they're improving at like a sport, a dance activity, or something arty, or drama and so on.
The book Parent in Control says the kinds of children not to let yours associate with if you don't want them to pick up bad habits and behaviour are kids who smoke or take drugs or drink alcohol, or who lie to you, or who get involved in gangs or stealing or other crimes, or who truant from school, or who do other negative things. Not only don't let them go out to places with them, but don't allow them to phone them or even write notes.
If a friend of your child who was previously well-behaved starts to do any one of those things, consider them to be no longer someone you want your own child to associate with. And if a child used to behave badly but has changed and you can tell the difference, you can start to allow your child to associate with them more, but supervised at first.
You might wonder what the fuss is about, thinking it can't really be harmful letting your child associate with friends who drink or smoke and so on. But the book says even one friend who does such things can start a child who has had a very good upbringing getting into bad habits that could be with them for life. It says if they find that something feels good, perhaps because it gives them an adrenaline rush, then they can get drawn into doing it without thinking of any possible consequences. Or they might enjoy the sense of power and control over others that can go with being part of a gang or rebellious group of friends. The feeling of togetherness and belonging can be part of what motivates them to want to be with them as well. If you can organise for them to do activities where they'll meet friends who they can enjoy being around but who like to spend their time in healthy activity, then your own child's more likely to grow up to do that instead.
The book says don't assume that just because your child's outside with older children, they'll be well-supervised and taken care of by them. Those kids might well be the type to get them into drinking and drugs and so on. Older doesn't necessarily mean more responsible. So it's best to meet all their friends so you can tell whether you want your child to be with them.
The book says even if you've educated your child about the dangers of risky behaviour, don't assume they'll stand out from the crowd and abstain from doing it if all their friends are doing it and your child can tell they're enjoying themselves. Feelings have a lot to do with risky behaviour and can be much more important in influencing people to make decisions than logic. At an unsupervised party where their friends are drinking, don't assume your child will resist the temptation to do so, even if you've educated them well about the risks of drinking too much. If they want to fit in with their friends who are drinking, and their friends seem to be enjoying themselves more drunk than sober, the feelings of wanting to be like them and wanting to have fun are likely to be a stronger influence on your child at the time than any warning you've given them. When it's the norm for a dating couple to be having sex, don't automatically assume that your child won't do that with whoever they're dating. Even if you've tried to bring them up believing they should wait, if their friends look down on people who aren't sexually active by their age and they really want to be approved of by their friends, and what your child has experienced so far feels good and they want more, or if their boyfriend or girlfriend tells them that if they refuse to have sex with them they'll think they don't love them and will leave them, or something like that, those things will influence your child far more than your wishes, because feelings and the opinions of friends are very powerful in influencing people, especially at that age. And so on. You might think of their friends as just teenagers, but your child will think of them as the authority on what's cool and what's not. So they're likely to go along with what they're doing, and their character can be shaped by it.
The behaviour of their friends can affect them for years to come, such as if they're with a group of friends who think it's cool not to do schoolwork and to play truant, so your child goes along with them and ends up with bad grades, or if they have friends who think it's cool to be involved in petty crime, and they get involved along with them and end up being in and out of jail till they have a criminal record that would put anyone off employing them. They need someone wiser supervising them who'll influence them to make something good of their life.
The book says if you help them with their homework if they need it, and care enough to make sure they do actually do it, their risk of school failure will go down. It says their risk of school failure will go down even more if they're usually in environments supervised by responsible adults. If the children's friends and closest classmates are good students, their risk of school failure will go down further. If you get involved in supporting and organising out-of-school activities at their school that they can get involved in, you'll know where they are and that they're being supervised well, and they're likely to form an emotional bond with you where they confide in you more, and their risk of getting involved with anti-school students and failing themselves goes down even further.
The book says also look on musical preferences, hairstyles and types of clothing as a possible danger sign, since if your teenager's getting into something like gangster rap or another kind of music that glorifies or could incite bad behaviour of some kind, it may well influence them to act out, if they have friends who do that.
I heard part of a report on the radio about how American troops in Iraq would listen to certain heavy metal music before they went on the attack, to psyche them up for violence. Of course that doesn't mean all heavy metal fans are at risk for violent behaviour. But it's worth watching out for signs. Perhaps you could ask them what their music means to them and how it makes them feel.
The book says if your child starts running away, they may well have been associating with other children who run away and they think it sounds appealing. Or if a child of yours who was getting really good grades and doing all their homework suddenly stops studying and loses interest in school, it may well be because they've made friends with one or more people who think it isn't cool to study and prefer to do other things. It says most kids who truant from school don't do that till they make friends with other truants. Most teenage binge drinkers have been influenced to do that by friends they've made who do that. They mostly get drunk with friends, at parties unsupervised or poorly supervised by adults and the like.
The book says bear in mind that most smokers don't start on their own. They're influenced to do so by young friends who smoke. Most drug users don't start on their own but are influenced to do so when they spend time with people on drugs. It says most drug users start before the age of 21, and the average age of those who start smoking is 12! Being around friends or older children into crime or substance misuse can be a powerful influence, even for children who know the basics about why such things are bad for them. They can take the attitude that the bad things probably won't happen to them.
Here's what the book Parent in Control advises:
If your child's already associating with friends who do things that are endangering them in some way and you don't trust them to obey your wishes and not see them anymore, don't let them leave the house without going with you or another responsible adult. If you don't know how to stop them sneaking off to meet unruly friends behind your back but you're afraid they will, secure the house. Install extra secure locks on the front and back doors. Secure any sliding glass doors and children's bedroom windows there are with locks. Or, for kids who are less aggressive and challenging, install fairly inexpensive alarms that will go off as soon as the children try to sneak out of their rooms.
If you need to secure your home to protect your children, it is essential that you install or check smoke detectors, and design and practice emergency escape plans in case of fire. Never lock a child in a room. Instead, secure the window and place an alarm on the door or a motion-sensor alarm in the hallway.
Never lock a child of any age in a house or apartment and then leave. Never lock a child out of the house overnight or after school. If the child is so untrustworthy that you feel like locking them out, then he or she clearly needs a lot of supervision.
It might seem overly harsh to lock your children in. But if it's possible the alternative is them becoming involved in violence and maybe being a victim of it, or binge drinking and doing who knows what risky behaviour when drunk, or getting into drugs and ending up needing to steal to finance the habit and spending time in jail, or even risking overdose and death, and so on, then locking them indoors is really a humane alternative. When you think about it, if you had a toddler who ran out to the street, you wouldn't hesitate to put a lock on the door. But it might be that the toddler would be safer than a 17-year-old, because someone would probably pick him up before he got hurt. Trust should be earned. If your 17-year-old is liable to sneak out the door or window to go and snort drugs, steal, be with gangsters, get drunk and so on, then they have earned the same level of trust and supervision as the toddler.
That's what the book Parent in Control recommends.
Still, it doesn't have to be like imprisoning them. The book also says that if you can search around for worthwhile activities they might enjoy doing, getting involved in those might help them lose interest in the lifestyle they had before. And while they're enjoying them, they won't be thinking of ways to try and get back with their old friends.
So it says do your best to encourage their talents and interests. If your daughter or son has a natural talent or special interest in music, dance, athletics, drawing, writing, building, helping, acting, studying, composing, painting, or exploring, guide the child towards that activity. Enrol your children in classes, or help them find jobs or volunteer work where they will be needed. (Helping the very young or the very old is especially rewarding for most teenagers.) So says the book Parent in Control.
It says one of the benefits of keeping children busy with organized activities is that they spend most of their time with responsible adults and well-behaved children who can help turn them around and away from friends who are a bad influence.
Making sure difficult children are involved in enjoyable and worthwhile activities should never be considered a reward for good behaviour - a reward that can be removed if the child behaves badly. These activities should be considered an important learning experience that'll change children's outlook on life so they become interested in doing more positive things. If they're with well-behaved children and make friends with them, they'll be learning to imitate them; and if they're always supervised by a responsible adult, they'll be getting used to behaving well. The experience might shape their attitudes for a lifetime.
But just grounding them for a while if you really think they deserve it might not make them feel rejecting of you in the long-term, if they can recognise it's for their good. A teenager who held a party in his house where a lot of things got damaged while his parents were away said to the author of one of the books I've read, called Uncommon Sense For Parents With Teenagers:
It was pretty ugly for awhile. My parents were so [angry] that they didn't speak to me for days. I've never seen my father and mother so mad. I felt like such a jerk. But to make a long story short it really worked out for us, after awhile. They grounded me indefinitely--from after school until the beginning of school the next day (it lasted for three months)--and every day one of them left work early to meet me after school and to stay with me. They took away my phone and obviously they took away use of the car. At first I went crazy. I didn't talk to them for a week. All the while I seriously thought about sneaking out at night and even made plans to run away. But I never did, and I'm not really sure why, because I was really close a few times. I guess part of it was that after the first few days they didn't rub the party in my face anymore (except for a few times); they just stuck to the punishment. Eventually I got all my old privileges back, but it took a while. I'm real glad my parents didn't give up on me, like I've seen so many others do with my friends. And that was weird: none of my friends could understand why my parents were being so hard on me. They all thought it was way too extreme. It was hard for all of us, but it was worth it. But don't get me wrong, I wouldn't recommend it for other kids!
I knew someone who once said he used to dislike obeying his parents' rules and getting in earlier in the evenings than his friends. But after a while, he realised his parents were making him come in earlier because they cared about him, whereas it seemed other kids he knew had parents who didn't care about them so much so they let them do what they wanted no matter what the consequences were.
So no matter how much your misbehaving child complains at the time, they might be grateful to you when they look back in years to come. You could be preserving their future by being strict with them now. If they're into drugs or binge drinking or getting into violent crime, you could even be saving their life by taking them away from that environment.
So the book Parent in Control advises that you supervise them as much as you can, or encourage them to go to places where they will be supervised by other responsible adults, doing activities they enjoy.
It also advises that because they've destroyed any trust you put in them, seriously misbehaving children have lost the right to privacy. So don't be afraid to check their rooms and belongings regularly, especially if they've been stealing or dealing drugs or something similar.
The book says that above all else what will help though is if you can get them back into a daily routine and among people where they'll be being supervised by responsible adults all day - first at school, then in after-school activities, then at home in the evening. At weekends, it'll help if they're either with you or in places doing activities where there is very good supervision and they'll be watched a lot. If they're enjoying themselves, away from their old companions who got them into drugs or drink or crime or whatever it was, you'll be helping a lot to get them weaned off that lifestyle.
The book says there's a lot that untrustworthy children can do, - they can go swimming, ice-skating or cycling. They can go roller-skating, bowling or to see films. There might be lots and lots of things they can do, as long as they're being supervised by responsible adults. They can even have friends over to your house, as long as they're friends who aren't involved in drugs or smoking or alcohol or crime of any kind, or who are at risk for doing those things because their parents don't supervise them much.
The amount you can take your children to activities will obviously depend on your availability, your financial resources and your willingness to go out of your way to go out to places with them. But the more time they can spend doing healthy things they enjoy, the better they're likely to behave.
The book Parent in Control says if you want to substantially reduce the risk of your children going back to their old lifestyle, don't allow them to have any more contact than they have to with old friends who have recently been involved in drugs, tobacco or alcohol use or crime, even if the contact would be in your own home in your presence, or on the phone or through notes or people passing messages between them. The more they contact them, the more risk there is of them being enticed back into their old lifestyle. If they're still attending the same school in the same classes as their old friends, ask their teachers to separate them. If they continue to meet each other at lunch, either change their school or arrange for your child to have lunch with an adult - a favourite teacher, the librarian, a school counsellor, or someone else.
As your child follows your household rules and earns more trust, you can gradually reduce the amount of direct supervision they receive. But regaining trust will be a slow process, and you could be making a bad mistake if you let them have too much unsupervised spare time too soon. The book says even the best-behaved children need checking up on sometimes, and parents always need to know where their children are, who they're with, and what they're doing. Knowing they're safe and with friends you can trust decreases their risk for getting involved in drugs, alcohol and tobacco use and crime.
Children do need you to give them clearly-defined rules as soon as possible though, so it doesn't feel as if you're punishing them after they've done something you didn't even tell them you didn't want them to do. And if you don't enforce your rules some of the time, they'll expect not to have to obey them, so they'll complain when you do; so try to enforce them all the time.
The book Parent in Control says that nearly all teenagers who get involved in gangs do so after they've begun to become emotionally attached to friends or others in gangs. The same goes for other delinquent groups.
It says some teenagers, though, are influenced quite a bit by the music they listen to, and the bands and artists they like. If the artists glorify something the teenager wants to do, the teenager can soak up the message and think that if those artists and bands think it's a good thing, it must be. The longer children are exposed to the values of people they're emotionally attached to in some way, the more they'll pick up their attitudes and behaviour patterns.
They might want to look the same as them. So if they're fond of bands and artists who glorify a gangster lifestyle or make it seem good to be involved in a delinquent subculture in any other way, they might be encouraged to get involved, and adopt the hairstyles, and even get you to buy the clothing that the group they want to be a part of typically wears. So it might be as well if you keep a check on the kind of music they like, and don't give in too easily to their requests for you to buy them clothes you wonder about.
Most important, though, is that the more you keep them supervised, by yourself or other responsible adults, often in healthy activities they'll enjoy, where they won't be tempted to get involved in delinquent groups, the more you can protect them. The book says don't let them associate with gang members and other criminals even if you're supervising them.
If they've been in gangs or other criminal groups, go through their rooms, and get rid of all weapons - any guns, knives, and so on, and anything they use to take drugs. Confiscate any tapes, CD's and so on of music you know to be by artists who make a gangster lifestyle seem like a good thing, as well as any clothing they might have that identifies them with a delinquent group, and anything else that does.
It will probably take a lot of work to get your teenager out of the bad habits and attitudes he/she might have adopted under the influence of friends with those behaviours and attitudes, but if you can afford to invest the time and effort, you'll likely find it's worth it in the end.
If your teenager's in a gang and he's worried they'll harm or kill him if he leaves, the book Parent in Control advises that if he just stops participating in gang activities, telling the other members his parents won't let him anymore, and being willing to be considered a mummy's boy, nothing's likely to happen to him. If, on the other hand, he openly rejects them and says he's leaving, then they might attack him. So his attitude might make a big difference.
The book How to Deal With Your Acting-Up Teenager advises that if your teenager does something illegal or something that inconveniences someone outside the family, you let them take the consequences. You won't need to yell or lecture and blame them. Just let them take responsibility for making amends, or being disciplined by the authorities whose concern the thing they've done is.
For instance, if they damage a neighbour's property and the neighbour phones up to tell you, it says put your teenager on the phone and ask them to sort out with the neighbour how they can make amends. If the school complains they're misbehaving, give them your full permission to do whatever they do with children who misbehave, and simply tell your teenager the school's going to deal with it. If the police have your teenager in the cells, don't rush to get them; let them feel what it's like to be there, and to learn that you won't necessarily rush over there as soon as you can to get them out. If they suffer the consequences of their actions, they might think more before doing the same things again. Let them know that just as you consider them old enough to make decisions for themselves, they're old enough to deal with the consequences. It might actually Help them become more responsible on their way towards adulthood.
According to the book Parent in Control, a lot of children run away not because they've been abused, but because they've begun to associate with children who run away and they've begun to think it would be good. A lot of them will stay with friends in the area. There are a few things it says you can do.
One of them is reporting the matter to the police. It says the police won't actually look for runaways, but if your child happens to be stopped by a patrol officer who checks the computer for the names of runaways, they might be taken into temporary custody and returned home.
It says when you've reported them missing, make a list of names of all the kids you can think of who might know something about where your child is, or who they might be with, and contact all of them and their parents. In a notebook, write down everything you're told that might possibly help you find your child, including the names, nicknames, whereabouts, and schools and favourite places of new friends and others they're sometimes with. Write down when and where your runaway child was last seen.
If your child has a best friend or a special boyfriend or girlfriend and you know where that person lives, or if you get information that your missing child might be in a specific place, see if you can borrow or rent a car so you won't be so easily recognised, and go to that place and wait to see if you see them. You could park down the street or around the corner where you won't be so easily noticed. It says go there at a time when you think your child is most likely to be coming or going. You could also wait somewhere where your child's best friend or boyfriend/girlfriend is likely to be - their school, home or workplace and so on, and follow them to see if they lead you to where your child is.
The book says if your child likes to hang around in certain shops or fast food restaurants, you could make flyers displaying their picture and your phone number and give them to any security staff you can and managers of fast food restaurants and shops. Ask them if they'll keep an eye out for your child and give you a ring if they see them.
If you find out where your missing child is and you think they'll resist going home with you, possibly violently, you could phone the police and ask them to send an officer to help keep the peace. It says in many places, the police have a policy of not helping parents pick up runaway children, but that they'll usually respond to a call about violence, so if you ask them to be there to protect the peace, things might not get out of hand. But it says in some places, runaways will likely be taken to shelters for teenagers rather than be sent home with their parents, in which case, the police might not be the best people to call for assistance.
Once your child is home, it says don't hesitate to secure the house to stop them easily running away again.
The book says the most well-adjusted children tend to be those who are emotionally attached to their parents. It says emotionally unattached ones are the ones most likely to be violent and commit other crimes, drop out of school, use drugs and so on. Parents can help to stop the downward spiral and bond with their children again if they do things that make their children think they're enjoyable or nice to be with.
A good way of emotionally bonding with your child is to spend time with them in fun activities, without anger. Even just spending time with them can help, since it allows them to talk to you more and you can show you care. Even spending time together doing chores or homework can be bonding times if they feel supported or enjoy your company.
It says being there for your child shows you care, for instance going to a two-hour school concert just so you can watch them for the five minutes when they dance or sing, or watching your child play sports or perform in a school play, or going to school open evenings to see how they're getting on, and things like that.
It says you could perhaps even group together with other parents and start activities at your child's school yourself that they could be involved in. The more time they spend being supervised by responsible adults, the less they're likely to get into crime or drugs and so on. It might be worth having a think about things you could start that they might enjoy.
The more you spend time with them, the closer they'll often be to you, especially if some of that time is spent laughing with one another, doing enjoyable activities together or talking with each other.
It says parents who are actively involved in their children's activities can often find their children feel closer to them, unless their children are influenced by children who have a negative attitude to school and parents. Dads and mums who coach their children's sports teams can find they have a strong bond with their children. Parents who attend all their children's piano, dance or singing performances etc. can find they build a strong bond with their children. If they show support by driving their children to their competitions or auditions for things and so on, their children can grow more emotionally attached to them. If you often take your photo albums out and show off your children to friends and family, your children may well grow more emotionally attached to you and so more willing to do what you want and less likely to run off for support from friends who might not be good for them. Often telling your children they're loved and hugging them can make them feel more wanted and thus less likely to turn for support to friends who do things that could get them into trouble.
Being consistent about making sure they obey your rules can make them feel more secure in their relationship with you because they know what's expected of them. And doing loving things for them consistently is far better than doing the odd loving thing now and again, which might leave them wondering the rest of the time what they've done wrong to have fallen out of favour with you because you're not being as nice to them.
Often showing anger to them for not doing what they're told and nagging them will damage your relationship with them. Nagging, rather than telling them to do something and then supervising and monitoring them to make sure they do, will damage your bond with them. If it provokes them to argue with you and you angrily argue with them, it can damage their attitude to you. If they've learned some of their arguing techniques from friends who use bad language and have an anti-authority attitude, do what you can to get them into healthy activities where they'll build up a new set of friendships with children with healthier attitudes.
Kids will grow up feeling more loved and secure if they know you'll be there to give them emotional support when they need it. The book says physical affection can also be really appreciated, like hugs and rubbed shoulders; and affectionate words can help them feel bonded with parents and wanted.
Expressions of appreciation and thanks for things teenagers and children have done to please you can help them feel emotionally attached to you as well. If you look out for things you can compliment them for, you might discover you find more than you thought you would.
The book Parent in Control says don't try to get your child to do chores while they're still involved in a clique of friends who've got them into drug abuse or crime and so on. Concentrate first on getting them out of their bad habits, since as long as they're hanging around with friends that are a bad influence on them, they'll probably be being exposed to the attitude that children should have the freedom to do whatever they like and they don't need the interference of parents, so they'll see any attempts to get them to do more around the house as attempts to restrict their freedom, and you'll have to put up with constant arguments about whether they're going to do them. Once you've got them away from the anti-authority influence of their friends who have the freedom to do whatever they like, then you'll probably have an easier time asking them to be more co-operative around the house.
After that, or if your children have never been in that kind of trouble, you might still have to train them to do their chores properly.
The book says if you want children to get used to obeying rules so they obey them as part of a habit without arguing, it's important to make sure that when you say you want something done, you check to see it's getting done. If you ask and then just go away, and then ask a couple more times before you demand they do it, before you do, they'll be getting the impression they might get away with not doing it. That's especially if they're not used to doing it, or if you sometimes ask and then let them off if they keep protesting, or if you ask a few times and then give up and do it yourself.
Giving punishments and rewards won't necessarily make them behave any better, because if they sometimes get away with not doing what you've told them to do, they'll know they sometimes can. If you punish them sometimes and not at others, they'll come to see your punishments as unfair and delivered at your unstable whim, rather than anything to do with justice. And in any case, they might prefer to put up with punishments sometimes than to have to do the chore all the time.
In fact, the need for punishing them at all can be greatly reduced if instead of just telling them to do something, expecting them to just get on with it in your absence, and then punishing them if they don't, you tell them beforehand that you'll want them to do it at that time, and then remind them then, and supervise them to some extent while they stop what they're doing and go and do whatever it is, until they're used to doing it and it becomes a routine for them so you no longer have to supervise them much.
Supervising them might sound like a chore for you; but you'll probably need to do it less and less; and the less you need to punish your children, the closer they may feel to you.
If they have a regular schedule of chores to do, and they know you'll check they're doing what you want them to do after you ask, then they'll likely get used to it and accept it as the norm. So supervising them till they get into the habit of doing the chores you want them to do can be far more effective and cause far less arguments than punishing them or letting them get away with not doing what you've asked them to do sometimes.
One problem with punishing children, or with trying to make them behave by giving them rewards for good behaviour or lecturing them, is that when some children want to do something wrong, they just don't think about the consequences. They'll do what they want, and think of how to get out of being punished afterwards.
If you tell your child you want certain chores done at certain times, and then supervise them at those times to make sure they do them, they'll get into the habit of doing them then without being asked. On the other hand, if you don't give them specific times to do them, they'll get into the habit of waiting to be asked. If you're in the habit of nagging them three or four times before you insist they do them, they'll get into the habit of waiting for you to nag them that many times before they bother. And if you only make them do them when you're angry, they'll get into the habit of waiting till you're angry before they do them. It's the same with other things like homework.
And that can be bad for the future, because it means that when they find themselves in situations where they need good working habits or study skills, it'll be more difficult for them, because they'll be in the habit of avoiding the work or putting it off.
The book says parents who don't make their children do chores at all, or who give up in frustration and do them themselves, are getting their children into the habit of doing nothing, and they might never change. It says husbands who do less and poorer-quality housework than their wives are often like that because their parents didn't get them into the habit of doing any.
If you don't make sure children are doing what you asked them to do or give them a regular schedule of chores to do but just ask them to do things out of the blue, children who are already difficult are likely not to do what you want at first. This is the kind of thing that can happen when parents rely on nagging to try to get their child to do what they want, rather than having set rules about the help they want, or asking and then supervising them to make sure they do what they want. Here's an example from the book Parent in Control:
Mom, carrying four heavy bags of groceries, walked into the kitchen and saw a mess. Dirty dishes were scattered all over, the trash can was overflowing, the floor was covered with crumbs and something sticky. Setting the grocery bags on the floor, she yelled, "Scott, get in here and help me." Hearing no response, she yelled again, "Scott, are you deaf? Get in here and help me."
"Yeah, I heard you," said fourteen-year-old Scott from the front room, where he was watching MTV. Hearing his response, Mom started putting the groceries away. But after a few minutes she stopped and called again. "Damn it, Scott, I need help in here."
"Okay," Scott yelled impatiently, "I'll be right there." But he made it no further than the edge of the couch as a new video caught his attention.
Thinking he was on his way, Mom finished putting the groceries away, but realized her error when she tried to get the empty grocery sacks into the overflowing trash. "Scott," she screamed, as she marched into the front room, stopped, turned, and pointed back into the kitchen. "Turn off the TV right now and get into the kitchen."
"You don't have to yell," he screamed. "I was coming."
"Sure you were, after I put away all the groceries. Now, get in there and clean up the mess you made."
If you ask them to do something and then don't supervise them to make sure they do, or if you ask them to do something they just weren't expecting when they're in the middle of something, you're likely to get more and more irritated when they don't do what you want, and then if you shout at your child, you'll make them angry so you'll both end up arguing and feeling bad about each other. The more you nag, the angrier you'll both get.
If you have firm rules about who does the washing up, who takes out the rubbish, who helps bring the shopping in and so on, and if you check up on your child to make sure they're going to do what you asked them, rather than leaving them and then periodically coming in and shouting, then they'll get into the routine of obeying you with no fuss. Every time you ask them to do something and then don't supervise them till they're on the way to doing it, it plants an impression more firmly in their heads that they can disobey your request even just one more time before they have to do what you want.
One thing to bear in mind when making rules is that you want to train your teenagers to be responsible adults. So on the one hand, getting them to do chores and supervising them at first with advice on how they can do them more efficiently is teaching them and giving them practice on how to do them so they'll have no problems doing them when they leave home. Also, giving them set times to do homework will be teaching them the benefits of time management; but they will need to practice making decisions about how to manage their time for themselves as well.
The other book I've been reading is called Uncommon Sense for Parents with Teenagers. One parent said to the author:
I learned the lesson between over-parenting and helping to prepare my oldest for the adult world in a rather shocking manner. I definitely over-parented. When he went off to college he couldn't do laundry, had never balanced a checkbook or made a budget, and didn't know how to clean a bathroom! Never mind the more personal skills of budgeting time, setting priorities, and making compromises such as negotiating with room-mates. Believe me, his younger brother is getting plenty of opportunities for experience in these areas before he gets out of this house!
Gradually giving them more responsibility, as well as expecting them to do more as they get older, can help to prepare them for life on their own. So can negotiating with them to some extent about when they're going to do what, and what they're going to do.
Here's some advice I learned from the book How to Deal With Your Acting-Up Teenager:
It can help if rather than ordering your teenager around, you talk to them as if you're a human who has needs too, to try to help them empathise with you as a person and so want to obey your rules out of goodwill, or develop a more realistic view of their relationship with you, one in which they realise they ought to take some responsibility for their growing up and behave as if they can cope with more responsibility.
There's nothing wrong with you letting them know you have needs. It might help them be more considerate. You're not obliged to put up with bad behaviour. If you phrase what you say to them about it in terms of you wanting your needs for the comfort and security of your house met, and other needs you have, rather than yelling and ordering them to do things, it could help them become more considerate.
It could help you if you decide what rights you're entitled to and think it's worth standing up for, such as:
Standing up for your rights could mean that instead of using provocative sentences that sound accusing or blaming so the child will want to defend themselves, you simply say how something makes you feel and what you want done about it, like,
"I don't like loud music on at night because it stops me getting to sleep. I'd like all music in this house to be turned down low after ten o'clock at night from now on."
Make sure you're respecting your children's rights though, or you can't expect them to respect yours. For instance, don't ask them to turn their music down low at night, only to keep them awake by watching the television with the volume high. Don't ask them to respect your right to privacy and then barge into their bedroom without knocking, and so on.
It might be that when you start to stand up for your rights more, rather than being understanding, they'll make some kind of scene, like throwing a tantrum, or sulking and saying you don't care about them. You might be scared of that kind of reaction. But remember the child's very unlikely to be genuinely distressed or to be really thinking you don't care about them no matter how much of a scene they make. Behaviour like that tends to be just designed to coerce you into giving in, in effect. The more you stand up to such tactics so they can tell it doesn't work, the more they'll give up bothering to try it in the end, though it might be that the first few times you stand up to them, they'll make a worse and worse scene the more you refuse to give in, simply because they think that that's what they need to do to make you give in. If you do give in, you're setting yourself up for more bad behaviour in future, because they'll think they know what to do to make you give in to them.
When it comes to them misbehaving, being more assertive with them could help change their ways. Here's one way that might work. The book How to Deal With Your Acting-Up Teenager gives the example of a child who won't do anything to help out around the house. But you can use the technique in other situations as well:
Firstly, it might take a while to get used to being more assertive. So don't be discouraged if you don't quite get the hang of it at first.
The book How to Deal With Your Acting-Up Teenager advises that first, you simply tell your child you don't think it's fair that things are the way they are and ask them what they think could be done about it. It says make sure you don't use a blaming tone of voice though. Don't accuse them of wrongdoing, since that'll just start an argument. Phrase things as if you want to look forward to getting things done better in the future, with a matter-of-fact or optimistic tone of voice. It might still cause an argument. But it cuts down the risk, and if you phrase things in terms of wanting a fairer arrangement about the housework than the one you had before, rather than in terms of something bad they're doing, it doesn't sound so provocative, and might make them feel more considerate of your feelings.
It says if they misbehave in future in the same way after you've got them to think of things in that way, they'll have to think of themselves as people doing things that aren't fair, rather than as rebels against overly-strict authority, as they could if you just ordered them around, and thinking they're not being fair won't feel so good. They probably will misbehave again. But at least then when you confront them about it, they'll have an understanding of the way you see things.
So the book says that instead of saying something like, "I'm fed up with the way you never help around here and leave the bathroom a mess when you've been in there", pick a time when you and your child are both fairly relaxed, and then, in a polite and friendly voice, just say in a non-blaming way that you're unhappy with the situation as it is, you'd like things to change, and you'd like their help with that. You might say something like,
"I'm feeling dissatisfied with the way the workload is distributed around here. I want a change in the situation so it's more fair. I'd like your ideas on how we could solve it" (or, "I'd like some help from you in working out a change").
(Of course, if the problem's something else, you might use other non-blaming ways of describing it, such as, "I'm dissatisfied with the amount of four-letter words around here"; "I'm dissatisfied with the way my clothes have been disappearing"; "... finding people have been in the house partying while I'm gone"; "... hearing so much noise from the stereo"; and so on.
In an ideal situation, your child will show some interest in helping you out. So a conversation might go like this:
Mother: "I'm unhappy with the way this house is so messy and my feeling that I'm the only one who works on it. I want a more fair arrangement. I'd like some help from you in working out a change."
Teenager: "Yes, I think it's too messy."
Mother: "I'd like some help in setting up a better arrangement."
(She sticks to the subject of what she wants done about it, rather than getting distracted by the topic of how messy the house is, that might lead to a discussion that ends with nothing being arranged.)
Teenager: "Well, I won't be so messy from now on."
Mother: (wanting an arrangement where they have something specific to commit to) "I'd like something more definite than that. I'm willing to make dinners and clean the kitchen if you'll clean the bathroom and living room every week."
Teenager: "If I have to do some cleaning, I'd rather do the kitchen than the bathroom."
Mother: "I'd like that."
You can congratulate yourself if it turns out to be that easy. But it might be that your child tries to wriggle out of the conversation by bringing other topics up, such as who gets the house dirty in the first place, or that the vacuum cleaner doesn't work well, or anything else. Or they might walk out on you, call you a name, just grunt, or hang their head and look embarrassed. If they do do something that could put you off or sidetrack you, try your best to stick to your request that they help you sort out some arrangement by bringing the subject back to it, rather than getting distracted from it by what they bring up. You could maybe say things like,
"I'd really like your help on this." "I want some ideas on how we could solve this problem." Or some variation.
If you still get nowhere after a few repetitions, request their help again with a few suggestions, still phrased politely as negotiating offers rather than orders, perhaps like,
"I'd be willing to make dinner every night if you'd do the gardening."
Or, "I'd feel good about it if you'd be willing to be responsible for keeping the living room clean and tidy."
Or perhaps, "I'd feel OK if I could count on three hours of solid work from you every Saturday."
Or perhaps, "I'll feel good about you having your dog if you'll be willing to clean up its messes."
Or maybe, "I'll be willing to have the stereo on loud for two hours every evening if I could count on quiet the rest of the time."
That kind of thing.
Say something like that, and then wait to hear what their response will be. If they just say something else that could distract attention from getting the problem sorted out by causing an argument, just respond with a rephrased version of what you just said, or a slightly different offer.
If they still try to argue, don't get distracted from repeating your offer. And don't allow yourself to become provoked by their tone of voice. They might respond in a tone of voice that really irritates you. But showing it will just cause an argument that ends up with both of you annoyed and quite possibly nothing resolved.
The book recommends you say everything in a calm and relaxed way, so they've got no good reason to feel provoked. If you have to wait several seconds before they respond to what you say, just wait patiently till they do. If they recognise that what you say is fair, there will be pressure on them to comment.
Every time they say something that could distract you from the deal you're trying to make with them, don't let it, but keep repeating your offer or something similar. If you stay calm and polite, eventually they might feel obliged to make some kind of deal with you.
Some conversations might go something like this:
Mother: "I'm unhappy with the way this house is so messy and my feeling that I'm the only one who works on it. I want a more fair arrangement. I'd like some help from you in working out a change."
Son: "So? What do you want me to do about it?"
Mother: "I'd feel good if the front lawn was mowed."
Son: "I won't do slave work like that!"
Mother: (ignoring the unfair provocation) "I want to be able to count on a fair share being done by all the family".
Son: "Why don't you get my sister to do her fair share?"
Mother: (ignoring the attempt to change the subject) "If not the mowing, I'd feel happy if the dinners were cooked or the ironing was done".
Son, swearing: "OK, I'll take the ironing then."
Mother: (ignoring the swearing so she doesn't get provoked into an argument) "I'd feel good about that."
If after fifteen or twenty minutes your child still won't talk about something they're willing to do, or if they leave the room or just refuse to talk to you, then drop the subject for the time being, and start the conversation again a few hours later, or the next day, or a few days later. Make about three attempts or maybe more before you decide the child's not going to help you solve the problem.
If they don't actually agree to anything, state to them what you think would be fair, and what you will expect from now on, and then stop talking to wait till they feel obliged to make a response. Again, try to phrase what you say without sounding accusing or as if it's an order.
So perhaps you might phrase things a bit like this, sometimes reminding them of things you do for the house so it sounds like a fair deal, rather than you just nagging them:
"I think it would be fair if I counted on you to take care of cleaning the living room every week, and that's what I'm going to do."
"I think it would be fair if I shopped for the groceries and paid for them, and could count on you to bring them in and put them away. That's what I'll expect to happen."
Also if the child has actually agreed to do something before you tell them what you expect, the book recommends you summarise what you've agreed to in a short sentence like that, by saying things like:
"I'll make the dinners, then, and I'll count on having the living room and the kitchen cleaned."
"I'll do my part, then, and I'll count on having the ironing done every week."
"I'll count on having no one but you in the house while I'm out, then" (rather than disruptive friends of theirs).
"I'll be looking for freedom from stereo, then, except between 8 and 10 PM."
If you've made a fair deal, you can be confident you're in the right, no matter what your child says.
If you notice they're not doing their job and you feel annoyed by it, you could calmly confront them, again without using blaming phrases that could provoke them. You might say things like this:
"I'd like the kitchen cleaned up."
"I want some solid help this morning."
"I'm wanting the dog mess cleaned up."
Or if they've done something you don't like, you might say things like,
"I'd like to know no one's coming into the house without my permission."
"I want to know I won't hear any four letter words around here."
If they're using something of yours without asking, you might say things like,
"I'd like my blouse back just as it was (washed and ironed) and I want to know no one's going to take my clothes without asking me."
For other problems, you might say things like,
"I want any dog in my house to be taken care of."
"I'd like the money for this phone bill."
"I want my house free of pot."
"I'd like the hole in the wall repaired."
You could plan and rehearse the sentence you'd like to use before they misbehave, since they probably will, and it'll be nice to have a nice way of phrasing things ready when they do.
It's important that your requests are fair to your child. But it's also important that you're firm about asking for them, so they learn they can't easily push you around. They might say all kinds of things to divert your attention from what you're asking for. But try not to get sidetracked so you risk forgetting the thing you really want.
Of course, some of the things your child says if they object might be genuine concerns. But if they don't sound like it, you don't have to assume they are; you can think of their behaviour as a game they're playing to try to make you forget what you're asking. Think of it their way: Giving in wouldn't be any fun without a bit of resistance, to see if they can divert your attention so they don't have to do what you want them to after all. They'll respect you more if you stand up to them than they will if you keep giving in to them or letting them sidetrack you into a conversation where you forget what you came to ask.
So if they have something else they want to tell you, even if it sounds important, let it wait till you've got a promise from them that they're going to do what you want.
The book says when you speak to them, let them know you're giving them your full attention. Don't speak over your shoulder or shout from another room. Go up to them, stand fairly close (about 3-5 feet away) and look at them, with your whole body facing them, so they find it less difficult to just ignore you.
It says they probably won't start doing what you want straightaway, but at least you'll have made your wishes clear and they'll know they're fair.
So if they still don't start doing what you want them to do, the next time you confront them, phrase what you say as more of a question that expects an answer, although ask in a calm, friendly way.
"Sarah, please will you clean up the kitchen?"
"David, please will you do the weeding?"
"Philip, will you please feed the dog?"
"Brian, will you please pay me to cover your phone bill?"
The book says the child will respond in a way that either makes you feel better, or leaves you still feeling dissatisfied. If they respond in a way that makes you feel better, give them a short sentence letting them know that. If they know you're pleased with them, and they like the feeling, it'll encourage them to do more to please you. If every time they do something that pleases you you compliment or thank them for it, you could find their good behaviour improving, because they like the feeling of being complimented and it'll feel good to know they're appreciated.
Your expressions of appreciation only need to be simple. For instance, conversations where your teenager responds positively to your requests might go something like:
Son: "Oh sorry, I forgot all about it. I'll do it right now."
Father: "Thank you. I'd like that."
Daughter: "Oh yes; I got busy doing something else, but I'll start on the dishes in the next ten minutes."
Mother: "I feel good about that."
It's more likely that your child won't agree to do what you want, so you'll still feel annoyed that it hasn't been done, and doubtful as to whether it ever will be if it's left to the child. The child might say all kinds of things, like,
"But I have to do my homework now."
"OK, OK, I'll do it later!"
"It's not my turn."
"How come I have to do all the dirty work?"
"I donít want to. Get stuffed."
"I'd pay you for the phone bill but I don't have any money right now."
You can think of most things like that not as real concerns that really need to be argued about, but as attempts to get out of doing what you want them to do, by trying to get you to let them off, or trying to persuade you to stop asking. Since they will have had lots of opportunity to bring up real problems when you first told them you wanted them to help make things more fair around the house, you don't have to discuss such things anymore. You can instead respond by calmly repeating that you want the thing done. The book recommends that you can use a simple three-part formula:
In the first part, it says just paraphrase what they just said back to them to let them know you heard them. So you might say things like,
"I understand you've got homework to do"
"I hear you saying you want to do it later"
"You're saying it's not your turn"
"You wonder why you have to do this"
"You say you won't do it"
"I hear you saying you haven't got any money at the moment"
The second part of the sentence is just the word "and". Basically, you're telling them that though you hear what they're saying, you still want them to do what you've asked them to do.
The book says the reason for using "and" rather than "but" is because the word but will give the impression that what you want is in conflict with what they want, which of course it might be, but a word that sounds like a direct contradiction of their wishes might provoke them to argue more.
The third part of the sentence is simply a repetition of what you said you wanted before:
"I'd like you to clean up the kitchen", and so on.
So the sentence as a whole might go something like,
"I know you think it's not your turn, and I want some solid help this morning."
"I understand you've got homework to do, and I want you to clean up the kitchen."
"I hear you saying you don't like dirty work, and I want you to clean up the dog mess."
And that kind of thing.
Use a matter-of-fact tone of voice, rather than one that implies conflict because it conveys the thought, "Yes, I know that's what you want, but this is what I want", or one that makes it sound as if you think the whole thing's a dilemma because they want one thing and you want another. Try and sound calm and authoritative when you say you want their help instead.
The child will probably respond with another attempt to persuade you to change your mind or change the subject. The book says simply paraphrase what they said back to them again, and then repeat that you want the work done, just like you did last time.
An advantage of doing things that way is that you don't have to get worked up thinking of what to say or trying to work out what will persuade them to do what you want. You're more likely to be able to stay calm and relaxed and speak in a polite tone of voice so as not to provoke them, because all you have to do is repeat almost the same thing.
If they try to get you into an argument several times, getting all worked up themselves, you can still calmly just paraphrase what they said back to them and then repeat the same thing. The key is not to take what they say personally, but just to think of it as an attempt to wriggle out of doing what you want them to do. So some conversations might go something like:
Teenager: "You're always on my back!"
Parent: "You're saying I'm always on you about something, and I'd like the kitchen cleaned up."
Teenager: "You don't care about me!"
Parent: "I see you're thinking that I don't care about you, and I'd like the kitchen cleaned up."
Teenager: "Why do I have to do more than my sister?"
Parent: "You're wondering why your sister doesn't have to do more of the work, and I'd like the kitchen cleaned up."
Teenager: "You like her better than me!"
Parent: "I guess you're thinking I like her better, and I'd like the kitchen cleaned up."
Teenager: "I'm not going to do that slave work!"
Parent: "I understand you won't do slave work, and I'd like the kitchen cleaned up."
Teenager: "You're just saying what the book youíve been reading told you to!"
Parent: "You're hearing that I'm talking the way the book showed me, and I want the kitchen cleaned up."
You don't need to justify your request or reassure them that you do care at that time. Their objections are unlikely to be serious. Your own happiness ought to be uppermost in your mind at the time.
If your child walks out on you, - perhaps by slinking off to their room in a sulk or going out of the house, the book says don't chase after them to try to negotiate something different with them and offer to let them off. It says wait till you meet them next, and then quietly make the same request again. If they start objecting again, do the same thing as you did last time, just paraphrasing what they said back to them and making the request yet again.
Repeat the sentence till they agree to something that makes you feel better, or until you've asked them about twenty times. You could count to twenty on your fingers with each time you repeat yourself - it could distract you from becoming irritated and falling for their attempts to divert you from your request.
If you've repeated yourself twenty times and they still won't do what you want, don't feel defeated. The book says drop the matter for the time being and do the job yourself or get someone else to do it. You can at least be satisfied you've stood up for your rights.
It says don't give the child any attention when you drop the matter - simply leave the scene. Especially don't give them negative attention like shouting at them, that would only reinforce their idea that you're unreasonable so they've got a right to refuse what you want them to do.
If you're pleased that you managed to stand your ground all that time and weren't provoked into shouting, then you can feel pleased with yourself even if the child wouldn't do what you wanted. If you do feel pleased, allow yourself to enjoy the feeling.
Next time you notice their job hasn't been done and you're annoyed or frustrated and so on, the book says repeat exactly the same process with them, asking them to do what you want, paraphrasing back their answers to them and repeating your request again. They might be more likely to give in this time, because even if they behaved defiantly and rudely the first time, they probably won't have enjoyed the experience of saying no all those twenty times. Saying no again and again to a request that seems fair and friendly can play on the conscience, and they might have felt uncomfortable because of that, even if it didn't seem that way at the time.
So it may be that about the second or third repetition of your sentence, the child will realise they're going to have to go through the whole thing again, and give in rather than have to go through it, as long as you don't gloat when they do. If you show any signs of that, their pride will kick in and they'll get defiant again. That's one reason it's best to stay polite and respectful all the time you're speaking to them.
The book says if they do give in, tell them how good it makes you feel that they're doing what you asked, even if they don't give in gracefully. For instance, a conversation might go:
Teenager: "OK, OK, I'll do it!!" (said in an irritated voice as they walk towards the kitchen to clean it).
Parent: "I really feel good about your doing that."
Parent: "And I would like the money for that phone bill."
Teenager: "I know. OK, here's the money."
Parent: "Thank you. I'm pleased and relieved about that."
That kind of thing.
If you make mistakes carrying out these instructions, for instance if you do get irritated with them and instead of repeating your sentence you get sidetracked into an angry argument, just keep practising. It may be that the more you practice, the more calm and friendly you can stay, so the more co-operative they'll end up being.
If they still don't give in, you may have to do more to make them realise you're a human being with feelings and rights.
The book How to Deal With Your Acting-Up Teenager recommends that if you're getting too stressed by the encounters with your child, feel free to take a refreshing break for a few hours, or even days if your children will be looked after. Do something you think you'll really enjoy. For some it might be a nice long walk in the country. Perhaps you could visit friends. Do something that you hope will make you feel refreshed. If it does, you might be able to approach your child with new ideas and fresh energy.
Being very precise about what you want them to do might not seem necessary, but the book Parent in Control says that even when children know exactly how their parents would like them to behave ideally, or they could work it out if they put some thought into it, many like to try to get away with doing as little as possible. So, for instance, if you tell them to hoover the floor, they might just do the middle, unless you make a point of reminding them to make sure they vacuum right into the corners. If you tell them to do the ironing, they might just go over one or two parts of each piece of clothing a few times with the iron unless they're specifically told and taught how to do it properly.
The book says it isn't just children who take shortcuts unless they're specifically told how to do something. When adults go to work, they might find they have very detailed job descriptions, even if the job's easy. It says that's because employers know that many employees will otherwise try to get away with doing as little as they can get away with doing and still be able to say they did it.
Even things that seem really simple like watering plants might need a detailed job description, for instance how much water to give each one, where exactly to put the water, whether you mean all the plants in the house or just the ones in the room you happen to be in when you give the instruction, how fast or slow to pour the water in - too fast and you'll dislodge earth from the pots. And so on. And importantly, it says your children need to be instructed to come and get you to check the quality of their work when they've finished, so you can check they've done it properly.
The book Parent in Control gives an example of the chaos that can result from not giving children detailed job descriptions when you tell them to do something:
Fifteen-year-old Gary hung up the kitchen phone and called to his mother. "Mom, can I go to David's?"
Sylvia, on her hands and knees washing the bathroom floor, paused in her work and asked, "Have you watered the roses yet?"
"Then go do it. After the roses are watered, you can go to David's for a while."
"Shit," Gary said under his breath. He went into the garage, threw the hose down by the nearest rosebush, connected it to the spigot, and turned the water on as hard as it would go. A hard stream blasted a hole in the well around the first plant, washed away most of the dirt around the roots of the second bush, and overflowed into the well holding the third rosebush before cascading down the street. Deciding his work was sufficiently done, Gary left the water running and hurried to David's.
Twenty minutes later he was shocked to find his mother at David's front door. "What's wrong, Mom?"
"You were supposed to water the roses before you went to David's."
"You got water on three plants and left it on to run down the street."
"You're never satisfied. I did what you told me to do. You didn't say I had to water all of them before I left. I was going to get the rest when I got back home. Nobody's perfect, you know."
The book says it's better if you tell your children to do the chores you want them to do when you've got time to explain fully what you want done, and give them a schedule so they know at what times of the week you expect them to do them. Then check to make sure they are doing them then.
You might think that sounds too regimented, or even that it isn't fair to give them chores at all. But it isn't really a burden on children to have chores, and it gives them the know-how to do those things in later life that they'll find very useful.
Also, while they're helping you around the house, they're not out with friends they could get into trouble with. The book says it's been found, for whatever reason, that most criminals weren't expected to do chores at home. As long as what you expect of them is reasonable, doing chores for you certainly won't hurt your children.
The book says another way children can have a very literal interpretation of your words when you tell them to do chores is that if you don't actually tell them to do something so it sounds like a request, and don't tell them when to do a certain chore, they can ignore you.
For instance, if you just ask a question about when they're going to do it, or remind them it's still waiting, or make an observation about the fact it hasn't been done, or remark that you're displeased it still needs doing, and so on, children won't always get the hint and go and do it. They need to be specifically told to go and do it. Even teenagers who should know better will often tend not to bother doing what you want unless you tell them directly to. This is the kind of thing that can happen if you try to get the message across by just commenting that something needs doing or asking when it'll be done, and so on. Here's another example from the book Parent in Control:
All morning long Christa nagged at Bart, her twelve-year-old son, to take out the kitchen trash. She nicely reminded him of the trash at 8:00 a.m. when he turned on the television ("Don't forget the trash, honey"). She reminded him again a little after 9:00 a.m. as she was carrying his dirty clothes through the front room ("The trash is still waiting"), again at 10:30 as she vacuumed the front room ("When are you going to get the trash?"), and once more at noon when she called him to lunch ("Just how long do you plan on leaving the trash overflowing onto the floor?") Her voice and temper became louder and sharper every time she reminded him of the trash.
After lunch, with Bart's dishes still sitting on the kitchen table and the overflowing trash littering the floor, Christa heard the television come back on in the front room and became the mother she had promised herself she would never be. "Get off your butt and take out the trash right now," she screamed as she turned off the television and chased Bart into the kitchen. "Every Saturday it's the same thing. I do all of the work around here and you watch television. I wash your clothes and you watch television. I scrub your toilet and you watch television. I fix your lunch and you watch television. I take ..."
"All right, all right," yelled an angry Bart as he stomped into the kitchen. "I'll do it, I'll do it." He picked up the trash can, opened the back door, and after checking to make sure his mother wasn't watching, set the trash on the first step below the door. Then he came back in and resumed watching television.
The book says not only did that mother not tell her son directly what to do, until she lost her temper, but she didn't tell him exactly how she wanted it done, which gave him the impression he could get away with doing less than he knew he should have. Also, she didn't set a specific time in the week when he'd be expected to do it.
An advantage of giving children specific times of the day or week when you want them to do things - for example, "Now", "as soon as dinner's finished", "before you go to bed", "at 9 o'clock this evening", "at half past five", and so on, is that otherwise, children will often wait for you to make them do what you want them to do.
You might think that kind of detail just shouldn't be necessary. But the book says most people will be slow to do things they've been told to do that they don't actually like doing. You might think a job at McDonalds sounds easy, but it says they spend millions of dollars a year on training videos they require their employees to watch, and they have a 600-page operations manual describing in the smallest detail how they want each job done, when to do them and how often to do them, because they know people will cut corners if they can.
It says rules might need thinking through a bit before you have rules specific enough to give your children so they'll know exactly what to do.
For instance, if you told your child to take out the rubbish from the kitchen when the bin was full, you might assume that's an easy rule to follow, but there are many ways it can be misinterpreted by someone who doesn't really want to. For instance, when is it really "full"? Is it full when the first bit of rubbish appears above the top of the rubbish bin? Is it full when no more rubbish can fit in the bin? Or is it full when the first bit of rubbish falls out of the bin and onto the floor? What if the child puts a bag next to the bin for anything that won't fit in it; does that mean it doesn't count as full yet? What if they push the rubbish down into the bin so there's more room; does that mean it's not full and they don't have to take it out? And so on.
So to avoid such confusion, the book says it can be best to give them a specific time during the week when you want them to take it out. Otherwise, you'll have to keep telling them when you think the bin's full, and maybe arguing with them about it.
It says give your child a set time for everything you want them to do, including studying and homework.
So it says a good way of telling your child to take the rubbish out might be something like:
"Please take all of the rubbish out of the kitchen in the rubbish bags and put it by the kerb every Thursday night just after dinner from now on."
If you don't tell them to do a chore at a specific time, they're likely to wait till you make them do it.
It's important to specify who you want to do what, otherwise if a child hasn't been told directly to do something, they probably won't. The book Parent in Control says An optimistic mother phoned home from work and told her children on the speaker phone that somebody had better clean up the kitchen, put out the rubbish and see to the dogs before she got home. But since there was nobody called Somebody living there, the work didn't get done. When she got home, the kitchen was dirty, the rubbish bin was more than full, and the dogs had fouled the back garden.
It says a lot of parents don't say which child they want to do what, and then wonder why their children won't do anything without being yelled at. But there aren't many children in the world who'll offer to do unpleasant jobs on their own. It would just be against a child's nature to say something like, "Oh Mum, I know no one else wants to do it, so while my sisters are watching television, I'll clean up the kitchen, take out the rubbish and clean up after the dogs".
So it's important to allocate specific jobs to specific children.
The book Parent in Control says most children won't do household chores, won't do them well, or won't do them on their own, unless they're consistently trained to. It says a lot of parents have battles for years with their children about them. And every time parents give in and let them get away with a bad job or not doing it at all, the more children will in effect be trained to argue and argue and do a poor job or no job, because they'll be getting the message that arguing is how they get their own way. If it's worked once, they'll assume it'll work again and again.
But the arguments and disobedience can be reduced if you make rules describing in very clear detail what you want your children to do, so the children can't just do a very sloppy job and then persuade themselves they've done what you wanted, and argue that they did what you asked when you discover they didn't do it properly and protest. In all fairness, it might often be that they genuinely didn't know exactly how you wanted something done if you took it for granted they'd know and just gave them a basic instruction like "Clean the bathroom".
Here are some examples of rules inspired by the book Parent in Control that are very detailed, so children can't do a sloppy job and then think they've done what you asked them to, and then think you're being unfair if you tell them they should have done more than they did. Each idea for a rule gives specific times when children are to do what you want. If children can get into the habit of doing chores at specific times, it'll cut down the amount you have to try and tear them away from the television or the computer or whatever else they're doing to help you.
Some of the descriptions of things you want them to do might be very detailed, so it might be fair to write them down, so your child can have a reminder whenever they need one.
You could adopt some of these rules, or adapt them to suit your own ideas of what rules you want:
The book Parent in Control says think of getting your kids to do their chores as training them for their future independence. You might need patience with anyone you were training. At first, you'd need to supervise them all the time while they were doing the task you were training them to do, to make sure they were doing it right, and so if they weren't sure how to do something, you'd be right there so they could ask you for advice.
So when they first do the job, it might be as well to be there all the time while they're working. When they start to show they can do it well, and become reliable at doing the job at the time it says they should in the rules, you don't have to be there so much of the time.
If they're not good at doing chores without you being there, the book says plan on being there the whole time the first five or six times they do them. Then if one day you see them getting into the swing of things, it says leave for three or four minutes. If they continue to work well while you're gone, leave for five or six minutes the next time they do the chore. If they work well that time as well, when they next do the chore, you can get them started, check on them once or twice during the job, and then check they've done it well when they've finished. If that goes well, you can just get them started and check they've done a good job when they've finished the next time. If at any time things start not going so well, you can supervise them more again for a while.
The author of the book says the whole process, from them being completely undependable to them being fairly reliable, normally takes only about three to four weeks maximum for daily chores, and two to three months maximum for weekly chores.
He says the longer children follow those routines, the more they'll get into the habit of doing those things, and the more organised and independent they'll become. But if within the first few weeks of minimal supervision something interrupts their routines - maybe illness or time spent away from home and so on, you might need to monitor them a bit more for a few days till they get back into the routine.
If you're consistent in getting your child to do their chores when it says they should on the rules you've made, you'll be training them to get into the habit of doing them regularly. If you don't have set times for them to do chores, it's like training them to put off doing them till you remind them; and if you usually remind them three or four times before you actually insist they do them, you're training them to believe they can put off obeying you till you start insisting they do something. So it's best to have set rules about what time they do chores and what they do.
Naturally you need to be the one in control of your household in all circumstances. But while it's important that you be the one in control, try not to over-control your children - as if you're controlling them just for the sake of control. That might lead to them becoming resentful and acting up because they're angry or want to spite you, or because they want to escape into the world of things that hold exciting promises not thinking of the risks, like drunken parties.
Or with children with other kinds of temperaments or who feel they have less control over their circumstances, it might lead to them becoming frustrated or depressed, and even venting their feelings by harming themselves.
When you discipline your children, it might help you remain fair and to do the best thing if you often remind yourself that the idea of disciplining them is to promote their welfare and the well-being of your household by helping them turn into responsible adults. It may be that you sometimes get carried away in the heat of the moment, as most people do, and that your aim becomes to do things like:
If they're happier, chances are they won't be causing so much hassle for you, so you'll be happier as well. That doesn't mean indulging their every wish, of course. But it could mean listening to what they say their needs are, and being prepared to behave differently if it seems reasonable.
A woman brought her son to see the therapist who wrote the book for therapists I've been reading, because he was throwing temper tantrums where he'd break anything he could get his hands on, not obeying her rules, and fighting with his eight-year-old sister. The therapist asked the woman if she'd noticed any progress in solving the problem between the time she'd booked the appointment with him and the time she'd brought him to it, and she said she had. She said in the weeks before the appointment, they'd stopped having battles about making his bed and putting his toys away, and he'd stopped destroying things during his temper tantrums. She said she thought she'd helped to improve things by being more patient with him and yelling less. She'd found that what really helped was avoiding the power struggles they'd had before. She said she used to "try and win the battles" by screaming at him and taking everything away, but that had only made things worse.
She said she also took him out for pizza and a movie when he'd had a good week.
The boy said he thought his mum not yelling was what helped him to behave better, and he was loving the pizza and movies. She said she'd like him to make further progress by not fighting with his sister any more. He seemed keen to try, since he liked the idea of going out for pizza so much.
Things improved from there. In the next week, he only fought with his sister once, and had no temper tantrums.
Some of the books advise that you think about whether the rules you have for your child all serve a good purpose, or whether some are just there for the sake of you feeling in control. Unnecessary rules will cause resentment. It's best to drop rules that don't serve a good purpose.
Also think about whether your focus of attention is on the rules, or on the child as the problem. If it's on the child, try to bring it back to the rules. For instance, if you have a rule that they're the one who takes out the rubbish, focus on asking them to do it, rather than saying things that provoke arguments, like, "Why can't I ever count on you to do any housework around here?"
The more you involve your child in a power struggle by trying to make them obey by yelling at them or punishing them in ways that seem to them overly harsh, or imposing rules on them they think are unfair, the more they'll want to win that power struggle, so the more out of control they'll get.
One way to stop that cycle is to make it clear to them that you do trust them to be capable of being responsible, and give them areas of life they have control of without any interference from you.
The book How to Deal With Your Acting-Up Teenager says that when you treat your teenager as someone you can trust and expect to be responsible, they can sometimes become more trustworthy and responsible. For instance, if you're worried about them not finishing a school project in time, instead of nagging and shouting at them, if you say something like, "I'm worried you won't get that project in on time because you're on the phone to your friend so much; but I expect you'll work things out; I know you're old enough to make your own decisions", then they might decide on their own to do their project, since not to do so would be like proving they aren't old enough to make the right decisions after all. So they might work harder than they would if you kept nagging them and they just got irritated.
The book advises that parents give their teenagers more responsibility for running some parts of their life.
It says think about areas of your teenager's life that are actually their concern and there isn't really a good reason to have control over them. For instance, is it really necessary that they tidy their bedroom? If it's a mess and they can't find what they want, it's really their responsibility to learn by that to keep their room more tidy themselves. Or if they choose to live in an untidy room, does that really affect you, so long as they respect your wish to keep the communal part of the house tidy? Giving them areas of life they can have complete control over can help them learn to grow up to be more responsible, and can also stop them feeling over-controlled and becoming resentful.
If, for instance, their bedroom being a mess is affecting you, perhaps because they're leaving dirty cups in there so you're running out, or they're leaving scraps of food around in there so you're worried mice will come in, then you can tackle those issues while still leaving them to make the main decisions about how they keep their room.
It could be similar with other things, such as staying up late. You might not want them to stay up late because you worry that they won't do very well in school the next day. But it might be better for them to learn by feeling really tired some days than it will be if you try to force them to go to bed at a certain time and it just makes them want to rebel. If there are issues around them staying up late that directly affect you, such as them being grumpy with you the next day, them wanting you to wake them up in the morning and yet being so tired it's a real effort for you to get them up, playing music loud at night, or being around you when you want some privacy, those are issues you could negotiate solutions with them on, without having to dictate what time they go to bed.
Similarly, if you think they watch too much television, you're probably right, but forcing them to stop might just make them feel over-controlled and want to rebel so they misbehave. A more subtle approach might be better, such as finding out about activities in the area they could get involved in and trying to encourage them to join in some of them to get them doing something more worthwhile.
The book says the parents of a seventeen-year-old boy were upset that he never seemed to want to do anything or go anywhere with them. But they decided to give him more freedom to make his own decisions. So they stopped insisting he do things with them, and began going on outings without him, simply inviting him to come if he wanted to but not pressuring him to go. The fourth or fifth outing they had on their own without him was a camping weekend at the beach. As the rest of the family sat around the camp fire on Friday night, they were wonderfully surprised to hear a car pull up and their son and a friend of his get out and join them - because they actually wanted to come. The relaxed, pleasant, accepting way they all felt that evening was much closer to the way the parents wanted things to be than the strained ways they'd felt when they'd forced the boy to go with them.
The book Uncommon Sense For Parents With Teenagers says another thing to bear in mind is to try to react in proportion to any offence they commit. Punishing or criticizing them just as harshly for skipping a couple of classes at school as you would for drink driving will alienate them, and they might think that if they're going to be punished or criticised for each offence alike, they may as well do serious things wrong. And while you might want to have very firm rules when it comes to health and safety issues, you could consider anything else to be open to negotiation to some extent. So if you find out they've been skipping classes, for instance, trying to find out why rather than just going straight in with a punishment might lead to a more effective solution in the long term.
Having said that, there are advantages in sticking to fair rules.
You can think of getting children to help around the house as an opportunity to pass on your expertise in some things, which could be very beneficial to them later in life, since if you ask them to help you and their work is unsatisfactory, they might not be deliberately doing things wrong.
On the other hand, if your child does something differently to the way you'd do it, but their way isn't dangerous or less efficient, try to overcome any temptation you have to criticize them just because their way's different to yours, since it could antagonise them.
When making rules, bear in mind that different rules will be appropriate for different age groups. You might be able to trust your children to be far more responsible when they're 18 than they were three years earlier, so giving them more freedom to go where they want and plan their own lives might be appropriate.
While consistency is important so they know what to expect if they disobey certain rules and don't find themselves being let off one day and punished the next so they feel treated unfairly, and also think they can get away with breaking rules sometimes so they may as well try again, parents can still be consistent, with a slightly more relaxed version of the rules than they've told their child they want them to obey. One child told the author of the book called Uncommon Sense for Parents With Teenagers:
My parents are pretty clear with me about rules and expectations. But whenever they tell me something, I do the translating myself. Like if they say to be in by midnight, I know that if I'm in by 12:15 nothing is said; at 12:30 something is said and nothing is done; after 12:30 something is said and done.
The book says try not to make your rules so unrealistic because your expectations are too high that they're actually difficult to follow, or you don't enjoy enforcing them. If you don't like the rules you invent, it can lead to you enforcing them only sometimes, so your teenager will argue it's unfair on the days when you try, because they'll be used to being treated less strictly sometimes. Think through the rules you want to impose before imposing them to make sure they're ones you're going to be happiest with, or whether there are good reasons why you'd prefer to modify them a bit.
Don't necessarily think of it as bad behaviour and take it personally when your teenager does bend the rules a bit. It's human nature to test limits to see what can be got away with or to explore what'll happen. If teenagers test the rules to see what they can get away with and find the rules might bend a little bit and they can predict how much, but they can be sure they won't bend any further, they'll actually feel secure and more relaxed, as long as the rules are fair, because they know things are stable.
The book How to Deal With Your Acting-Up Teenager Says that something that has a few similarities is when teenagers misbehave by abusing favours their parents have granted them, but the parents keep granting the favours and they keep on abusing them, when really, the parents don't have to grant those favours.
For instance, the parents might keep letting their son borrow the car even though he's damaged it several times.
Other things the children might do in the same category could include:
The book says just because it's your responsibility to look after your child, it doesn't mean you have to put up with their bad behaviour. If you keep giving them permission to use your things and they take or misuse them, you don't have to keep giving permission. It just encourages them to do it again. It's healthy for them to learn they can't take you for granted and that you expect them to treat you and your things with respect. And it'll be better for your own mental well-being if you don't let yourself get walked all over. If they're demanding something they want rather than need, then if you do what they want, you're going beyond your actual duty as a parent; you're doing them a favour. And whether you do them favours or not should depend on whether you want to. Whether you want to or not might depend on how they're behaving and how they ask you. If their request sounds like an order, or they're asking you for something you'll feel resentful about giving them, feel free to say no.
The book says that if you've always given in to them in the past no matter what, you could tell them you won't anymore, and you could do that in a relaxed, kind, non-blaming way, by just saying something short like,
"I'm not happy about the fact that I sometimes say yes to favours when I don't really want to. I'm going to take care of myself and do favours for you only when I feel good about it, when I really want to from now on."
If you phrase it in terms of what you want, rather than in terms of what they've done wrong in the past, it might cut down the risk of conflict.
Let the matter drop till the next time they ask you for something you don't want to give them. Then instead of giving in despite what you really want, say no calmly, and give as short and honest a reason as you can why, again phrased in a non-blaming way to reduce the possibility of conflict because they feel provoked.
The book How to Deal With Your Acting-Up Teenager gives some examples:
Janet: You can pick me up at the pizza palace.
Dad: No, Janet. I feel uncomfortable about the way I was asked.
Joe (at a restaurant): Mom, can I have your dessert? Mother: No, Joe. I want it myself.
Jeff: I'm taking the car tonight.
Father: No, Jeff. I feel uneasy about your driving my car.
Burt: (whose father had agreed to pay him $5 for washing the car): Can I have my $5 in advance?
Father: No. I feel nervous wondering whether I'm going to get my side of the bargain.
Bill: Take me to the bike shop now.
Mother: No. I don't want to.
The book advises that you only give them one reason. The more reasons you give them, the more they'll have to argue about and try to persuade you to give in with. If you were getting on with them well and thought they really wanted to know, explaining yourself fully would be the fairest thing to do. But at times when you think your children are just trying to push you around or not treating you with respect, then they won't be in the mood to listen, but will just want to use what you say to try to get their way.
The child might make a big fuss even so. But the more often you stand firm in refusing, the more they'll get to learn there isn't any point in making a fuss because you won't change your mind. They're only going to make a fuss if they think they'll achieve something by it.
One thing that can help your children see you as a person with needs and a personality separate from just "parent" is if you start doing things that surprise them, unusual and perhaps zany things that make you feel good, and help them see you as more of a person, and also a less predictable person. If they know they can't predict what you're going to do so much, it might help to get them out of the same old routines of misbehaving, because they'll be busy wondering what's coming next. They might even feel they have to take more responsibility for their behaviour if the parent is behaving in ways that make them seem less of a solid authority figure.
Also, it may be that often, the parents accidentally respond to children's bad behaviour in ways that make it worse, such as if they're in a routine of yelling every time the child says something rude to them, and instead of making the child behave, it always just starts an argument where both end up yelling at each other. If the parent does something different instead, the child will have to start behaving differently.
So have a good think about what kinds of things you'd like to do differently, perhaps humorous things, or things you'd love to do but have always focused so much on being a parent that you never did.
The therapist who wrote the book for therapists I've been reading says the parents of a difficult strong-willed nine-year-old once surprised their son by walking around in Halloween costumes for a few days. The boy was so confused by their behaviour that he started obeying them more.
The therapist says other parents have rolled around on the floor kissing and hugging each other while a child of theirs was having a big tantrum, or started dancing in a strange way when their child was disrespectful to them. They found the child's behaviour quickly stopped when they started behaving in such an unexpected way.
When you start thinking of zany or fun things to do, you might find that apart from surprising your children, your own life becomes much more enjoyable.
When you get into the habit of thinking up all kinds of ways you could behave differently around your children to surprise them, you might start getting inspired to think up ideas on new things you could try to solve some of their other problems as well.
The therapist says one mother brought her ten-year-old son for therapy because he would constantly swear, talk to her in a disrespectful way, and not do his chores. They also had arguments every day about him doing his homework. The mother said her son was a good student and could sometimes be a big help to her around the house. But she was feeling "at the end of her rope" with him, and was seriously thinking about sending him to live with his father who lived far away.
The therapist met alone with the mother and Among other things, suggested she do different things than what she usually did that would surprise her son.
A week later, she came back and said she'd thought of seven things to do differently. One day she walked around all day with an ape Halloween mask on that she found in a drawer. She bought a water pistol and squirted water on him every time he would swear or talk back to her. When she changed the way she behaved around her son, he started behaving better.
She was beginning to discover parenthood could be fun, and becoming less stressed.
The book How to Deal With Your Acting-Up Teenager says that if your child doesn't respond to nice requests to do things, one thing that'll help your child to realise you mean it when you say you want something done, so they're less likely to push you and push you because they think you might give in if they do, is to demonstrate that there can be very clear consequences if things you want done don't happen. If you pick on some fairly minor things to demonstrate that with, they're more likely to take you seriously if you talk to them about anything major.
It says one way of showing them you mean what you say is to tell them that if a certain thing you want doesn't happen, you'll do something; and then do it if the bad behaviour continues. Only do that after you've asked nicely and been ignored though.
For instance, if the children always argue at the dinner table, and you've asked them to stop but they won't, you could say that if they continue, you'll take your dinner into your bedroom and eat it on your own there; and then arrange your dinner on a tray and do that if they don't stop. If you've asked the family to remember to put the lid on the toothpaste after they've used it but they still keep leaving it off, you could say that if you keep finding the lid off, you'll write on the bathroom mirror with the toothpaste reminding people to put the lid on. If you ask them nicely not to put things on the stairs because you're worried about slipping, but they still do, then you could tell them that next time that happens, you'll put the things you find on the stairs in the cupboard under the stairs (or somewhere). If you've asked them nicely to put their socks in the laundry basket but they don't, you could tell them that if they keep leaving their socks lying on the floor rather than putting them in the laundry basket, you won't wash them. And so on. And follow through with the consequences if they carry on.
The book says tell them what you're going to do in a mild, relaxed way, in a way that doesn't sound as if you're blaming anyone so no one wants to leap to the defensive. For instance, you could say things like, "I've said I want a friendly atmosphere at the dinner table. If the arguing continues around here, ..."; "If the lid keeps being left off the toothpaste, ..."; "I'd like everyone to put their laundry in the basket. From now on, dirty washing that isn't in the basket but is just left lying around upstairs won't get washed". And so on.
Give your family a chance to change their behaviour before you carry out the consequences. For instance, if you say you're going to move things left on the stairs and there are things on there at the time, give people a chance to remove them. Don't move them before they've had a chance.
The book says make the consequences of their misbehaviour things that relate to what they're doing wrong. And make them dramatic enough that your children will notice if you do them. And make them things that will actually make you feel better. Also, make sure they're things that you know you will be able to carry out.
It says there are a few very important rules to follow when you do that though:
The book says try not to get into drawn-out conflicts about things or to get stuck doing the same old thing. Try to use your imagination to keep coming up with new ideas. For instance, one thing to be avoided would be a situation where a parent said to their teenager that they weren't going to do the laundry if he didn't do the gardening. Apart from the fact that that would be breaking the rules about not targeting a child directly and making sure what you do isn't detrimental to them, and making the reaction relate to the offence, if the teenager said, "If you don't do the washing, I'm not going to do the gardening", the two of them could be in a Catch 22 situation where neither of them did what they threatened not to do, so neither the washing nor the gardening got done for a long time.
So try and think up new imaginative things every so often. For instance, if you do write on the mirror with toothpaste, don't do that every time your children leave the toothpaste lid off, or it'll just get routine and won't impress them. Doing it once will teach them that when you say you're going to do something, you'll do it, and that could be a better thing to teach them than always remembering to put the toothpaste lid on. So if they still don't after you've made your protest, don't worry.
The book says some of the things you do could be quite zany. For instance, it says if you and your teenager have agreed that the gardening is their job, you could one day say that if it doesn't get done by the afternoon, you'll wear a mask when your friend visits later that day, because you'll be so embarrassed for them to see you in a house with a garden full of weeds.
The book says make sure what you tell your teenager you want is specific, so they know exactly what to do to avoid you doing what you say you'll do if they don't do it. For instance, saying, "I want to be treated better" or "I want to see more of you" or "I want to be helped more around here" wouldn't be good things to say, because they don't tell the people around you exactly what they'd have to do to make you feel you'd got what you wanted, or how much of it they'd have to do. So if you want to be treated better, think about what specific things they could do to make you feel better, and tell them you want them to do one or more of those. For instance, "I want people to wipe their feet on the door mat so they don't tramp mud into my kitchen"
Thinking up new and imaginative ways of responding to little ways in which your children misbehave might give you more confidence that you can solve bigger problems and make you more orientated towards thinking of what can be done about a problem rather than your first reaction being that things are going wrong. You might start to feel pleased that you're taking care of your needs better.
The book says once you've started taking that approach with small things and feel more confident about taking a stand for your rights and being able to handle confrontation between you and your teenager, and when they're sure that when you say you'll do something you mean it, you can gradually extend the range of things you deal with by doing that kind of thing, till you're giving them serious ultimatums, that they'll know to take seriously.
It gives examples, saying for instance, some people might say things to their teenagers, after asking nicely hasn't solved the problems, like:
"Brian, I really want freedom from the dog messes that get left lying around for ages. I'm not willing to tolerate them any longer. If I see any more of them, I will find another home for the dog."
Notice that focuses on the dog messes as being the problem, rather than the son as being the problem. Talking in that way cuts down the risk of heated argument, because the person who's being spoken to might not get so defensive.
"Susan, I want to feel secure about my things. If I miss any more of my money or clothes, I will definitely call the police and ask them to investigate."
Another thing that can change children's behaviour for the better is if instead of giving them lengthy or harsh punishments, you make them do something nice for someone else, something that'll hopefully mean that as well as other people getting a benefit out of the punishment, the child's sense of responsibility and self-worth will grow.
Some examples of positive consequences for misbehaviour could include being given a certain amount of time to create a nice card for a relative, perhaps on the computer, finding two lawns in the neighbourhood to mow, doing a good deed for a neighbour, and devoting one whole day of a weekend to helping a parent with various household projects.
You might be able to think up all kinds of things once you try.
It'll also help you get out of the same routines, where perhaps in the past, your actions - rather than changing the child's ways, might have accidentally made them feel antagonistic and want to behave worse. If the consequences for disobedience you give them actually make them feel good about themselves, it'll improve their relationship with you, so you may well start enjoying each other's company more and becoming closer, so they may want to obey your rules more.
Also, try not to take it personally when they do misbehave, as if you think they're doing it deliberately to annoy you. That might not be their motive at all. You might well feel less angry with them if you try not to think of it as a deliberate ploy to get at you, but just typical of the way teenagers can behave.
It's best if the punishment is a punishment for the individual thing they did wrong, not one designed to make them think they must actually be a bad person. So it can help if the punishment fits the offence, and they can see how it directly relates to what they've done. For instance, if they took your car for the evening without your permission, they could be forbidden from driving it for a while.
But it's best to decide how long to forbid them from using it for at the time. It'll frustrate and anger them and might lead to misbehaviour if you just keep saying you'll let them drive it again when you think they're ready, or something, so they've got no idea how long they'll be deprived of it for.
Similarly, taking things away from your child, like their television or stereo, when it has no relation to what they've actually done, could just give them a sense of unfairness that could lead to worse behaviour.
Also, telling them to do something otherwise they'll be punished can be ineffective, because it gives them the choice of whether to do it or accept the punishment. Some children will prefer to accept a punishment than spend time doing something they don't enjoy - something you've told them to do or they'll be punished. It doesn't necessarily make a difference if the punishment's harsh; and if you use physical force, they could put up with it and then report you for child abuse.
In the book that advises therapists on doing better therapy with children I've been reading, the therapist who wrote it says some parents came to him, complaining that their ten-year-old boy was getting out of control. They said he had no respect whatsoever for their rules, not improving his behaviour when they punished him, always talking back to his mother, and misbehaving at school. They blamed him for all the stress in their lives.
They gave an example, saying that one night not long before, his mother had asked him to put his dirty dishes in the dishwasher, and he'd given her a mouthful of bad language. She'd slapped him in the face and told him to go to his room. But he refused to get up from the chair he was sitting in in front of the television. The father then picked the boy up and carried him to his bedroom kicking and screaming. After a whole hour of being in a temper, he eventually quietened down and went to sleep.
They said tempers didn't usually flare that much.
The parents were at a loss to find consequences for his bad behaviour that would work. They'd tried taking his stereo away for long periods, yelling at him, and not letting him out of the house after school, but they only made him behave worse. The mother said she felt guilty about slapping him and didn't want that to happen again.
The therapist suggested they try "positive" consequences for disobedience instead. The parents weren't sure they'd work, but they said they'd give them a try. The therapist said they might find it hard to resist the temptation to yell at the boy, to take his things away, and to think he was just being naughty to annoy them, but he asked them to try.
A week later, he saw them for a therapy session again. They'd tried what he suggested, and they were much happier. They said they'd let their son go to a hockey game with a friend's family because he'd behaved so much better that week.
They'd found that when they were calmer and yet firmer with him, and gave him positive consequences for disobedience, he responded better to their rules. One night he'd talked back to his mother, and instead of yelling at him, she'd got him to wash two loads of clothes. When he didn't tidy his room as his father had asked him to, his father had got him to pick up all the scraps of paper and other litter in their flower beds and around their house. The boy also tidied his room after that.
The parents carried on behaving differently with their son than they had before, and discovered he was much easier to discipline.
They got his teacher to join in giving the boy positive consequences. When he misbehaved at school, instead of sending him down to the principal's office as they'd kept doing before, the teacher got him to do things around the school. The teacher found his behaviour in class improved after that.
The book Uncommon Sense For Parents With Teenagers says that it's best if when telling your child what consequence will happen as a result of the offence they've committed, for instance not being allowed to use the car for a certain amount of time because they drove it carelessly and dented it, you don't shout at them angrily. If that means going away for a while to relax and cool off before telling them what the consequence for their offence will be, then it can be a good idea, because getting into an argument with them will stop them learning from their behaviour, because they'll be left with their mind full of resentful thoughts about you and go onto the defensive and start trying to justify themselves or blame you somehow, rather than thinking about what they did and how they shouldn't have done it. You could even say something like, "We'll decide what to do about this and discuss it with you tomorrow morning."
Also it says it can help if the consequence is something they can see the logic of, like not letting them borrow the car for a while if they've driven it carelessly, rather than something you decide on on the spur of the moment, that they can't see the reason behind so they'll just feel insecure and angry, because they don't know why you should have chosen what you have, or what you might inflict on them next.
It can also be best if you tell them exactly what the consequence is and how long you plan to enforce it. Keeping them hanging on for weeks wondering when you're going to allow them their previous levels of privileges can make them anxious and agitated, so they can behave irresponsibly out of anger.
When they've been disciplined, it's unfair to keep bringing up what they did, to belittle them. Even when you get angry with them, try to remember not to rehash past misdemeanours if they've been dealt with, but to just stick to the issue you're arguing about. Otherwise, arguments can get out of hand. The arguments might be quite short-lived if you only argue about what's just come up; but if you start berating them about things they've done in the past, they'll start arguing back and getting defensive, and then they'll be harder to bring around to your way of thinking, because they'll be busy defending themselves instead of thinking about what you're saying. What you actually want to talk to them about might even be forgotten in the midst of all the other things you argue about.
When you do discuss consequences with them, you can sometimes make it clear how fair and logical they are. The book Uncommon Sense for Parents With Teenagers gives an example. a parent might say something like this:
Just to remind you what you and we originally agreed on: We agreed you'd be in by midnight, and that if you were late, you'd phone us and tell us so we wouldn't worry when we didn't need to. But you didn't phone us up and you came home an hour late. So what you did cost us an hour's sleep waiting up for you. Actually it cost us more, because we spent time discussing it after you got back; but that was our responsibility, so we won't blame you for that. Do you have any suggestions as to how you could make up the time lost for us? We've got some ideas. I was going to clean up the kitchen and wash up after dinner and dad was going to mow the lawn. Both of those things will take about an hour. Since we each lost an hour's sleep, we'd appreciate it if you do those things so we can spend the time having a nap or relaxing.
There's also the issue of you breaking the agreement we had. Since that was a breach of our trust, we'd like you to come in an hour earlier than usual next week, which is the time we'd ask you to come in if we knew we couldn't trust you so much. If you can be trustworthy enough to come in then, we'll be reassured and we'll say no more about this. It'll be the end of the matter. If you're late though, or don't make up those hours for us by doing some work we would have done, we'll have another discussion and decide what to do next.
Are you OK with that, or would you like to suggest doing a different two things for us that'll take around an hour instead of what we suggested? If not, then things are settled and we can move on.
The book says don't lecture them or go into a lot of detail about how what they've done has affected you, because it might just lead to arguments - perhaps with them saying things like, "You didn't need to worry that much, mum! If you get that stressed about it, why not go and see a therapist! Why should I be punished for your mental problems?" Or they'll be left thinking gloomy thoughts about what effect what they've done has had, rather than thinking about getting on with taking the punishment and going forward with life trying to obey the rules to please you more.
Besides, if you've made your point a few times, they'll already know your views. Lecturing them further will make them feel as if you're talking down to them, as if you think they're not intelligent enough to take in information. The problem is more likely to be that they just don't feel like it.
Don't be too lenient on them, taking back the idea of disciplining them as soon as they show a bit of remorse. You might think an apology from them means they'll want to please you more in future and they've learned their lesson, but as soon as they forget the remorse and feel like doing what you don't want them to do again, that feeling will be a lot stronger than any remorse they had, so they'll probably do it. They have to know there will be consequences for their actions they don't like, in the hope they'll take them into account when deciding whether to do it again.
If you realise you over-reacted in anger and gave them a harsher punishment than they deserved, don't be afraid to admit the mistake and replace the punishment with a fairer one. They'll probably respect you for it.
There are several ways you could help influence your child to change their behaviour so you feel the need to punish them less.
Have a think about anything you might be inadvertently doing that could be making the problem with their misbehaviour worse.
In the book I've been reading by a therapist who advises other therapists on doing better therapy with children, the therapist who wrote it says a family came to see him and said their nine-year-old daughter had been lying to them a lot for the past three years, for instance about her friendship with someone in the neighbourhood they thought was a troublemaker, the school grades she got, and sneaking food out of the kitchen. They'd tried yelling at her and taking her things away, lecturing her and not letting her play outside after school, but it hadn't helped. They'd begun to think she was lying especially to annoy them.
He asked them to imagine they were in a world where parents found everything easy, were respected, and had a lot more fun. He asked them to imagine what kinds of things they'd do with their child if they lived in a land like that. They enjoyed thinking about it.
The therapist recommended they try behaving in the ways they'd imagined behaving with their daughter in real life.
When they came back the next week, they told him things had changed a lot. Their daughter hadn't been caught in a lie once. They said they'd tried being more relaxed around her, and being more calm and patient with her, not reacting so strongly. And they'd made efforts to have more fun both with her and with each other, even going to an amusement park once, which they hadn't done for years.
Of course, being more relaxed around a misbehaving child and having more fun with them won't always change their behaviour; but it can sometimes help.
Sometimes, children misbehave because they don't feel their parents are giving them enough attention. They can feel unwanted, without ever telling their parents that's how they feel. So they misbehave to compensate, or to get their parents' attention, even if it's only negative attention with them shouting. At least they feel visible then. This can happen sometimes if there are other children in the family and the other children are taking up more of the parents' time.
So if parents can make efforts to make a special point of spending time with all their children, doing fun things with them, showing they care about how they're getting on and listening to their concerns, then sometimes children's behaviour can improve.
Pushing children to talk about their feelings can backfire though, if they begin to feel as if they're being interrogated or pressured to talk about things they'd rather keep to themselves.
On the topic of constant lying, sometimes, what can trigger it off in a child is being asked so many questions they feel it's intrusive, or they get bored of giving straight answers so they start making things up to make answering the questions more fun.
The book How to Deal With Your Acting-Up Teenager says a woman came to therapy for help with her eight-year-old daughter who was always lying. She would lie about getting high grades in school, and all kinds of other things, and also made up stories she said were true.
It turned out that the woman asked her daughter questions almost constantly, such as, "How are you?" "What did you do in school?" "What are you doing now?" "What are you going to do next?" "Don't you want to be good?" "Why do you lie?"
It was recommended to the woman that she stop asking her daughter unnecessary questions. If she wanted to comment on something to her daughter, she should just make a comment about the matter that didn't demand an answer. When the girl told her a tall tale, the woman was recommended to just comment on it very briefly, such as saying, "That's interesting", if she thought it was. That way, the girl wouldn't be rewarded with much attention for it.
The woman did as she was advised. Everyone expected it to take longer, but the girl's lies stopped immediately.
That's not to say it would be that easy for everyone. But the stories give some ideas for things to try.
If you think of one of your children as the good kid and one as the bad kid, you might be right; but try observing the one who seems well-behaved over the next week when they're with the other one, to see if they're actually provoking the other one into misbehaving. Also, when you think about it, you might realise you treat your children differently, perhaps yelling at one more or criticizing them more, and that might be what provokes them to misbehave more. Again, it can be a cycle, with your efforts to stop their bad behaviour, such as shouting and punishing them impulsively, provoking them so they behave worse, so you shout at them more, then they want to misbehave worse to defy you and because they're angry with you.
The therapist who wrote the book for therapists I've been reading says a bright eight-year-old child was referred for therapy by her teacher because her teacher was worried about her "aggression in the classroom". Three times the teacher had told her off for kicking and punching the same boy. The teacher had asked the school social worker to evaluate the girl for her "violent tendencies". The girl's mother was surprised to get phone calls from both the teacher and the social worker, because her daughter got top marks in class and was never aggressive at home.
So the girl was brought for therapy by her mother. The girl was quite talkative, but she denied there were any family problems or worries. The therapist asked her mother if she'd have taken her daughter to counselling if the school situation hadn't happened, and the mother said, "Why? There were no problems".
The therapist wondered what to say next. So he looked puzzled, and asked the mother if she knew whether the boy had been provoking her daughter in any way before she kicked and punched him.
The mother said she didn't know and asked her daughter if the boy had been annoying her.
Her daughter said, "Yeah! Jason is always calling me names and bothering me. So I punched him and he kept up so I kicked him. He never quits, I mean I tell him to stop, but he keeps it up."
The therapist asked the girl how long the boy had been bothering her.
The girl said he'd been bothering her since the beginning of the school year. Her mother said,
"You're kidding! Why didn't you tell me, sweetheart?"
The therapist asked the girl where the teacher was whenever the boy was provoking her and whether she ever asked for the teacher's help.
The girl said, "She doesn't do anything. I mean sometimes she will talk to him, but it doesn't do any good. It felt good to punch him!"
The therapist said, "Sounds like you are frustrated and mad about the Jason situation. So if Jason has been bothering you since September, what has stopped you from asking your mother for help with this?"
The girl said that since her teacher hadn't been able to do anything about it, what could her mother do?
The therapist said to her mother, "I wonder how your daughter got the idea that she could not call upon you for support when the going gets rough for her?"
Her mother said, "I don't know ... I mean I have always been there for her in the past. I have been pretty stressed out a lot lately because of some changes at my job and my husband has been out of town on business quite a bit." She looked at her daughter and said, "I'm surprised that you didn't come to me for help way back in September ... I would have tried to meet with your teacher."
The therapist asked the mother what she thought would have to happen for the school social worker and teacher not to want them to come for therapy anymore, and she said she supposed they wouldn't if her daughter wasn't punching and kicking the boy anymore, or anyone else. She turned to her daughter and asked if she thought that could happen. The daughter said she'd try, but it would be hard, because the boy never stopped being annoying.
The therapist asked them what they thought of the idea of him setting up a meeting between the three of them and the teacher and the school social worker, to try and work out how to solve the problems of the girl and Jason fighting. They said they'd like the idea, if it actually worked.
The therapist says he ended up seeing the family twice in his office and twice in meetings at the school with the social worker and teacher. In the therapy sessions, the girl and her mother came up with several good ideas as to how the girl could avoid the temptation to swear at, punch or kick the boy. In the school meetings, the teacher agreed to pay more attention to the boy's behaviour, which led her to discover that he was starting fights every day and causing problems for other pupils as well as for the girl.
The teacher soon noticed that the girl was now displaying "good self-control" and "no aggressive behaviour".
How well-behaved children are is to some extent a matter of habit, and they might need to be trained to adopt new habits.
Sometimes, a child will co-operate with parents in trying to get over a problem like stealing.
In the book I've read by the therapist who advises other therapists on different ways of doing therapy with children, he says a couple brought their nine-year-old son to therapy because of his stealing habit that had been going on for three years. He stole money from his parents, and his father said he also used his "slick fingers" to steal things from his teacher's desk. The dad actually referred to the boy's problem as "slick fingers", while his mum called him a "slick thief", able to find their money even when they thought they'd hidden it well.
The boy seemed to agree with the parents that it was a bad problem to have, and said he didn't want to have it but didn't know what to do about it. He said it was as if he couldn't control it.
So the therapist thought it might be a good idea if they imagined that rather than being a character flaw, his stealing problem was like a separate character who the boy had to master. The character would be called "slick fingers".
The therapist suggested some mastery challenges they could do. He suggested the parents leave bits of money lying around the house where the boy would find them in the coming week, and the boy would have to see if he could defeat "Slick Fingers". He got the boy's teacher to join in as well. The teacher agreed to leave some things the boy had stolen before on her desk for a week to see if he could make sure Slick Fingers didn't push him around and make him steal them again.
The therapist said it might not be easy to defeat "slick fingers" because habits could be hard to break. But the family came back a week later saying they'd had a perfect week with no stealing at all. The boy said that twice, he'd nearly given in to the attempts of slick fingers to brainwash him into stealing, but he'd managed to fight back by talking back to it. The parents said that at times they felt distrustful of their son, but they'd resisted the urge to have a go at him. The teacher also said that as far as she knew, nothing had been stolen.
Since the honesty test had worked so well, the therapist got the family to use it more often during the therapy. The therapist saw the family four more times, and in the last session, he held a party to celebrate the boy's victory over the stealing problem.
The opposite approach might work best in some situations. Sometimes it might be best for parents who are having things stolen to lock all valuables away.
The book How to Deal With Your Acting-Up Teenager says a single parent was raising two children in cramped conditions, and she only kept one place in the house she considered private, a box that contained a bit of jewellery and change and things. Several times a week, she'd notice some was missing. Then she'd always have an argument with her daughter Mary who she was sure had taken it. But the arguments never did any good. They always went exactly the same way. The mother would ask Mary if she'd taken anything; Mary would deny it, the mother would accuse, Mary would get angry, and the mother would start to cry.
She went to the therapists who wrote the book in the end. They advised her to stop confronting her daughter with accusations and questions since they never got her anywhere, and get a sturdy lock for her box.
But they advise that just locking things up or hiding them won't necessarily stop the child stealing. In fact, they say that if that's the only thing you do, your children might think it's a good game to find the hiding places you've chosen, or break the locks. The therapists recommend that instead, you coach your children to be responsible for making up for the loss you've suffered. And they say you can do that without blaming your children or arguing with them, which would just encourage them to lie about what they did and make them angry so they might want to do worse things.
They recommend that if you've had something stolen and you're sure one of your children stole it, you go cheerfully about your business as far as you can, to show your children you're taking care of your own needs and you're not going to give them special attention for what they've done. But you can say non-blaming things to try to get the stolen items back. They give an example:
Imagine some of your money has gone missing from your purse or wallet. You have two children, and you suspect one of them, David, took it, because he's taken money from you before.
When both children are together, you tell them how much money went missing, and don't accuse either one of them of taking it, but just say you'd like help getting it back.
David might say:
"I didn't take it".
The other child also might deny it. You say:
"I understand what you're saying. And I'm saying I want it back. If I don't get it back by tomorrow, we might be eating a lot of soup for dinner next week instead of proper food, since that was part of the money I'd have spent on important things like food shopping."
You might find that the money "mysteriously" turns up back in your purse after that, or perhaps the child who stole it might "find" it in the place where you usually keep your purse and give it to you.
If that happens, resist the urge to say something sarcastic or critical. That'll just annoy them and might make them feel like stealing something from you without giving it back this time. Just accept the money casually.
If the money doesn't turn up, the therapists say serve soup for dinner till you've made up the equivalent of the money that was stolen.
The book says the father of a quiet shy sixteen-year-old boy who really wanted friends came home from a business trip to discover that $65 had been taken while he was away. He asked his son about it. The boy told him he'd been impressed by two older boys he'd met who talked rough and were obviously more sophisticated than he was in the ways of the world. He said that while his parents were out, he'd invited the boys into the house and didn't object while they went through his parents' bedroom. He said they found the money and immediately disappeared with it.
The boy's father phoned the police. But there turned out to be apparent confusion in the boy's mind about who and where the two boys were and who had the money now.
The therapists coached the father not to scold or punish the boy, but instead to tell him he considered him responsible for the house and everything in it while his parents were away, and that he expected the money to be replaced.
The boy agreed to pay it back from money he made from his after-school job.
The father also said he wanted no strangers in the house when he wasn't there, saying that if he felt he had to, he'd hire a house-sitter while he was away, though he'd much rather the boy took responsibility for the house himself.
The therapists who wrote that book tell the story of a woman who got good results one day after she changed the way she handled the way her daughters kept taking things from her:
It says two girls in their mid teens thought nothing of taking their mother's things whenever they wanted. They did whatever they thought would increase their fun, and that seemed to be the only important thing to them. They wouldn't change their ways no matter how much their mother complained, made accusations, pleaded with them and even cried about them taking her things.
One day, their mother was upset to find they'd taken an expensive sweater of hers. But she handled things differently:
At first, she just told them firmly, "I want my sweater back". And she kept saying that no matter what they said.
Of course, the girls said they didn't know anything about its disappearance. But that didn't deter her. She just kept saying she wanted it back. No accusations, no pleas; she just firmly and quite calmly kept repeating that she wanted it back. Her daughters shouted, became sullen, and claimed she was treating them unfairly. One of her daughters marched angrily out of the house at one point rather than answering her.
But the mother was able to stay fairly relaxed and comfortable throughout all their acting up, because she knew exactly what she would do no matter what they did, and because she focused her attention on what she was going to do, rather than on the behaviour of her daughters. She simply stood firm and made just one response to anything they said or did: "I want my sweater back".
After several hours of saying that, she also told them that she wanted her sweater back and if she didn't get it back by that evening, she'd ransack their wardrobes and throw all their clothes in the swimming pool. Her daughters could tell she meant exactly what she said.
Naturally such drastic action should be very far from a first resort, and should be thought through very carefully and not impulsively, or it could backfire, perhaps with the children becoming aggressive, or doing something to your things in revenge, or just thinking you're a bit emotionally unstable and respecting you and your authority less. But in this case, it worked.
One of the daughters started crying and asked her mother to give her time, saying she'd let one of her friends borrow the sweater, and she'd just been on the phone with her and asked her to bring it back the next morning.
The therapists mention a more extreme case of a child stealing and what her mother did:
A thirteen-year-old girl had been stealing for years. She'd just been in a juvenile detention centre because of it. But on the very first day she was home, her mother's new hairdryer went missing. The mother was sure the girl had given or traded it to her friends, but she had no hard evidence for that and knew her daughter would deny it if asked.
The therapists suggested to the mother that she announce to her family, which included three other children, that she was upset by losing her hairdryer, and that because she wanted to take care of herself and get a new one, she'd use some money to buy a new one, which would have to be the grocery money; and then they'd all be living on bread and water for a while till the amount of money it had cost had been made up. She did as advised, and said to her children that though she didn't like living on bread and water or putting the rest of the family on it, she preferred that to letting herself be upset without doing anything to take care of herself.
She didn't get her hairdryer back, but she did feel a nice sense of satisfaction at having stood up for herself for almost the first time.
The other children, apart from complaining to her about how unfair it was, had a lot to say to the one who stole things!
It's worth looking into the reasons why a teenager of yours is stealing, and not necessarily going straight in with discipline. For instance, it could be a sign that they have a drug habit, or that they're being pressured to steal by others.
The therapist who's written the book for therapists I've been reading says a ten-year-old boy was brought to him by his parents with a stealing habit. The court had referred him for therapy, because he had a long history of shoplifting from toy shops. He would also steal from fellow pupils at school, and "mouth off" to teachers and other school staff.
The boy had been adopted when he was three. His parents didn't know much at all about his biological parents. They'd been very pleased to be able to adopt the boy, but they said that since day one, he'd been difficult to raise. They called him a "little daredevil". They said he was always "testing their limits" and throwing temper tantrums, and he had begun to steal from them when he was eight.
They'd tried yelling at him and taking his toys away, but that didn't change his behaviour. At school, he was constantly in the principal's office, which had led to him being placed on a behaviour-disordered program in the school district.
The parents said their son would hang around with older boys who were "up to no good". One day, the mother had come back from work to find her son and some of these boys on the roof of her house.
He'd also been stopped a few times by security staff in shops where he'd been trying to steal "Game Boy" computer toys. The last time he'd been caught, the shop owner pressed charges.
The boy told the therapist he mainly hung around with boys in their mid teens. He was advanced for a ten-year-old and seemed tough and streetwise.
The therapist met with the boy alone for a while. He wanted to find out things from the boy's point of view, so he asked the boy how he could be helpful to him.
The boy complained that his parents would go through his bedroom drawers looking for things at home, and his probation officer sometimes made surprise visits to the house and his school.
The therapist asked the boy what he thought the parents might be looking for. The boy said they were looking for Game Boys.
The therapist wanted to find out more, so he asked him what he did with all the Game Boys he stole - whether he gave them to friends or sold them for money.
The boy had no problems talking about it. He said he did both.
He and the therapist got on well, talking about how much they both liked basketball.
When he met with the family again, the therapist asked them who they thought he ought to collaborate with in trying to find a solution to the boy's behaviour problems.
The parents suggested the probation officer, the school social worker, the school principal, and their church pastor, who was very concerned about the boy's behaviour.
The therapist suggested that during the next week, the parents experiment with not going through the boy's bedroom drawers, and that the boy stayed away from the older boys he tended to get into trouble with, and spent more time with a friend his own age. The boy agreed. The therapist said he would help to "get his probation officer off his back", and the boy was pleased. The therapist had a good working relationship with the probation officer, so he could easily negotiate with him to help his clients.
A meeting was set up between the family and the therapist, and the probation officer, the school social worker, and the family's church pastor. The school principal was asked to come, but he said he'd already given up on the boy and didn't have time to attend after-school meetings.
At the meeting, each person explained how they were involved with the boy's case. Then the pastor went into a "mini-sermon" about how worried he was that the boy would end up in a street gang if he didn't change. The parents said it might already be too late, by the looks of some of the older boys their son hung around with.
The boy said he used to hang around with two older boys he named who were gang members, but he said he had cut off contact with them, because they would take drugs and beat up kids in the neighbourhood.
The therapist was curious and asked the boy if those two older boys had had anything to do with him stealing Game Boys.
The boy said they had. He said the boys had threatened to "kick" his "ass" if he didn't steal for them.
This was news to all the people in the room. They'd had no idea the boy was being bullied to steal for the gang members.
The probation officer was concerned, and offered to intervene on the boy's behalf with the two gang members. He also said he'd "let the judge know the truth" about the boy's shoplifting situation at the next court date.
The boy thanked the probation officer, and told the group how scared he'd been about being caught stealing, and about how he'd been scared the gang might come after him if he stopped.
The school social worker and his parents offered to help out with support and protection. And the pastor offered to help with that by getting the boy in touch with a certain community leader who was respected by the gangs. He also said the community leader coached a basketball team for boys who were around the age of the boy in the room.
The boy got excited about being able to join that, and left the meeting more hopeful and in good spirits.
The next meeting between the group was scheduled for six weeks later. Before then, the therapist met with the family on their own twice more. The parents said their son was being a "good boy", who was now following their rules and had stopped stealing. Also, they hadn't received one single phone call from the school complaining that he was misbehaving.
The boy had also begun to meet the community leader, and had started taking part in his basketball practices, that had been arranged to "keep him off the streets".
In the next group meeting, everyone attended who'd come before, as well as the community leader who was the basketball coach. All the helpers and the basketball coach had nothing but praise for the boy and his progress. The parents also told the group how pleased they were with his progress. The mother brought a big cake she'd baked, as a thank you to them all for helping. Even the school principal, who'd given up on the boy before, was much more optimistic that the boy's new responsible behaviour was there to stay.
The group decided to meet one more time three months later.
The therapist ended up seeing the boy and his family four more times over the next six months. The boy's behaviour continued to improve both at home and at school. His mother no longer called him a "little daredevil", but said he had become a "responsible young man".
The boy had become one of the basketball coach's "star" players. And he got let off court supervision three months earlier than the judge had originally ordered, because he had made such good progress.
The book Uncommon Sense For Parents With Teenagers says it's common for parents to ask their teenagers about the grades they're getting at school rather than other things, because it's often the only way they know of showing interest in how their children are getting on at school and finding out how well they're doing, and because it's something they understand. But it says that if you focus on asking about your teenager's grades all the time rather than on other things about their schoolwork, they might feel as if you're pressuring or nagging them, and also as if their grades are the only thing that really matters to you about their schoolwork. Interesting conversations can be had, and you might even be able to spark their enthusiasm for some of their schoolwork more, if you ask them questions about what they're doing, what interests them and why, and so on.
Perhaps you could sometimes have conversations at the dinner table about school. The book suggests questions you could use to help you think of the kinds of things you could ask, like:
If you do manage to spark your child's enthusiasm for learning, their grades might improve without you ever mentioning them, because they'll be motivated to try harder in school. That's not to say mentioning them is a bad thing. It's just that it's good to have a balance between talking about grades and trying to help them get fulfilment out of learning or finding out if they're having difficulties so you can help them deal with them in some way.
The book says your children might be confused at first when you start talking about what they're actually getting out of learning. But it says in time, they might possibly come to enjoy discussions about the good and bad bits, and how it's helping them get new ideas or think more about various things or be pleased with themselves because they stuck with difficult problems, and so on.
If their grades are going down, you might be tempted to stop them doing out-of-school activities. But it might be best to try something else first. After all, if your children aren't allowed to go to them anymore, it doesn't mean they'll do any more work. They might spend the time moping in their room or chatting to friends on the computer, and so on. Or they might feel resentful towards you and so determine to do even less work. The book suggests that what might be better is if you raise the problem with them and say you're giving them the responsibility to sort it out, and that if their grades keep going down, you'll take it as a sign they might need to cut back on out-of-school activities, but that you won't ask them to give anything up if their grades improve.
It might be best to have a good talk to them where you ask why they think their grades are going down. It might have nothing to do with their recreational activities. It could be that the work's getting harder and they don't understand what they're being asked to do so well; it could be that they're feeling stressed about something so they can't concentrate; it could be that they're finding the work boring so they find it difficult to motivate themselves to do it, and so on. By talking to them and finding out what the problems are, you might find solutions that work better.
If you check on them to see if they've done their homework, try and find something you can compliment them on, to encourage them, even if they haven't done much but something they have done is good. Teenagers can easily become irritated and distracted if they think you're nagging them and not trusting them to do the work, but everyone likes compliments about what they have actually done.
There's a conversation where a teenager complains about his mother checking up on him while he's doing his homework in the book Uncommon Sense for Parents With Teenagers, which is the kind of conversation the author says teenagers often have with him:
Author: So, what exactly happens when you sit down to do your homework?
Student: Well, after talking to a friend or two on the phone and procrastinating for awhile I finally sit down and begin working. And I usually can get into it and get a lot done if I'm left alone! But that hardly ever happens. My brother wants to show me something in his room, or the TV is on loud and gets my attention. But even these aren't too bad; I mean I can get it back together after that.
Author: Then what's the problem?
Student: The problem is when my parents constantly check in on me and treat me like a little kid! I'll be reading or something and my mom will stick her head in (without knocking!), look at me and say, "Oh, I just wanted to see if you were still working." By the time she closes the door behind her I've lost it. I mean, what am I, ten or something? At that point I throw the book down in disgust and usually never open it again that night.
Author: Have you ever talked to her about this?
Student: I've tried, but all that happens is that she gets more slippery in how she checks in.
Author: What do you mean?
Student: Well, instead of directly asking about my homework she finds some excuse to talk to me: "Any dirty dishes in here?" or "Do you have a game tomorrow?" or "Do you want me to wake you in the morning?" But like the whole time she is staring at what book I'm reading and what is on my desk. It's just too obvious!
Author: Hmm, any chance she really is legitimate in what she is asking?
Student: Sure, but it's the way she does it and when she does it that gets to me. It's so transparent.
The book suggests that one thing that might work is if you make an arrangement with your teenager about homework you can both agree to, early on. You could suggest several options for what you both could do, and see which one they like. For instance, you could say something like:
"How about if we agree to a specific time when you'll do your homework, and me and dad could remind you of it if you forget and check up on you sometimes to see you're not getting distracted? Or how about if we go over each homework assignment with you every evening when you've finished, to see how well you've done on each one?"
You might be able to think of more options as well. You could ask them which one they like best. Then if you do something they've actually agreed to, they won't get so resentful.
Once they've got into a good routine of doing their homework, you could reduce the number of times you check on them.
One parent told the author of the book Uncommon Sense For Parents With Teenagers that she realised her and her husband were nagging her daughter too much about her homework, but she felt awful about not doing or saying anything. So she wanted something in between. She asked her daughter what she thought would be a good system, and her daughter said she thought it would be good if every night at around half past nine, they'd knock on the door and ask her what she'd like to drink, and then come up and bring tea or something into the room and all chat together about something light-hearted for about ten minutes before leaving her to carry on, letting her choose what to talk about, whether that be homework or something else. They decided that if her grades slipped, they'd take it as a cue that they needed to get more involved with her homework. They'd made that arrangement two months earlier, and discovered they hadn't needed to nag her once since. So they still felt like good parents. And they were enjoying the nightly chats.
The therapist who wrote the book for therapists I've read talks about how a family came to see him one day, after their eleven-year-old daughter's teacher had complained that she kept under-achieving in school, not handing in assignments, and talking back to the teacher. She had done well before, always getting A's and B's in tests and assignments.
The therapist asked the daughter, mother and stepfather what would be different if things were to get better.
The stepfather said the daughter would be handing in all her assignments on time. He said if that happened, he'd shout at her less.
The daughter said she was really sick of the way her stepfather kept nagging her about schoolwork. She asked her mum why she let him.
Her mum said they just wanted her to do well, and asked if she really thought they were putting too much pressure on her.
The daughter said, "Yes! Just leave me alone." Then she complained that her teacher sounded exactly like them, always nagging her and saying she knew she could do better, and it really annoyed her.
The daughter said she'd feel better if the teacher wasn't always asking to see her homework as soon as she walked in the door or nagging her like her parents did.
She said that if her parents and teacher stopped putting pressure on her, she'd be much better at handing in her homework on time and letting them see she was taking it to school.
Her teacher was told, and both parents and teacher decided to experiment with not putting pressure on her to do better at school. They discovered that when they stopped, her behaviour "dramatically improved".
If you can negotiate with your teenager about problems, you might find relations between you improving in the long term.
If teenagers' grades do start slipping badly though, it might not be to do with you not checking on their homework enough or nagging them too much. It might be nothing to do with school but with other stressful things in their lives that are playing on their minds and stopping them concentrating. It might help them to talk about those things with you, but they won't necessarily want to. Emailing them and saying you're happy to talk if they choose to email you whenever they'd like to might sometimes be more successful than approaching them directly, if you get the impression that doing that won't work.
Another thing teenagers can do if they're finding it hard to concentrate on their work because something's stressing them out is to have a way of dealing with worry.
The book Uncommon Sense For Parents With Teenagers says one way is if they put a pile of blank scraps of paper in one of the top corners of their desk before they start, and then every time a worry or just a distracting thought comes up in their minds, instead of getting absorbed in it, they write it down on a scrap of paper and then put it in a pile to be thought about afterwards. They write down the thought as briefly as they can - maybe four or five words if they can, and then put it face down on a pile in the opposite corner of their desk to the one they put the blank scraps of paper on, and carry on studying. They do the same every time a worry or distracting thought comes into their minds that would normally stop them concentrating.
They finish their homework several minutes before they normally would, put their books away, and then take the pile of bits of paper with the thoughts and worries on. They go through them one by one, thinking about each one in turn, spending half an hour looking at the bits of paper, or until they've thought about each one for a few minutes.
Then, they go and do something enjoyable for a while.
If they're distracted from homework because they just don't feel motivated to do it though, preferring to do more pleasurable things, a different approach would be best.
The book Uncommon Sense For Parents With Teenagers suggests that if your teenager's really good at a sport or something, and you can see they play to win, you could start talking about their schoolwork in terms like that - "You're so good when you're on the sports field; I can see you really play to win; but when you're doing your homework, you just seem to play not to lose instead of playing to win. How about playing to win?" That kind of thing sometimes helps people see things in a new way and get more enthusiastic. It might help them think of homework as a challenge to be overcome rather than a slog.
One more thing the book suggests is that one way of encouraging teenagers to get down to doing their homework is if you read or study something at the same time as they're working. You might not like the idea because you've worked all day, but they will have done that too, and they might feel resentful or fed up if you're relaxing in front of the television while yelling at them to go and do their work.
Then again, you might well be working, cooking, cleaning up the kitchen and so on.
The book Parent in Control advises that when your children first start off doing homework, to make it easier for them to discipline themselves to get down to it, it can be best if you set them a schedule, asking them to do their work between certain times, when you'll be around to see they are doing it. It says set it up so they're studying in a place that's easy for you to monitor, has a lot of flat space to stack books on, and is well lit. That might mean a table downstairs.
It's best if you can be there to get them started. The book advises that you check their homework books to see what they have to do, make sure they understand the work, and then check up on them every so often to see if they still understand what they're supposed to do, and to make sure they're still working.
The book says do this every evening, checking on them as much or as little as they seem to need. It says within a very few weeks, they might need only a minimum amount of supervision. But never completely stop checking to see they're still working and how they're getting on.
If the child refuses to start working, the book advises that one thing that can motivate them to begin is if you put a short, almost unbreakable pencil in their hand, put your hand over theirs, and begin to "help" them write. It doesn't matter if what's written isn't neat enough to read. Within one or two minutes, they'll probably shout, "I can do it myself!" or something, and start writing themselves, and you can just say "OK", and let them.
Or it says you could wait and wait with them till they start their homework, with a rule that they stay at the table till they've finished it, or till you want to go to bed. It says make it so they're not allowed to sleep or rest, get into conversations with other people, listen to music or have the television on or do other things, but must work till they've finished.
They might make all kinds of excuses as to why they have to leave the table, but if you're sure they're just excuses, don't feel you have to give in. If they don't finish their work that night, the book says make them carry on with it the next evening.
Don't lecture, nag, or otherwise provoke your children to argue with you. The book says if they try to argue, deflect and soak up their arguments. That is, instead of responding to any insults or any other provocative thing they might say to you, try not to take it personally, and respond by saying things like, "Regardless of how stupid I may be, finish your essay now." That kind of thing.
The book says unless you've often given in to your children when they've defied you in the past so they expect it, it will probably only take one or two hours for a difficult child to start doing their work, although some will hold out for as long as three or four hours. If they've been used to getting their way when they've defied you because you've often given up trying to make them do things in the past, they might hold out for a few days. But if you're consistent and don't give up this time, it says they'll eventually realise you mean what you say and you aren't going to change your mind this time, and they'll probably get down to doing their work.
It says if you've got a friend or family member who'd be willing to take turns with you at supervising them, it would take some of the pressure off you.
The book says if your children keep on resisting your attempts to make them do their homework, they might have a learning disability, or have come under the influence of classmates with a negative view of studying; or they might have had a gap in their earlier learning for some reason so they find what they're learning difficult to understand, because they haven't got enough background knowledge about how to do things. Or it could be that they were put off learning early by a bad experience at school so they don't believe they can do the work, such as if someone who's finding it difficult to learn to read has their confidence in their ability shattered by a teacher often telling them they're stupid rather than encouraging them and trying to find ways to help them.
The book says that if your child has a history of not doing very well at schoolwork, or if they have been found to have some kind of learning disability, it might be worth you hiring a tutor just for them, who is patient, caring but firm, and experienced. One-to-one attention can often really help.
It says if you can't afford to hire a professional tutor, you could try phoning your local college or university's student employment office to see if you can get an inexpensive but patient, firm and caring student to tutor your child.
It says if you can't find any help, you may have to do the tutoring yourself.
It says you might also want to consider whether a medical evaluation might be useful, to see if they've got any condition that would respond to drug treatment or that would get them extra help from the authorities with their education.
But the book says one of the most important things you can do to help them succeed with their education will be to guide them away from children with anti-school, anti-authority attitudes. It can help with that if you do your best to get them involved in after-school activities. They might include sports, helping organise concerts, drama productions, quizzes and the like - perhaps to raise money for the school. There might be a lot of activities going on at your school, or maybe you could even help arrange something.
The book says if there's a school newspaper, your child might benefit and get some good experience working for that. It says most of the kids who work on one will be the well-motivated ones likely to end up at college who might be good for your child to be around, and where there will be a lot of adult involvement and supervision.
The book advises that every time your children truant or seriously misbehave at school, you do your best to be there in class with them the next day. It says soon, they are likely to make sure they stop misbehaving because they don't want that to happen.
It says if you have a set time when you expect your child to do their homework and they get used to doing it then, they'll get into the habit of doing it then. If you don't have a set time, they might well wait for you to remind them; and if you forget, there are some children who'll forget with you.
The book says though having a schedule for their homework and parents who insist they stick to it might be irksome for children at first, when they discover they've become good at the work, can answer questions well in class because of the studying they've done, find the work easier to do because they've practised doing work like that, and begin to get good marks in class assignments and tests, it may be that they'll begin to feel a sense of accomplishment and be pleased with themselves. That'll boost their self-esteem, so they end up feeling better about themselves. When they think about how you helped them, they'll feel closer to you.
On the other hand, try to get a balance between schoolwork and recreational activity, not focusing all your attention on trying to get them to be the best student they can be, or they could get quite stressed.
A ten-year-old boy called Simon was brought to the therapist who wrote the book for therapists I've read, by his parents, because he kept soiling himself. No medical problem had been discovered. His parents were both professors at a major university. They kept putting pressure on him to get the best grades, especially his father. The father was always pushing him to do his homework and study harder. He used to get top grades, but they'd begun to fall more and more. At the same time, his soiling problem increased from a few times a week to almost every day.
When the therapist met alone with the boy, the boy told him how angry he was that his father kept putting so much pressure on him to do well at school. The therapist wondered if the soiling problem was a subconscious way of getting back at the father for all the pressure he was putting on the boy about his schoolwork, though it never worked, because it just made the father angrier, so the boy was at a loss as to what to do, feeling frustrated and angry.
The therapist wondered if it would change things if the boy plucked up the courage to confront his father about how uncomfortable he was about all the pressure he was putting on him about his work, something the boy had never done before.
The therapist asked the family questions about whether there was anything in what he was thinking, and the boy plucked up the courage to tell his father just how angry and frustrated he was about all the fuss he made about his work, for the very first time.
The father hadn't realised. They had a good talk after that.
The therapist got the father to agree to stop putting so much pressure on the boy to excel at school, as long as the boy just did the best he could. The father also agreed to start taking his son on outings on Saturdays again, which he'd stopped doing when the boy's school grades began to fall.
The parents were very pleased with what happened, because the boy's soiling problem had stopped after six therapy sessions.
If your child's getting terrible grades, you could try having a heart-to-heart with them to try to find out why. It could be because of a number of things.
You could question them about whether they understand the work. If they don't, it could be because of lack of concentration due to boredom, the work being genuinely too difficult for them, or other things, including that their teachers are incompetent. The book Parent in Control advises that if their teachers don't promptly inform you about homework not being handed in, class assignments not being done on time, poor achievement, missed lessons, and truanting, you speak to the school to try to get that changed. Also speak to the child's teachers to see if they have any insights into what your children's problems are.
If the worst comes to the worst, you could try changing their school.
If your child is truanting, try asking them about it and seeing if they'll tell you why. Perhaps they're being bullied. It might be that some of the teachers publicly humiliate them by mocking them in class.
But if you end up suspecting that it's just that they've got involved with a group of friends who think it's cool to truant and look down on studying, try and get them back into the habit of being at school all day. If you feel it would help, the book Parent in Control Advises that you could even walk them to school on a few days and stay with them there, or walk them from class to class between lessons. It says it'll probably only need to happen once before they decide they don't want it to happen again and stay in school without your help.
If you can't go there yourself, the book says see if another family member will. It says perhaps their grandma can. It says your child might make up some excuse as to why you were there, but it might be more difficult to invent one about why she's there.
It says go with them to school every time they seem to need it, and again, be as consistent as you can. If you make a big deal about them truanting some days and ignore it on other days, they'll think you're being unfair and argue with you more when you do make a fuss, because they'll be used to you not making one. If you have to walk with them to school every day, think of it as an investment in their future.
The book says if the school does nothing whatsoever to help keep truants there, your job might be more difficult. It says you could try and get the school to change its policies. If they won't, it says maybe a change of school would be best if you can manage it.
The book says if you hear that your children are continually misbehaving in school, go with them one time to observe what's going on at those times. If the misbehaviour is said to happen in the classroom, observe who seems to be starting it, what triggers it off, and whether you think it's something that happens among students, or whether it's something to do with their interaction with the teacher that irritates them. If your child's misbehaviour happens in the playground, go there and observe what's happening.
The book says often the problem is with an incompetent or poorly-trained teacher who doesn't know how to keep control of a class. It says if you realise that's going on in your own child's class, it might be worth you asking the school administration if they could move your child to a different class.
But it says that if you realise that it's your child rather than the teacher who's the problem, the next time you get a report of serious misbehaviour, go and sit next to them in class and tell them how to behave. Once will probably be enough if the teacher's good at controlling the rest of the class.
It says misbehaviour often happens in playgrounds where children aren't well-supervised and they're just left to do what they like. It says if you notice that's the case, you could try asking the school if they'd put more adults on the playground to supervise the children. They could organise play for younger children as well. With older children, in schools where things are so out of control that kids typically fight, start fires in rubbish bins, sexually harass girls, smoke, use drugs and intimidate other kids into giving them money, see if the school can be persuaded to put a lot more adults on the playground to supervise it.
It says if your child's in a school like that, have a go at arguing the case to get enough supervision on the playgrounds to protect all the students, perhaps teaming up with other parents to campaign for it; or try and get your child into a different school.
Not all teenagers will go through such a phase, I don't suppose, but teenagers are stereotypically moody, as you probably know. The book I've been reading called Uncommon Sense For Parents With Teenagers says that one thing that might help you relate to your teenager better is if you understand their moods.
It says one common thing is that they might be all grumpy with you and seem embarrassed to be with you, and get annoyed when you tell them things, when they used to think of you as a fount of wisdom and they loved to be with you. The change in their attitude is a normal teenage thing. It's part of growing up and becoming independent of you. It doesn't always mean anything serious is wrong.
You might be puzzled as to why they used to enjoy chatting to you about what happened at school that day when they came in, but now they perhaps just reply in very short sentences if you ask them about their day or seem irritated, and want to get away up to their bedroom as soon as they can, and then just sit there listening to music! But it's possible they might just be growing in awareness about themselves and the world around them and just want time on their own to think things through.
For instance, the book Uncommon Sense For Parents With Teenagers says a teenager wrote an article for his school newspaper that said:
When I get home, I have had a full day of school, and usually a lot has happened. I often sit around for a while, and think about what has happened. I sit there and analyze everything I said and did. I try to figure out what I did wrong and what I did right. I try to discover more about the people I talked to that day. What did she mean by that? Did he know I was just kidding? Did I hit a sore spot, or was she just generally pissed off? These are just basic questions that go through my head. So much goes on in my head, and no stone is left unturned. That school day cannot be resolved until everything has been completely settled in my mind.
Basically, I cannot do any work until I have dealt with what has happened. Usually this means I have a late start on my work, thus putting me in a position where I have to skip a bit on my homework.
Not all teenagers will be like that, naturally, but the book says that's what can be going on when teenagers seem to be just sitting on their bed listening to music and not wanting to talk to you.
Just as adults often want to just relax and contemplate the day or just forget it for a while when they get in from work, teenagers can feel the same way when they get in from school.
That's also one reason why teenagers can feel pressured if they're expected to start their homework too soon after they come back from school.
Some teenagers over-analyse things and get depressed about things that weren't really significant, thinking they were more important than they really were. So it is good to catch up on what they've been doing and talk anything through with them they want to tell you about later.
A mother phoned the author of the book Uncommon Sense For Parents With Teenagers about these things, and said she'd changed her routine recently, so instead of trying to get her teenager to talk to her when she came in from school, she'd say something like,
"Hard day today? Why don't you get some juice and go listen to music in your room for a while. It'll help you relax. I'll call you in about an hour for dinner, and we can catch up then."
She said since she'd started doing that, things had quietened down quite a bit between herself and her daughter, and her daughter was telling her more things than she used to.
One teenager, when asked for advice for parents by the author of the book Uncommon Sense for Parents with Teenagers , said,
Be encouraging and interested in your child. Although it's nice not to have nosey parents always pressuring me about what's going on at school, sometimes I feel ignored and neglected when they are indifferent to my daily life.
The book says your teenager might be moody because of problems with pressures at school or from friends, and dilemmas over growing up, and they might take their moods out on you. So try not to take their attitudes and the things they say to you personally. A lot of parents find their children adored them when they were young, but now they seem embarrassed to even be associated with them. When children get into their teenage years, they can become very sensitive about what other people think of them, and start feeling as if it's extremely important to fit in with friends; and anything that might lower them in their friends' opinion, such as seeming less grown-up by having their parents walk with them to the school gate, or anything else that might mean they don't fit in, can seem important to avoid. So it's not necessarily that they think less of you, but that they've come to think that what their friends think is really important, and, for instance, if their friends like to wear what they think are the coolest clothes, and your child used to enjoy wearing the style of clothes you wear, which is different, they might reject that style altogether saying they don't want to look as old as you, or something just as uncomplimentary. But they're probably not doing that because they feel like snubbing you; they might well just think what their friends think they should be like is a very important consideration, as if they assume their friends are the wisest people around.
A few years afterwards they might start branching out and adopting their own style, not caring so much about their friends' approval. But teenagers tend to go through a phase where what their friends think is extremely important to them. If they're scared they might be ridiculed for even trivial things, such as not having any hair under their armpits when everyone else has, it can seem an issue of such tremendous importance that they can refuse to change for gym in front of other people because they don't want anyone to see. If someone's rude to them and says a sandwich they're eating looks like vomit, they might never want to eat sandwiches like that in public again. A few years later, they'll start getting things in their proper perspective. Twenty years on and they might look back and think it's strange that the opinion of thirteen-year-olds could have seemed so grown-up and important to them. But when they're not very experienced with life, before they've met a wider variety of people with differing opinions, they can think the other kids in their class know best what's right and wrong and what's cool and what's not, and they don't want to be laughed at for being less cool or looking foolish.
One of the worst effects of that is that if their friends are all experimenting with sex and drugs and alcohol and tobacco, and their friends ridicule one person in the class who isn't doing that, unless that person has very firm values and enough confidence to stand up for those values against the tide of opinion, they may well feel pressured into going along with the others, because they feel so bad about being ridiculed or looked down on.
But your teenager might want to go along with the experimenting because they're enticed into thinking it'll be fun, or they try it a bit and then want more. Discussing the pros and cons of that kind of behaviour with them can help; but if they think it feels good, or the ridicule of their friends makes them feel bad if they don't go along with them, their feelings might be more of an influence on them than what you've discussed with them, since feelings can be very strong.
That's one reason supervising children in their spare time can protect them.
Another way your teenager might take out their feelings on you is if they snap at or shout at you or get grumpy with you. It may be that they'll often do that without telling you what the matter is, and then the next day be perfectly happy again, leaving you at a loss to understand what on earth happened. Try not to take it personally. It might have had nothing at all to do with you. They might be taking their moods out on you as if you're the one they're angry with, when really, their problems might be to do with friends or school or something else.
So if you're tempted to write your child off as just plain obnoxious, you could consider that although it might just be that, there might be more to it. To give an example from the book Uncommon Sense for Parents with Teenagers :
Imagine a father has a 17-year-old daughter. On Saturday afternoon, she's moping around the house. Her father asks her what's wrong and she just shrugs his question away as usual, not telling him anything. Her father doesn't say any more, since he's learned that trying to get her to talk usually just makes her irritated and they end up arguing.
His daughter gets several phone calls during the afternoon that seem to make her mood worse. Later, her father asks her if she wants to borrow the car that night, wondering whether to leave it out or put it in the garage, and she yells at him to leave her alone. At the dinner table she isn't eating much. Her mother says she ought to eat more, and she screams something abusive at her and storms out of the room. Later, her mother goes to see her and she's crying. Her mother tries to talk to her, but after talking for a couple of minutes she gets annoyed and tells her mother to go away.
But the next day, she goes to play volleyball with some friends, and when she comes back, she's really cheerful. You might wonder what on earth was going on there.
There are several possibilities:
Perhaps something else was the matter.
If you can think up several possible explanations for your teenager's behaviour, you'll take it less personally, and it might help you reach out to them with more understanding. Recognising that there might be trivial reasons for their behaviour might help you to put anxiety on hold till you know more, although thinking there might be serious ones might motivate you to try to find some way to reach out to them more.
If your teenager won't talk to you, perhaps they'd respond to an email saying you don't want to pressure them, but that if they want to talk or respond to the email by emailing you telling you a bit about what the matter is at any time, you want to be there for them. That might work better than trying to start a conversation with them, because they won't feel pressured to respond right then and can respond in their own time, so they might give a more thoughtful reply. Also they might feel touched to know you care enough to write out a letter or email.
Their concerns might be serious or trivial or a mixture of both. Teenagers can have a mix of adult and childish attitudes, and some in between.
Another reason teenagers might get moody with you is because they're stressed. You might notice a pattern of them being moody just before exams, and at other significant times. The book Uncommon Sense For Parents With Teenagers says it may be that they'll start wanting to talk about stressful things that happened in the past at those times, such as if their parents got divorced a few years earlier. If such things are still playing on their minds, then extra stress, caused by things like exams, might make them start thinking about them more. So that's one thing that could be borne in mind if they get unusually moody or start acting up.
The book says it's not necessarily unhealthy if they want to talk about stressful things from the past again. They'll see things from a more sophisticated perspective as teenagers than they did as a child, so it's understandable if they want to re-examine things with it.
A big advantage of investigating activities they might like to do where there are responsible adults supervising them is that they can build up a network of friends who like doing the kinds of things they enjoy. It means that not only won't they be going to drunken parties underage with friends, but they'll be making friends who aren't going to them either, so they won't be lonely and feel left out of what their friends are doing. Feeling left out of things is apparently a big motivator for teenagers to do more risky things, such as starting to drink alcohol so they're in the mood to talk with drunk people, instead of being sober and not feeling like joining in with the silliness.
The book Uncommon Sense For Parents With Teenagers talks about how teenagers can feel very lonely sometimes and want to join in with what others are doing because they want to build up closer friendships with them. If they're enjoying themselves with friends who aren't doing risky things, they can go to school on Monday and not feel envious when kids in their class tell them about the drunken shenanigans they got up to, because they'll have enjoyed themselves doing whatever they did instead. And if they know binge drinking's risky because you've had a good discussion with them about the risks, then they might be thankful they didn't join in. And hopefully they'll make friends at school with people who enjoy doing similar things to what they've come to enjoy - drama maybe, or some kind of sport, or building model railways, or doing voluntary work in a friendly team helping less fortunate people, or whatever they've chosen to do. If they do make friends doing such things, they'll want to spend time with them, so their need for friendship will be fulfilled, so they won't be hanging around the ones who get drunk and take other risks and start craving to do what they do because they want to feel part of a group and don't want to feel left out.
The book Uncommon Sense For Parents With Teenagers says that if you do suspect your teenager might be getting involved with friends who might lead them to do risky things, instead of approaching them with anxiety or disapproval, it can encourage them to discuss things with you more if you take a curious approach, interested to know more, and then discuss the matter with them as you would with an adult friend who was taking such risks, discussing them with them and asking them how they feel about them, hoping they'll come to their own sensible conclusions. The trouble is that if you say condemning things about their friends and try to stop them seeing them by telling them how much you disapprove of them, they might get angry and defensive and just want to be around them more. They might think about things less and just react to the criticism in anger by wanting to be defiant. It's best if you can avoid them becoming defensive about their friends and their actions in being with them by calmly asking them intelligent questions that make them think more, and then discussing risks with them and asking them what they think, as if you're curious, rather than as if you know better than them and are going to criticize them and put them down as soon as they say the wrong thing.
The book says it's the same if they suddenly do something unexpected that might make you worry about what's going on, like starting to wear lurid colour schemes or getting various parts of their body pierced. You might feel anxious about why they're doing it and be tempted to show it as anger against them and criticize them harshly for doing it. But again, that'll just make them defensive. And even if they stop doing what you're criticizing them for, you'll have closed down communication between you, because they won't feel like telling you anything about why they started doing it. It might simply have been that they wanted to be admired, or wanted to fit in with their friends. They might simply want to experiment with different looks to see which one suits them. If you take a curious approach where you want to find out more and then thoughtfully discuss pros and cons with them, you might find out more what's going on with them and be able to influence them more in the long term.
Then again, you might have to take a tougher approach if you find out they're dressing like gangsters or other types of delinquents, or sexually provocatively. It might not be just the clothing they're into but the behaviour as well. Even if they're not into the behaviour, dressing in certain ways will attract certain types of people to them who will encourage them to become involved in it.
Your teenagers might also want to experiment with other things, such as looking into different types of spirituality, some you may disapprove of. You can approach that with the same kind of curiosity and discussion of pros and cons. The more they're guided to think for themselves, the better. And investigating different things like that is part of growing up and learning about the world and who they want to be. They might go through several different phases of trying out different things before they decide on what they're happiest with.
The book Uncommon Sense For Parents With Teenagers says don't try to pretend to be perfect parents. Your teenager might actually respect you more if you admit to making mistakes and being wrong sometimes, because if they think you're making yourself out to be perfect and then see you doing things wrong or things you tell them they shouldn't do, they'll disrespect you as hypocritical.
Also, it says if you acknowledge it when you're wrong, it can teach them to feel confident admitting their own faults. If you keep trying to shift the blame for your mistakes onto others, they'll learn to do that. But if parents are willing to accept responsibility when they're wrong, it can encourage their teenagers to admit to their faults; and when they do that, they're in a better position to think about their behaviour and make efforts to change for the better.
Teenagers can be especially sensitive to criticism. The teenage years can be the time when people feel most self-conscious and most fearful of feeling vulnerable by being belittled. Even jokey criticism can have quite an effect on them.
For example, one teenager told the author of the book Uncommon Sense For Parents With Teenagers how they'd been trying to lose weight and would often belittle themselves by thinking they were too fat, but they thought they'd made quite a bit of progress in stopping doing that. But one evening, they'd been studying hard, and when they finished, they were in the mood for a snack. They went down to the kitchen, and looked to see what there was. There wasn't much, but there was some ice-cream. They got a small bowlful and took it upstairs. They met their father on the way, who looked at it and looked at them and said, "Are you sure you want to be eating that? If you're not careful, the fat will sneak up on you!" They knew it was meant to be quite a light-hearted comment, but it felt like criticism to them. They gritted their teeth and went to their room, and then went downstairs later and ate all the ice-cream, just to spite him. But after that, they felt guilty and started worrying about being fat again.
Finding ways to compliment your teenager regularly might relieve them of some of their anxiety about their self-image or what others think.
The therapist who wrote that book for therapists I've read talks about a few things he recommends people to do:
Look out for the times when your problems with your children don't seem to be so bad, and ask yourself what you're doing differently at those times to make the difference. And think back to the past, to see if you can remember times when the problems weren't so bad. Again, ask yourself what you were doing differently at those times that helped.
One thing you can try is keeping a notebook to put notes of successful problem-solving attempts in. Every time you think of how you solved a problem successfully, write a note of it in the notebook and keep it, so you can look back at the notes to remind yourself of your successes from time to time, to encourage yourself and remind yourself of what worked in the past so might be worth trying again.
You could also write notes of things that encourage you that you must at least be doing some things right as a parent, such as when your child does well in a subject at school or has a sporting success, or you discover they've got a talent for something. You could also write about your own achievements, to encourage you when you look back at what you've written.
Perhaps you could see if your children are interested in writing similar things for themselves.
Here's another idea from the therapist who wrote that book advising therapists on things they can suggest that clients do that could help them:
One thing that could help create a better family atmosphere is if you have a compliment box, which could be a shoe box or something similar, which you cut a slit in the top of. Every day, everyone in the family thinks of something nice they can say about another family member, and they write a note of it and put it in the box. Then every evening, the box is opened, and someone reads all the compliments.
If there are any particularly nice ones, the people who have been given them could keep them to remind themselves of them.
Sometimes, children can change their behaviour for the better more in response to praise than in response to criticism. They can see criticism as nagging and tune it out, or get resentful and play up more because of their anger. But compliments, as long as they're sincere, can give them a good feeling of encouragement. And if they like that feeling, they'll want to feel it more. So they might want to do more of what pleases you, partly so you'll show how pleased you are, so they can experience the good feeling more.
Give your children credit for developing wisdom, and don't be afraid to seek their own insights into problems sometimes.
A couple came to see the therapist who wrote the book for therapists I've read with their ten-year-old daughter. Her mother was finding it difficult to cope with her daughter's temper tantrums, and the fact that she would always try to get away with things she knew her mother didn't want her to, and wouldn't put her belongings away. The mother thought her daughter might have emotional problems because of her asthma.
She didn't work, had only one friend, and spent most of her spare time taking care of and entertaining her daughter. The father was away a lot because he was a pilot.
The parents thought of their daughter as their special child, because they'd lost three babies to miscarriage, and she was their only child. Also they were protective of her because her asthma attacks had nearly led to her dying twice. The mother was still upset about that.
The therapist asked the daughter whether she had any advice for the parents that could help things at home.
The daughter said her mother worried too much, always asking her if she'd taken her medicine and had her inhaler with her. She said it really annoyed her. It felt as if her mother didn't trust her.
Her father asked her if there were in fact times when she'd forgotten to take her medicine and her inhaler to school.
The daughter said she had sometimes but not very often.
The therapist asked the daughter if she had any advice for her mother that would help her worry less about her.
The daughter suggested her mother go out with her friend more, saying she sat around the house too much. She suggested she could go to the shops more, or get a part-time job, perhaps like the one she used to have.
The mother said her daughter was right - she should get out more, but she just worried a lot about her.
She hadn't heard her daughter's point of view before, so her views were news to her.
Things changed after that. The mother did eventually get a part-time job and made a few friends there. Once she'd stopped checking up on her daughter so often, her daughter's behaviour improved, especially in taking the medication and carrying her inhaler around.
In a later therapy session, the therapist helped the mother mourn the loss of her three babies to miscarriage. That and nearly losing her daughter to asthma attacks had stopped her taking care of her own needs outside of being a mother.
Sometimes, if a child doesn't seem to want to talk about family problems and anything that's making them unhappy, they'll still be willing to express their feelings and wishes through imaginative play or art. It can also be another way to get your child's insights on some things, and you might find them very helpful. Perhaps you could try with your children some of the things the therapist who wrote the book I've been reading for therapists tried:
One thing he tries with some children is asking them to imagine they're in a time machine, where they can go back or forward to any time they like. He asks them to imagine what they'd do in the time they went to, really imagining they were there and describing the experience in detail. That can help the parents work out what they'd like to see more of in their lives. For instance, if a child imagines going back to a time a few years earlier when the family went on a nice trip to the seaside, the parents could discuss with them why they enjoyed it so much, and whether there are things about it they'd like in their lives now, like having more fun with the family.
A ten-year-old boy was brought to the therapist because he was being disruptive in class. He didn't respect authority and would be argumentative. His mother said he was very bright and talented and was underachieving in school. He would argue with his stepfather a lot. He hadn't seen his real father since he was five.
The therapist suggested that him and his mother and stepfather take turns at going in the imaginary time machine. The boy seemed excited about the idea and wanted to go first. He imagined going back to 1953 and climbing Mount Everest with the team of Edmund Hillary and joining in their historic achievement. He'd just learned about it at school. He imagined he was there, feeling cold, but excited to have climbed to the top, being one of the first ever people there.
When talking about why he'd wanted to imagine going there, he talked about how boring he found his current life, especially his teacher. He wanted more excitement in life, and he'd love the family to go on an adventure holiday together.
His mother thought he must be longing for more variety in his life and want to go to a better school where he'd get more intellectual stimulation. His father, who loved cycling, offered to take him on a weekend cycling trip. The boy liked that idea.
They worked on other issues and managed to resolve arguments the son and stepfather were having about the son doing his chores. And the mother eventually managed to get the son into a better school.
Another thing the therapist tries is a game where the family imagine inventing things to make the world better. Families could try the game on their own.
He says a ten-year-old girl was brought for therapy by her mother for "constantly arguing about everything". Her parents had recently divorced after a one-year separation. The girl was "refusing to do her chores" and starting to go around with "troublemakers" in the area. But despite all that, she still got good grades in school.
The therapist found out that her favourite subject was science, so he thought he'd be able to use that in a therapy task. As a way to ease the tension in the room and shift the conversation away from complaints that the girl and her mother both had for one another, he asked them to imagine they were inventing something. Other families had come up with things like a special television people could walk through to join the characters in their favourite TV shows, or to become new characters in video games, and something that could make people fly so they could get to places more quickly.
The girl took the lead in trying to brainstorm ideas with her family. She came up with the idea of a pill people could take when they were stuck in a pattern of always arguing with each other, which would make them unable to swear, yell at or blame each other. The mother had some ideas for what the pill could do as well, and her and her daughter discussed how it would make people only able to give each other compliments and praise, and to say other positive things to each other without shouting. They both agreed that such a pill would make families stronger, and would probably make the world a better place.
The girl and her mother decided to imagine taking the pill every day, to see if it would help them communicate with each other better.
Two weeks later, the family came back feeling more cheerful, saying that the pill had helped them get along better. Both the mother and daughter said that every time they'd been tempted to provoke the other one, an image of the pill had flashed before their eyes, so they remembered not to be hostile to each other.
Sometimes, children can solve their own emotional problems with their imagination:
A ten-year-old girl was brought to see the therapist because of an anxiety problem she had. She was fearful of talking or singing in front of others. Her parents said she would get panicky in school or church when she had to give a talk in front of other people or sing with the children's choir. Sometimes, she'd get so nervous she'd start crying or run off the stage at church.
Her parents didn't understand where her fear of talking or singing in public had come from. It had started a couple of years earlier. She didn't seem to be able to explain it either.
The therapist met alone with her for a while. He thought it might help if she imagined she was someone she admired while she sang or talked. She was good at arty things and being creative, so he thought she might be good at it.
The therapist says he sometimes tries that technique with children who aren't achieving what they perhaps could. He says he asks them to imagine they're someone they really admire, such as a famous person from history, a close friend they really respect, or a celebrity from film or TV or music. Once the child has a clear image in their mind of who they want to become for a while, the therapist encourages them to close their eyes and make the image as detailed as they can.
First, he asks them to imagine they're actually talking to the person they want to be like. So he asks questions like:
Then he asks the child to imagine merging with the person and actually becoming them. They can imagine it's happening fairly slowly, with them first shaking hands with them and then gradually becoming them. That may sound like a weird thing to do. But the therapist says that when they imagine themselves becoming them, they often start to behave more confidently, and their voice and posture often change as well.
Before asking the child to imagine they're their admired person when they're actually in the situation they have a problem with, the therapist asks them to imagine they're the person a few times a day for the next week, since the better they get at imagining they're them, the more easily they'll be able to imagine they're the person when they're in the problem situation.
After they've had a week of practice, the therapist asks the child to show him how quickly they can imagine becoming the other person.
Then he asks them to imagine they're that person actually dealing with the problem that's bothering them. One boy who kept only getting C grades in quizzes in class and who was sometimes disruptive imagined he was the "smartest kid in his class". The next day he went to school and not only got A grades in two quizzes, but behaved himself for the whole day. His teacher was amazed, and phoned his parents to tell them and to congratulate the child.
The therapist says he gets people to imagine they're other people because it's been found by others that sometimes when people imagine being more successful people, they actually become more successful. He says there was a university professor who took a group of boys growing up in poverty who weren't doing well in school, and asked each of them to imagine they were someone they knew who was very clever. Then he asked them to take a test imagining they were them. They all did a lot better than they normally would.
As for the girl who got panicky when she had to give a talk or sing in front of others, she imagined herself as pop star Whitney Houston. She was very good at it. She imagined herself becoming Whitney Houston every day for a week, and when the family came back for the next therapy session, the parents said she seemed more self-confident. The therapist said the girl seemed more relaxed, and she said she'd found the technique helpful.
But her real challenge would be in two weeks' time, when she had to sing in the children's choir at a church in a concert in front of a large crowd. The therapist told her to carry on imagining she was Whitney Houston, but to imagine she was actually singing at that church from then on, and that she was giving a great performance. She found it quite easy to do that, since she'd seen the church before so she knew what it was like.
At the concert itself, the girl was full of confidence, and held her head high and sang throughout the whole concert. Her parents were really pleased with her. By that time, there were no more signs of fears at church or at school. So the family's next therapy session was their last.
The therapist says another thing he does with anxious or depressed children is to get them to imagine the problem is something solid, or that they can physically do something to get rid of it. So, for instance, they can imagine it's an icicle in their hand that's melting, or that they can give their depressing or anxious thoughts a big Karate chop to stop them, or that they have a traffic light in their mind turning red to stop the depressing or anxious thoughts. Or they can imagine hearing things that block out the upsetting thoughts, like their favourite song being played loudly over them.
It may be that the more you talk with your teenager about a wide range of things, the more you'll understand them and be able to bond with them.
According to the book Uncommon Sense For Parents With Teenagers, when teenagers themselves ask parents for advice, sometimes, they don't really want to be told what to do, but just want to use you as a sounding board for their own ideas, and the reassurance that they'll be able to work things out. So instead of telling them what they should do, it can sometimes help to ask them questions about what they think the best courses of action are, and then to discuss each one with them, pointing out pros and cons and asking whether they've considered them and what they think about them, giving your own input as if you're a consultant suggesting things they could do, rather than a manager telling them what to do.
When they were younger, they might have liked being told what to do. But now they're becoming independent, they like to think for themselves more. The trouble is, they might not be able to explain what they want fully to you, but simply get irritated with you. But they'll probably really want more control over their lives than they had before.
I think I understand what the book's saying. Perhaps this story can illustrate the attitude of some teenagers and the way parents can get on better with them:
I once read a message on an Internet forum from someone who said he was hired by the owners of a couple of hotels in China to advise on ways they could make improvements so the hotels would become more appealing to Western visitors. He did a lot of research into the matter and believed he had some very good ideas. But all his ideas were rejected by the first hotel owners. He realised afterwards that that was because he'd told them what to do, so if they'd done what he told them and he was right and things improved, it would mean a loss of face for them, because it would look as if they'd been getting things wrong all that time before, which would have damaged their reputations and hurt their pride. They were actually losing money, but that wasn't so important as their pride. The man said that while if he'd been running a hotel himself that was losing money and he'd hired people to make changes that made it more profitable, he'd think hiring them had been a good move on his part, the Chinese hotel owners would think it made them look bad, because it would mean they'd been doing things wrong before. So they'd prefer to keep losing money than accept his ideas and risk people thinking they were incompetent on their own. They wouldn't necessarily look incompetent as it was, even though their hotel was losing money, because they could blame its failure to make money on the economy, or even on him.
The man changed tactics with the directors of the second hotel he advised. Instead of telling them what to do, he discussed it with the president of the board of directors as if he was asking him what he thought about the ideas, asking him questions about what to do in various situations that had obvious answers, but which would make it look as if the president was having a say in things. He would say , "Here are some possible ideas. What do you think?", guiding the director towards what he thought should be done.
So it was as if he gently persuaded them to adopt his ideas instead of telling them what to do. The president got the credit for making the decisions about what to do and everyone thought the ideas were good. They all knew they were his ideas really, but since the president could come out of it looking good, that made the difference.
So he'd presented exactly the same ideas to the two sets of hotel owners, but the first time they were rejected, and the second time, with the different approach, they were a great success.
So perhaps some of your teenager's resistance to what you know to be for the best might be happening because they feel over-controlled, or it hurts their pride to think they still need to be told what to do by their parents. If you speak to them in a much more adult way as if you want them to have more of a say in things, they might come around to your point of view a lot more quickly, even though you're presenting the same ideas to them that you were before.
The book Uncommon Sense For Parents With Teenagers says that also, sometimes your teenager might be asking for advice because they've temporarily lost their confidence in their own ability to make decisions. So telling them what to do would just make them feel as if you weren't confident in them either and make them feel less confident. Asking them what ideas they have about what to do and then talking them through with them could increase their confidence in themselves.
And when you do that, you're helping them learn to make good decisions, which is a skill they'll need when they become independent.
Then again, when they ask for advice, they might sometimes genuinely be asking you to give them some guidance that's more like telling them what to do. So if they keep asking after the first time, you could try giving them advice based on your own opinion of what they should do.
If they make bad decisions, it isn't necessarily a bad thing in the long-term, depending on what they are, since if they learn by them, they'll be all the wiser.
But to help them make good decisions, do your best to become informed about the effects of the kinds of things teenagers are often faced with - alcohol, drugs, sexually transmitted diseases, contraceptives and the most frequent causes of their failure, and that kind of thing, so you can talk to your teenager about the pros and cons of things in as informed a way as possible, to help them make the best decisions.
While you're informing yourself, you might find out things that surprise you, such as that cannabis is often much stronger than it was in the 1960s, and that some common sexually transmitted diseases cause infertility, or that using condoms perfectly won't stop some diseases being transmitted because skin-to-skin contact can transmit them, or that there are several instructions condom users have to follow to make sure a condom is safe to use.
Don't be afraid to go into detail with your teenagers when discussing the pros and cons of various behaviours. After all, if there's a possibility they might start doing them, they'll need to know enough information to take the risks into account.
But don't exaggerate the harm some things can do, otherwise when they find out those things are less harmful than that, they'll stop believing what you say, and might actually become less cautious than they should be about those behaviours, and do them.
You might feel uncomfortable talking about sex with your teenager, but if you don't talk about it with them, you can't guarantee that anyone who can give them any good advice will. Your teenager might not learn that much in school. So it's best if you do talk to them, and maybe get others to do so if you think they could do it better, like older siblings or friends. Or at least you could give them good informative articles to read.
One thing your teenager might well not learn about at school is what effect sex can have on relationships. For instance, it can make a couple feel close when really, they're not all that compatible personality-wise, so it can lead people into relationships that don't last, and then one or both teenagers in the couple can get upset when it breaks up. It's as well to discuss that kind of thing with them.
If you're not sure what your attitude should be to whether you allow your child to have sex, do bear in mind the risks when deciding what it should be.
Here are some articles that might inform you more about things like the various kinds of sexually transmitted diseases and how they affect people, the effects abortion can have on some people, the emotional impact having sex with someone who turns out not to care about the relationship when you do care about it can have, and so on. Perhaps you could read them and discuss the issues in them with your teenager, or persuade them to read them and bring up the issues with you as they go along:
When discussing all those things and more, it's perhaps best not to get too intrusive into what your teenagers are doing or not doing, because they might just get offended that you should get so personal, and not want to talk to you any more. But it's a good idea to discuss pros and cons with them in detail, so they've got the information they need. It's recommended that you let them know how you feel about sex at their age, but that you give good reasons why.
The book Parent in Control recommends that you do set expected standards for their sexual behaviour. If you don't, and don't even talk about it with them, it says they'll take their guidance about their sexual behaviour from the lyrics of pop songs, from the behaviour of classmates who may or may not behave sensibly, from media images, scenes on television, and the like.
Part of your discussions with them could include the way sex is often used in advertising as a cynical ploy to manipulate people into buying the products of the company that are being advertised, because the advertisers know people take notice of sex scenes and they might be more attracted to a product if they associate it with something else they're attracted to or remember well. Influencing your child to think critically about that kind of thing might stop them falling for the ploy themselves.
You could also discuss other things with them in the same way, such as the way quite a large part of the reason so many pop songs are all about wanting to have sex with people is again because sex sells. Of course that doesn't mean everyone who sings love songs is just cynically trying to make money. Probably far from it. But if you want to make money and become famous, you're far more likely to do it with songs about love and sex than you are with songs about the benefits of eating muesli, for example. Let your children know that the media is doing more than just reflecting a cultural norm with its focus on sex, or when it prints pictures of skinny fashion models in magazines. It's distorting reality to sell products, in the same way that newspapers often focus on the bad news so people can get the impression there's no good news out there, when in reality there is, but it just doesn't sell papers, so it's ignored. Just because there are pictures of thin fashion models in magazines, for example, it doesn't mean it's a good thing for people to actually aim to be like that. Similarly, just because the TV might sometimes show scenes of two strangers enjoying sex and romance on a desert island or something like that, it doesn't mean that would be a good thing to happen in reality, given that real people would have to deal with consequences actors on TV don't have to.
The book Uncommon Sense For Parents With Teenagers says that if your teenager happens to tell you they're gay, they'll probably have agonised about it first and might be worried you'll reject them. So try not to be harsh with them, and let them know that even if you might take a while to get used to the idea, you still care about them. They've probably taken a good deal of time to get used to the idea themselves - they might not like the idea of being gay any more than you do, so they'll quite possibly understand if you need time.
The book Parent in Control says that in the old days when people usually married quite a bit younger than they do now, dating at fifteen and sixteen and so on made sense; but now people tend to be quite a bit older when they marry, it's still the norm for people to start dating in their mid teens; and going steady with a boyfriend or girlfriend will usually mean the relationship turns sexual, and that can be risky. It says the earlier they start dating, the earlier they are likely to become sexually active in general. It says the probability also increases when they build friendships with classmates and other kids who are sexually active, and when they get the impression from what they see and hear around them that teenage sex is what's expected and normal.
And no matter how much children are educated about using condoms, and no matter how often condoms are handed out to them, it's likely they still won't protect themselves sometimes. Condoms have quite a high failure rate among some sections of the population, and that isn't just because people don't use them according to the correct instructions or they're too big or small. The biggest reason they can fail as a method of contraception is that on the spur of the moment, people decide to risk not using them. They get too carried away, or they decide to take a chance, or they've been drinking so they're more likely to do risky things. People carrying a condom around with them all the time, having been educated about the risks of not using condoms, can still often decide they'd prefer not to use one when it comes down to a sex act, especially if it's something they decide to do impulsively. And the more a teenager goes out and gets drunk, the more often they are likely to get themselves into situations where someone gets sexual with them and because of their diminished judgment, they decide to go to bed with them, let the other person do what they want and don't bother with the condom they have in their pocket.
According to fairly recent statistics, over a million teenagers get pregnant in America every year. There are over one and a half million abortions in America every year, over half done on women under 25. Most abortions are done on women who are unmarried. Nearly a third of them are done on youngsters who are still in education. Every year, one in five teenagers who are sexually active will become pregnant. Nearly half of all women in America are predicted to have an abortion in their lifetime. But many children will keep their babies, drop out of education, and probably live in poverty for much of their lives with little support from the parent of their child, often asking you to help look after it.
Also, the rate of sexually transmitted diseases, including those with serious complications, is high and rising.
It's vital you try to protect your children, even if they're protesting all the way, not knowing what's good for them. Chances are they'll look back later in life and be grateful you did that, because they'll have achieved more than they might have done if you let them have their own way when they were teenagers.
When children start getting emotionally and sexually involved with boyfriends and girlfriends, it can sometimes seriously reduce their achievement at school, since they'll want to be engrossed in each other rather than studying. And they can withdraw from other activities and isolate themselves from friends and family to be with each other, which can mean they miss out on things that would give them a more varied range of experiences to take into adulthood, like getting involved in the activities friends are doing.
Sometimes, the attachment teenagers feel for each other in sexual relationships can be highly addictive, so much so that it can keep them in a relationship even when their partner is abusing them. And if they come to see that kind of relationship as the norm because of such an experience, they can get into future relationships like it.
Or sex can draw a couple to each other emotionally, so they can want to spend their time with each other and make serious commitments to each other, when in reality, they might not be suitable at all as long-term partners, but the sexual feelings have convinced them they're deeply in love, so they fail to take that into account.
The book Parent in Control says that if you want to protect your child as much as you can from potentially risky sexual behaviour and the strong emotional ties that often go with it, guide them away from the idea of having a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship until they're older. That'll be easier if you can get them involved in activities where they're not associating with kids who have those kinds of relationships. If they do become interested in someone of the opposite sex, make efforts to meet the person. Try not to let them and your child get too seriously involved.
It says always make efforts to know where your child will be at any one time, and to make sure it's somewhere you approve of them going.
If they've misbehaved sexually in the past, or done other irresponsible things that have made you trust them less, it says supervise them more strictly than you would a child you think you can trust. It might be a good idea to have a rule that says they can't go out at all with a boy or girl on their own, and to do your best to enforce it all the time.
Educating your teenagers about the risks of binge drinking and the like can go some way to motivating them to avoid that culture. Again, you could perhaps read and discuss articles with them about the dangers of drinking too much, such as these:
Of course, the aim won't be to scare your teenagers into never drinking. Discussing both the pros and the cons of drinking alcohol with them as far as you can is a good idea so they can get a balanced view.
But for your teenagers to stand up against friends who want to binge drink, and insist on behaving sensibly, they will also need confidence and self-belief. Knowing about the risks of drinking alcohol, and thinking of them as things that could actually happen to them, rather than just vague dangers that happen to other people, will go some way to giving them the motivation to stand up for a sensible approach to drinking alcohol if their friends are trying to persuade them to drink a lot. But they will also need to value themselves so they'll want to look after their health. Getting them involved in social activities where they can develop their talents, as well as be with teenagers they can make friends with who are like them in not drinking much, will help them respect themselves and be confident in standing up for themselves, knowing they're not entirely standing out from the crowd.
If they've already started drinking a lot, it might not be too late to persuade them to change their ways, especially if you introduce them to an alternative lifestyle they find they enjoy.
The more your teenagers get involved in healthy activities with other children they can make friends with who have a forward-looking attitude, hoping to achieve something in life, with self-respect, optimistic and confident that they're going places, and thinking of education as the way to get them there, the more your child will probably take on their attitudes.
Obviously, watching television can be good for education and entertainment sometimes.
But it seems that television viewing can sometimes be so much of a distraction it interferes with a teenager's grades.
Still, if you make rules for your teenager about how much television they're allowed to watch, it's probably best if you don't watch a whole lot more than you allow them to watch, or they might think the rule's unfair and won't want to obey it.
One family reported to the author of the book Uncommon Sense For Parents With Teenagers that their son watched the television for hours, after school, even during the family dinnertime, and while he was on the phone to friends. Eventually, his parents were so fed up that they told him that he could watch all the TV he wanted unless his grades went down. If they did, they'd take it as a sign that they needed to step in to help him break his TV habit.
His grades did go down, and his parents reminded him of the conversation they'd had, and "pulled the plug" on the television, for everyone!
The first few weeks were a nightmare, with the boy not speaking to his parents. But slowly things got better, and the next time his grades came out, they'd improved a lot.
After that, his parents would always negotiate television viewing with him, limiting it to specific events. That was a big change for all of them, since they didn't want to watch more than they let him watch and look like hypocrites, so they all watched a lot less than they used to.
The book Uncommon Sense For Parents With Teenagers says that letting your teenager have a television in their bedroom isn't always a good idea, because it can distract them so much when they should be working, and because it's more difficult to monitor what they're watching. In fact, it says one way of dealing with concern over the amount of television watched in the house is to only have a portable television which you store in a cupboard or somewhere when it isn't being used. The person who wants to watch it has to get it out; and it doesn't have a remote control, so anyone who wants to change the channel has to get up. When television viewing is a bit less readily available, it might be much less tempting to sit in front of it for ages.
A couple of the books I've read say a bit about music.
Music can be enjoyable and give people good feelings, and also make it easier to get on with things like boring homework because it makes the experience more enjoyable. But on the other hand, it can sometimes become a distraction.
My brother used to find it hard to discipline himself to do his homework at school. He told me about one of his friends who'd had the same problem before, but then he started doing his homework in the library where he was free of all the distractions of the things in his room at home, and he did much better. His grades went up a lot.
My brother never tried it himself though.
But music can sometimes make a boring task more bearable.
Funnily enough, I've found personally that sometimes, music helps me stay focused on something boring I'm doing, but at other times, it can be a distraction because I think about it too much.
The books say music can sometimes be a way of escaping from the world, or a calming background to thinking about things that have happened that day. In fact, some teenagers can become very attached to certain songs because they express things they're feeling and thinking better than they could, so they'll enjoy listening to those songs in particular in certain moods.
But some music can be harmful because it can distort teenagers' thinking about what's normal and good, for instance songs that glorify going out and having sex with people you don't know that well. But bear in mind that if they listen to songs like that, it doesn't mean they will want to do the things that are being sung about.
Also, music can be harmful when the bands that teenagers are fans of glorify gangster lifestyles or some other violence.
So it's as well to find out what kind of music your teenager listens to and have a talk with them about it to find out more about their attitudes.
The book Uncommon Sense For Parents With Teenagers says that computer/video games can be very enjoyable for teenagers, and there are some that are educational and fun at the same time, and in moderation, many games are harmless. But it says that as with other things, played to excess, they can distract from more important things like studying; and if your teenager seems to be getting absorbed in games rather than ever going out with friends or getting involved in outside activities, they might need encouraging to get out more.
Some teenagers play computer games with friends though.
Communicating with people on the Internet, again, can be too much of a distraction from more important things if taken to excess, but can be healthy if good conversations are had on Internet forums where people from all over the world can communicate together. Communicating with people can sometimes increase confidence if someone finds they can hold their own in a conversation, and it can help people become more skilful at expressing themselves because of the practise they get.
If you think your teenager is getting too absorbed in the computer doing recreational things and needs to cut back, as with the television and anything else, it's probably best to tell them what you think and give them the opportunity to cut back on their own before doing anything to discipline them, and to warn them of the consequence you'll impose if they don't cut back. That's much fairer than just taking something away or giving them some other punishment out of the blue, which may make them feel aggrieved and resentful and behave worse.
Also, as with anything, if they're demonstrating that they can be responsible, don't try to dictate to them when they're old enough to be reasoned with in an adult way.
The books advise that similar to things like watching television, you make rules about other things and clearly warn about the consequences before your teenager's in the position where they might break them, if possible.
For instance, make sure your teenager's familiar with your rules about things like coming home drunk and disorderly or having alcohol in the house before they're ever likely to do such a thing, if possible, and give them some idea of the consequences you might impose, such as making them stay indoors the next week. That will hopefully make them at least more careful about doing things that could lead to them being caught breaking rules, which will cut down the risk of bad things happening to them because they've had too much to drink or whatever, although for that to happen, you have to catch them if they do break the rules, or they'll start thinking they can get away with whatever they want.
So, for instance, if they tell you they're going to a party at the home of certain responsible adults, the parents of one of their friends, and you want to be sure they're telling the truth, so you tell them you'll be phoning the parents up at some point during the evening to make sure they're really there, and ask for the phone number of the parents, do pluck up the courage to phone them up, since if your teenager isn't there and you don't say anything afterwards, they'll start thinking they can just get away with going where they like and may well lie to you about where they're going after that, thinking you won't find out. And then if you do check up on them one day, they'll be angry that you did it, because you're being stricter than you normally are so they won't think it's fair.
That's the same if you tell them you'll always want to know the phone number of the house they're going to in future, and then don't bother asking them most times and then decide to ask them one day. Basically, it's best to do what you said you would, unless there's a good reason not to.
Phoning the parents of friends they say they're going to parties at the houses of might please those parents as well, because if you phone them early and it happens that they were planning to go out that evening and didn't realise the party was planned, they'll be glad to find out about it.
On the other hand, don't make your children so fearful of breaking rules that they're scared to let you know if they have. For instance, if you don't want them to get drunk but they do and there isn't anyone sober who can drive them home, don't have given them the impression that the rule about drink's so strict they're fearful of phoning you up and asking you to come and pick them up so they're more likely to get home safely.
This won't always be possible, because you won't be able to predict everything they might do. But making specific rules about the main things and even writing them down before your teenager gets into much trouble, can help them know what's expected of them, which will make them feel more secure than if they're told you don't want them doing something after the event, such as if they start smoking after friends have got them involved and you shout at them when you catch them, but you never told them you didn't want them to smoke. They might know in theory that smoking isn't good for people, but still think you'll tolerate it if you haven't given them a rule saying they mustn't smoke.
Here are some ideas for the kinds of rules you might decide on, from the book Parent In Control. You might not like some of these particular ones, but if not, you could adapt them to suit your preferences better. It says some children won't need to be given such rules, but some will:
The book Parent in Control points out that if your teenager's doing something they really want to do but you don't want them to, such as staying out later at night than you've said you want them to, they might try to persuade you to compromise by letting them stay out later than you want but not as late as they'd like, even assuring you they'll never be out later than that if you'll only let them have their way. They might mean it at the time, but when they're doing something they really want to do again, carrying on will be much more enticing than keeping the promise they made. Chances are that if you've given in to them, what will actually happen is that they'll think it isn't a big deal to come in even later than they did before, thinking that since you were willing to compromise before, you can probably be persuaded to again.
You might have good reasons to compromise with them about some things, and it can often be a good policy when there are good reasons. But compromising to try to get them to obey rules more is likely not to work.
Another way children can get away with not obeying rules is if one parent undermines the authority of the other, even if they're doing it with good intentions, trying to be a peacemaker and stop an argument. Here's an example from the book Parent in Control:
They were at it again. As soon as she heard the fight, Mom ran to the family room, where Dad and thirteen-year-old Crystal were arguing. "Both of you be quiet," she yelled. They both shut up and looked at her. Crystal's eyes were encrusted with heavy dark makeup. Her lipstick was a bright red. Mom walked past Dad, still sitting in his favorite chair, marched Crystal into the kitchen, and asked, "Now, what was going on in there?"
"Dad was ragging on me about my makeup, again."
"If you hadn't gone in there and provoked him he never would have said a thing."
"I was already watching television when he came in and started yelling at me, telling me I looked cheap and sleazy."
"You know how he is since he's been sick," she said impatiently. "Just stay away from him."
"Fuck him, I live here, too. Why do I have to stay away from him? He's the one with a problem."
"Let it be, damn it. I don't want you setting him off and giving him another heart attack."
The daughter will likely work out that she doesn't have to obey the rule about make-up, because it seems clear that her mother's worries about her husband's health are so important she'll forget all about the conversation about the make-up rule once that subject comes up. And she knows her dad won't enforce the rule because her mother won't let him, because she keeps intervening to rescue the situation. The child will work out that all they have to do is argue, and they'll end up not having to obey the rule, and they might use that tactic over every rule you want to enforce.
The trick is not to get into an argument with them about all kinds of things other than the rule, but to stick to your request that they obey it, whatever they say, without insulting or demeaning them, and trying to keep calm as far as possible, just repeating what you want.
If they insult you, try not to take it personally. They probably won't be expressing any deeply-held opinion of you but just something they've thought up on the spur of the moment. Or if they are expressing a genuine opinion of you, it could easily and quickly change. So try not to take it personally and let it anger you, but stick to asking for what you want. You can use phrases like, "Regardless of whether that's true, I don't want you wearing make-up in future", or, "Nevertheless, I want you to come in the kitchen and help me wash up". That kind of thing.
Another way parents can undermine each other's efforts at discipline so the child thinks they just don't have to obey at least one of them is if one of them gives the child the impression they don't approve of what the other one's doing, even if they ask the child to obey the other parent anyway.
Don't say bad things about the other parent in front of your child. It might make them respect the other one less and so want to obey them less, or it might anger them because they're bonded with the other one and don't like hearing bad things about them. It's best if parents keep disagreements private between themselves as far as possible.
Here's another example from the book Parent in Control:
Fifteen-year-old Buddy was lying on his bed, propped up by pillows, listening to a CD through a set of headphones when Dad walked in. "I need to talk to you, kid," said Dad, tapping Buddy's headset. "What?" snapped Buddy.
"We have to talk about you and Mom."
"She's not my mother."
"Okay," said Dad as he knelt beside Buddy. "We have to talk about you and your stepmother."
"I haven't done anything wrong. You and I got along fine until you married her."
"That's my fault. I let you slide on too many things. All she is trying to do is get us to keep the house picked up, including your bathroom and bedroom."
"She doesn't have to use my bathroom or even look into my bedroom. If she'd just leave me alone we'd get along fine."
"Well, that's not going to happen. She's not going to change. And please keep in mind that I have to live with her, too. I know her even better than you do."
"But you work a lot and aren't home as much as I am. You don't have to put up with it."
"You're wrong. I have to listen to it when I get home. So I'm asking you to do me a favor and quit fighting with her. Don't argue. Please go along with her until she calms down, okay."
This might sound like diplomacy; but the son might get the impression that he doesn't have to obey his stepmother all that much. His father's given the impression that if it was up to him, he wouldn't mind his son not doing the cleaning. His father's trying to stop the arguments. But if the son thinks his father wouldn't mind him not obeying if it was up to him, he'll likely take away the message that it's not that important, so he'll continue to disobey and argue with his stepmother whenever she tries to get him to obey a rule. So the anger between them will just increase.
If parents seriously disagree about the rules they want their children to follow, it might be possible for them to privately work out a compromise.
If you can't agree on methods of discipline, sometimes it might work if you each discipline your child according to your own ideas and leave the other parent to do the same. If you're still unhappy, maybe marriage counselling could help.
The book Parent in Control says that if you're divorced and having problems because you have a joint custody arrangement with your spouse and they have different ideas about discipline methods and rules to you and you can't work anything out between you, it might be best for your relationship with the child if you try to have it arranged so one parent does most of the parenting instead. Otherwise, the child will get used to one parent's style of discipline and might resent it whenever they have to abide by the other's, or keep telling tales on one parent to try to get the other one to make them change. The arrangement will quite possibly just cause anger and resentment as they have to keep adjusting to obeying rules the other one doesn't make them obey.
It says a better solution is if one parent has custody - the one who's done the most to care for the child's day-to-day needs and wants in the past, and the other parent has reasonable visitation rights.
If you've tried all the suggestions here, and persisted with them for a while, but you haven't noticed any improvements at all, you could go on strike. It wouldn't be fair to do that if most problems have been sorted out but there are still some left that you might be able to sort out with less dramatic solutions, or if there have been minor improvements that might mean that if you just persist in doing the same things that have brought on some signs of improvement, things could improve more. But if nothing seems to have changed at all after a while, and the problems are serious and upsetting to you, then striking might just be what's needed to change things, especially if the children are just taking you for granted, ordering you around and not listening to what you say.
The idea of going on strike comes from the book How to Deal With Your Acting-Up Teenager. I'll tell you what it says:
One thing is that you might think striking sounds harsh. But remember your teenager's on the way to becoming independent and looking after themselves. It might be a good experience for them to have to cope with a bit of that now. They might even be thankful you gave them the chance to do that in the end.
A full-on strike will involve refusing to care for them at all and having them live away from home, perhaps with friends or relatives. If they're over 18, you're not legally obliged to make other arrangements for them at all but you can let them do it themselves. A partial strike would involve not doing some of the things you've been doing for them up until now.
People might disapprove of you taking less care of them, but it might teach your child the valuable lesson of not taking you for granted anymore and treating you with more respect because they realise you deserve appreciation for the things you've done for them up until now. If they don't learn such lessons in the short term, they might look back later in life and understand them, and want to make peace with you.
So you could warn them that you'll strike in some way if their behaviour doesn't improve, and then go on some form of strike if nothing changes.
First though, have a think about whether it really is true that nothing's changed, or whether you could be so focused on the negative you just haven't noticed the positive changes. Here's an example of how that can happen:
A woman brought her son to therapy with the man who wrote the book for therapists I've read, and spent most of the first session complaining about the boy's over-eating, his living off junk food, and refusing to stick with any sports activities she'd sign him up for. His father had died of a heart attack and had been quite obese as well, so she was fearful that her son would eventually die as well, unless she helped him with his weight problem.
When the therapist met alone with the boy, the boy told him his mother was constantly nagging him about his weight and pushing him to get involved in sports activities at school and in the local area. He said his mother's behaviour made him feel anxious, powerless and hopeless about being able to lose weight. He said that when he experienced those feelings, he'd want to comfort himself and he would "pig out" and eat foods he knew were bad for him.
The therapist taught him techniques of soothing his anxious thoughts and feeling more positive.
He also told him to do what his mother wanted for the next week as an experiment to see how she reacted. He also told the mother to behave differently around her son and see what happened.
A week later, they came back with differing opinions on how successful the week had been. At first, the mother could only see the downside. In reality, things had been mainly positive. This is how the conversation went:
Therapist: "So, what's better?!!"
Mildred: "Not much ... I mean yesterday he ate a whole bag of cookies!"
Isaac: "Yesterday was a bad day for me, but I had a much better week!"
Therapist: "What steps did you take to make it a better week?"
Isaac: "I ate fruit a few times over the week for dessert, instead of cookies or doughnuts."
Therapist: "Wow! Is that a new thing for you to do?"
Isaac: "Yeah, I think Mom would tell you that I rarely eat fruit or vegetables."
Therapist: "Is that true, Mildred?"
Mildred: "Yes, I was surprised by that, but .. ."
Therapist: "Isaac, did you eat some vegetables as well this past week?"
Isaac: "I ate salad twice."
Therapist: "Really? Is that new for Isaac to eat vegetables like salad?"
Mildred: "Yes (smiling), I almost fell out of my chair when I saw him eat two large portions of salad."
Therapist: "Isaac, have you gotten any new ideas about yourself in terms of eating better over this past week?"
Isaac: "Yeah, I think I'm doing better with my eating and feel happier."
Mildred: "Certainly, I'm encouraged by his progress, especially his starting to eat a little better, but we still have days like yesterday and .. ."
Therapist: "I appreciate your cautiousness, this difficulty has been going on for a long time. I'm curious though, did you observe any other moments or days before yesterday where Isaac was showing you signs of progress?"
Mildred: "Yes, in fact two days ago he agreed to sign up for Little League."
Therapist: "Wow! How did you get him to do that?"
Mildred: "The funny thing about that was that I didn't force it on him like I usually do. I just left the flyer on the dining room table. Interestingly enough, he approached me with a desire to play this year."
Therapist: "Really? How did you come up with that clever idea to leave the flyer on the dining room table?"
Mildred: "I don't know, I guess I am too pushy with him and need to give him more space to make decisions."
Therapist: "Is he a good baseball player?"
Mildred: "Yeah, when he used to play a few years ago he was a great slugger. Isaac has a good arm."
Therapist: "Isaac, were you surprised when your mom gave you space to choose whether or not you wanted to play Little League?"
Isaac: "Yeah, usually she tries to force me to do things."
Therapist: "Besides letting you decide whether or not to sign up for Little League, did you see your mom do anything else differently that you liked over the past week?"
Isaac: "Yeah, she didn't nag me as much."
Therapist: "Were you doing anything else differently that helped your mom nag less?"
Isaac: "I've been asking her to go with me on bike rides and to take me to the YWCA to swim."
Therapist: "Wow! This young man's on a real health kick crusade! There's no stopping Isaac now! He's on a roll! That's worth a high-five!" (Both Mildred and Isaac smile.)
So the mother came to view things with a lot more optimism, and the majority of the session was spent in being pleased about the changes that had occurred in the past week.
Still, if your child's behaviour genuinely is out of hand, they might need something dramatic to make them change.
That would involve just refusing to do certain things for them when you don't feel like it.
The book How to Deal With Your Acting-Up Teenager advises that you think about the things you do for your teenager. They might be things like:
The book advises that you decide that from now on, you'll only do what you want to out of those things. The next time you find yourself about to do one of those things, it says ask yourself whether you feel like doing it. If you do, go right ahead and do it. But if you don't, tell your teenager you won't, and explain why, in a way that puts the emphasis on your own feelings and wishes, to try to help them see things more from your point of view. You could say something like:
"I'm going to skip making dinner tonight. (or, I'm not going to shop for the family this week). It makes me feel I give and don't get anything back."
"I'm not going to be taking you to practice driving tomorrow. I feel I've been doing more than my share of things around here, and I'm not going to keep giving unless things get more fair around here."
"I'm not going to do your washing this week. I feel put upon when I give and don't see any return. I'm not going to do that to myself."
Then leave the matter and go about your business. If the teenager does something good like doing the task you wanted them to do or being pleasant to you, or something else - something that makes you feel like doing the thing after all, you could say something like,
"I'm feeling good about doing this after all."
If your child doesn't do something to change your mind, then keep your word. Don't do what you said you wouldn't do, unless you really feel like doing it.
The book says some parents hesitate to strike like that because they have more than one child, and some things would affect both the seriously misbehaving one and the other one. If so, it says think of a way you can strike that would only affect the misbehaving one. If you can't, then inconveniencing the others might actually motivate them to put pressure on the misbehaving one to stop. In any case, inconveniencing them might be better than feeling downtrodden.
The book says one mother was fed up of waiting up and worrying till the early hours of the morning before her son, who she'd asked to be in by midnight, came in and she could lock the house. She told him that in future she was going to lock up the house at midnight, and if he came home after that he could sleep in the porch. She said she would put his sleeping bag out there for him. She dreaded what he'd say to that, but he simply said it was fair enough.
It says one boy had started failing at school, coming in late at night, bringing strangers into the house when his parents weren't there, and doing other worrying things. He tended to snub and ignore his parents. They tried to help him for months, taking him to counselling and going to school conferences to help work out plans he might like. But nothing changed.
Eventually, his father became so disgusted that he decided he'd continue to give his son a home and food, but he'd stop speaking to him at all. He'd stop showing interest in him unless things changed.
The boy was very surprised, and then he made the first positive changes anyone had seen, so he could get back on speaking terms with his father.
The book says if nothing you try works, the best solution might be to separate entirely from your child. It says you might not like the idea, because you would perhaps feel as if you were throwing out someone who was helpless and couldn't fend for themselves. But when you consider that in only a few years they'd be independent anyway, and that they must in fact possess many of the skills to cope with life on their own, perhaps your attitude will change. And it's not as if you'd be just abandoning them to their fate and refusing to help them ever again.
One thing you could do is arrange for them to live with a relative if any will take them. If the child's underage, you're obliged to take care of them, but it doesn't have to be under the same roof. If you can afford it, you could even send them to boarding school if they're willing to go. Or you could let them go and live with friends. They might actually behave better if they think they're in the house of someone who's doing them a favour by putting them up, especially if they want the person to have a good opinion of them, and they know they're going to have to behave if the person's going to continue to want them in their home. Maybe your child has friends whose family would be willing to put them up for a while.
The book says one boy liked the idea of going to live with a friend's family. The friend's older sister had left home so there was a spare room. He went to live with them and paid them a little money a week from his after-school job. Four months later, he wanted to come home. His parents let him. He was a different person!
The book says you could even declare to the authorities that your child is out of your control and that you want them made a ward of the court because you don't want to go on living with them. They might tell you it can't be done, but the book says usually it can, although they'd charge you for it.
If the child's 18, though, it says you could let them make their own arrangements without taking the responsibility for making sure they're in a decent environment that you'd have to if they were younger.
It says if you decide you don't want your child to live with you anymore, give them a chance to improve their behaviour first. You could tell them of your intentions in a two-part statement, where the first part tells them what you want them to do, and the second part tells them what's going to happen if they don't do what you want by a certain time. It says it could go something like:
"Linda, I want an equal relationship with you where each of us makes a contribution. As I see it, your part is to get yourself educated or else get a job and contribute room and board, and to help out here at home. If I don't feel you're doing your part by a week from now, I will no longer live with you."
"Ben, I'm still unhappy living with you. I want help with keeping the place reasonably neat, and a more pleasant atmosphere. If after two weeks I still don't feel I'm getting it, I will set it up so you can live with your uncle, if you like. In any case I will no longer provide for you here."
"Carol, I'm simply not happy living with you this way. If things aren't better within a few days, I say the deal's off. I'm willing to contribute something to your support wherever you're living, until you're eighteen, and I will want you out of the house."
After you've told your teenager something like that, the book says wait until the time's up. Then if their behaviour's improved, you can be pleased, and continue to live with them while still remembering to stand up for your own needs and wants. If their behaviour hasn't improved, do what you said you would. Do it in a matter-of-fact way without being dramatic. It doesn't mean it's permanent. And sometimes, it can work out for the best.
The book says one woman told her sixteen-year-old son that unless she felt there was a major improvement in the situation, she wanted him out by the end of June. On the first day of July, having seen no improvement, she packed all his things in cardboard boxes and put them all outside the door. She locked the house, and went about her business.
Her son picked up his things, went to live with friends several years older, got a job as a mechanic, and started supporting himself. It wasn't clear why he hadn't done that at home, but an improvement was felt by everyone.
It says another woman had a seventeen-year-old daughter who was pregnant by her boyfriend and let him into the house at all hours, allowing him to spend nights in her bedroom, which her mother wasn't happy with. Her mother told her that if it happened once more, she wanted them both moved out of the house.
It did happen again, and the mother asked them both to go. The boyfriend shoved the mother, and she called the police. When they came, she agreed not to have the boyfriend charged with assault for the shoving if they would both leave. The police supervised their move to a friend's place.
The book says try to keep fairly positive after they've gone. It says you might succumb to feeling guilty; but as long as you were sure they were capable of taking care of themselves if they felt they had to, and you really tried to help them change before, then there's no real need to. It says you might get phone calls from neighbours or the family your teenager's staying with or their friends, telling you how nice they are and how you really shouldn't have thrown them out, or how they're scared and should be taken back. Still, it says try not to succumb to pressure to have them back if you're sure it really wouldn't work. If relatives phone up and try to pressure you to have them back, tell them it would be fine if they'd like your teenager to live with them.
It says the police may very well phone up if anyone's reported what you've done to your teenager. They'll probably have only heard your teenager's side of the story, and your teenager might have said horrible things about you. But since you won't have thrown your child out for anything trivial and will have tried hard for some time to change things, they may be sympathetic when you tell them what's gone on from your point of view, and might even offer you some form of help.
After a few days or a few weeks, the book says your child may well phone up again, or you might decide to contact them. If so, it says be true to yourself. If they ask to come back, ask yourself whether you think things would be different. If you think they might, and you feel like it, let them back, telling them they can come back, but you want things to be fairer, and they're welcome to stay just as long as they are fairer. But if you feel sure nothing's changed and you'd feel as downtrodden as you ever did, it says put yourself first and refuse.
It says the same thing applies if your teenager wants to stay out but would like financial help from you. If you feel good about the idea, agree, but don't feel pressured into doing anything you don't want to.
The book says it is possible your teenager will tell you they're perfectly happy with being out of the house and don't want to come back. If they do, remember what you really want. If it's a relationship with them that's going to work out happily in the long-term, treat them in a friendly way, as you would an adult friend of yours. It says many children have come back wanting to make peace with their parents years later when they've been in their twenties.
Hopefully it won't come to a full-on strike. But even if it does, it doesn't mean you've damaged your relationship with your child beyond repair. Taking care of themselves for a while might bring them to appreciate the work involved, so they'll turn to you in friendship later.
The book says after years of having a hard time living with their son, one boy's parents threw him out when he turned 18. He left the house, but after three weeks, he came back and asked if he could live at home while he was going to school. His parents said, "The rules are still the same, and everyone who lives here has to follow them". The boy agreed to that and moved back in. From then, as if he'd been transformed, he was very pleasant to live with! He and his parents became closer than they'd ever been. It seemed the boy had responded well to them taking a stand for their rights and becoming firm with him.
You might think that even doing the less serious things like standing up for yourself and insisting they do work around the house will make children feel deprived or that they're being treated unfairly, or that they'll like you less. But actually, children tend to like rules and limits, as long as they're fair ones. Feeling there are sensible expectations of them can make them feel more respectful of their parents. And helping around the house can help to make them more responsible. Knowing they're expected to fit in as a co-operative member of the family can make them feel cared for and worthwhile.
The book says they might well argue a lot about it at first. When parents start asking for help around the house, for instance, they might shout or sulk, or even walk out the house for a while. But if the parent keeps up the requests till the child learns they mean what they say, they'll realise those tactics aren't going to work, and they might not only drop them, but settle happily down to the new routine and treat the parent in a relaxed and cheerful way, being happy to co-operate with the rules because they know they're good. It says this tends to last until something else suggests to them that you'll put up with unfair treatment, as if the child wants the limit you're setting, and feels happy when you won't give in to them so they know you can be relied on and are an authority figure worthy of respect. Setting fair limits on their behaviour means you care about their well-being. They might well realise that.
The book says a sixteen-year-old boy, while doing a carpentry task for the family, kept on loudly swearing because he was doing things wrong. His father said, "I want freedom from four-letter words around here."
The boy simply muttered a curse. His father said, "I realise you're mad, and I do want freedom from four-letter words".
The boy slammed his hammer down and stormed out of the house, seemingly furious.
Fifteen minutes later, he came back, picked up the hammer, and was soon heard whistling happily as he worked, with no sign of resentment.
One thing that can help you take care of your children is if you regularly take time out to relax. You might think that's a waste of time, but actually, it can help you a lot. Chances are the more relaxed you are when you have to deal with a problem with your child, the more calmly you can deal with it. If you're stressed to begin with, you might become tense and irritable with your child more quickly, which is likely to provoke them to be unpleasant to you. So you'll be helping your relationship with them as well as giving yourself a treat if you regularly do something to relax.
The book How to Deal With Your Acting-Up Teenager advises that parents think about what helps them relax. Perhaps it's long walks surrounded by nature. It might be a long hot bath. Perhaps you do a bit of meditation. Or you might find that some exercise you enjoy relaxes you and leaves you feeling more energetic. Or it might just be a few hours on your own doing your own thing without the demands of others. Or something else.
Whatever relaxes you, it's recommended that you try to do it regularly, especially if you're feeling stressed, since it'll probably put you in a more positive mood, one where tackling problems seems more manageable.
There are also techniques specifically designed to be relaxing. Here are a few the book recommends:
Bad situations make people feel tense, and tension tightens the muscles. Deliberately relaxing the muscles can ease tension.
As you sit there, tense up all your muscles at once as hard as you can, (provided you haven't got any conditions where doing that would be painful), and hold the tension for about ten seconds. Then slowly let the tension go, breathing out slowly, as if you're breathing a sigh of relief. You may find you feel more relaxed after that than you did before.
Imagine your muscles slowly and pleasurably untensing and untensing until you feel limp and sag back in your chair. Notice any feelings of tension draining away.
You can relax still further by then spending several minutes just sitting there, imagining each individual part of your body relaxing further, perhaps by starting with the feet, and going up to the legs and arms and facial muscles, going back to bits that have stopped feeling relaxed and imagining them relaxing again. Allow a sense of peace to come over you.
Imagine there's something peaceful at the core of your inner being. You could imagine it has a form, like a jewel or a peaceful lake or something else you'd like. Imagine it's always peaceful, and that you can always think of it if you want to help yourself calm down, or feel a bit of inner peace that'll strengthen you to cope with problems with your child.
Or you can imagine a beautiful place you can go to in your mind sometimes. Try to imagine it in as much detail as you can.
If you get a wider perspective on your problems with your child, it might help you feel less stressed about them so your mind's clearer to think of solutions. So when you've done other relaxation techniques and you're feeling very relaxed, you could briefly bring the problems with your child to mind, and then try and see them as only a part of life rather than the whole of it. You could do that by imagining all the people in your house standing together. Then imagine you're viewing your neighbourhood, with all the people and houses and streets, and then imagine viewing the whole country, and then the world, and then the universe. While your problem might be a serious one, you needn't think of it as if it occupies your whole world, and in the great scheme of things, it'll hopefully work itself out in the end.
Then imagine you're wandering through some ancient ruins in Italy. Imagine you come across some writing on a wall from 2000 years ago that says, "Today I was very worried because my son got picked up by the police for shoplifting". You might feel sympathetic, but you probably wouldn't feel all the worry and stress the person who wrote it would have done. But then imagine you're that parent 2000 years on. Imagine looking back at that 2000-year-old incident. You might be able to view it with detachment, even though you were so worried by it before. So think about how you might view the problems with your real children in thirty years from now. Though they might be serious problems, you might be able to look back at them in the future and think of them as much less significant than you can now. If you can imagine that, you might be able to be more relaxed about them now. That'll mean your mind can be clearer to think of imaginative solutions.
It's also important that you take time out for yourself to do things you enjoy. It need only be a few minutes a day, but hopefully more. If you have time out specifically for you, it can help recharge your batteries so you can be more cheerful and energetic when it comes to dealing with others. Some people love reading. Some find going for a jog refreshing. Some enjoy gardening. Some love to go for a walk. Some like going out for coffee with a friend sometimes. Some enjoy listening to their favourite music. And so on.
Also, you might get reassurance, support and suggestions on new ways of dealing with various problems if you find ways to make friends with other parents of teenagers. Try to find parents you can have heart-to-heart talks with, discussing both the bad things and the good things about what's going on between you and your children. You might be relieved to discover that your own experience isn't very different from what they're experiencing. That'll help you not to take things so personally if your teenagers become grumpy and argumentative or more critical of you than you think is fair. If you can come away from relaxing activities or supportive talks with others refreshed and better able to cope with your teenager, it will have been worthwhile.
I hope all that helps.
Note that if you choose to try out some or all of the recovery techniques described in this article, they may take practice before they begin to work.
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