Have you ever wanted to tear out your hair concerning the teenagers residing in your home? Do they act like extraterrestrials from another dimension? Do you wonder why they can’t see that you and your spouse or partner are overwhelmed with work, getting them clothed, fed, to school, to the doctor, to choir practice and sports functions, paying the bills, handling household chores, and planning for your and their futures?

Do you marvel some days what prompted you to be a parent? Do you wrack your brain to figure out how you can steal a moment for yourself and slow things down just a little? Or do you think that other parents are doing much better?

These seem like a lot of questions that at first blush don’t appear to have clear answers, but, in fact, they do. There some things you can do to improve your situation besides reading a number of books from specialists on the subject. But, frankly, who actually has the time to read anything more than “byte” size?

First and foremost, you need to be ready to dig in your heels and curb your natural instincts to keep the peace. It does take time for individuals (adults and youth) to adjust to new behaviors. Your kids may not believe that you will follow through with either discipline or incentives, if you haven’t been in the habit of doing so previously. It’ll take time to see change but the effort will be worth the results you will achieve. Your overarching philosophy has to include communicating with your children that you love them. In addition, a parent’s job entails setting limits and ensuring that your children have increasing responsibilities; making them capable of tackling the world when they leave the nest.

  1. Before you begin this endeavor understand if you desire changes in behavior, you will have to memorize the following rule:”If you can’t measure it, you can’t change it.” This pertains to behavior you want to see changed, the means you utilize to effect change, setting up consequences and incentives and evaluating when this change has occurred.
  2. Having a private discussion with your spouse or partner (or any other additional primary caregiver) whether or not they reside in the same household ensures that you are on the same frequency about the children. Engaging teachers in this venture because they see your child behave differently in school is also helpful. Otherwise, your children will easily split your influence, authority and affections. Children are much smarter, focused, and scheming than parents imagine.
  3. You have to have an idea on what behavior you would like to see in your child or children. Initially, limiting this desire for two to three behavior changes (or even one) increases chances of success.
  4. You need to have a plan you can live with. In other words, don’t make threats or even promises you can’t keep because all you will achieve is a loss of credibility. You will need to set limits with realistic, natural consequences. The punishment has to fit the crime. If a youngster is sexting; take away his/her cell phone long enough so there is an effect. If a child is misusing his/her computer, remove the computer privileges for a specified time and then stay true to that
    course of action. (This last step is very important because children are superb “hostage negotiators.”) Finally, if you give a reward, let it be commensurate with the changed behavior. Such as improved or good grades result in special privileges and occasionally spending money. Teenagers want your positive attention and support more than anything else.

Let me give you an example how to employ some of these steps. Billy is a 13-year old only child and has been the apple of his parent’s eye. They have been available to his every beck and call. This has resulted in a very insecure Billy who is doing poorly in school, has no ability to self-soothe or play by himself and needs constant reassurance. Billy’s parents are exhausted from his constant need for attention, Billy doesn’t seem very happy, and there is excessive whining being reported by the parents and the teachers. What can be done? Little Billy really believes he is incapable because his parents come to his rescue to solve all his problems for him.. Now that he is in middle school there are expectations that he will be able to do things for himself. And he is baffled on where to begin.

Billy needs responsibilities. He needs to be able to care for himself and personal possessions such as folding his clothes, making his bed and contributing to the family by walking the dog and/or taking out the trash. Mom and Dad need to show him exactly what the expectations are and monitor these carefully. Billy also needs to learn that making a mistake is the best way to learn. (Incidentally, Mom and Dad also need to understand this!) Further, Billy needs to track his assignments at school and request his parents assistance with homework a limited number of times. Privileges are removed if he exceeds this amount. Only the most urgent requests are met. Billy has to sort out his educational questions primarily by listening in class and talking to his teacher/s. In this way he will be taking responsibility for his learning. Mom and Dad can monitor his progress by his results and by teacher conferences as needed. Only as a result of accomplishing his responsibilities in school and at home does Billy receive additional attention from Mom and Dad which should include some family time.

The next article on raising teens will focus more specifically on chores and responsibilities, facilitating open discussion, rewarding positive behavior (and ignoring negative), and engaging in negotiation. Also addressed will be the underlying secret to what children want from their parents.