This post on raising teens will focus on chores and responsibilities, facilitating open discussion, rewarding positive behavior (and ignoring negative), and engaging in negotiation. Despite what adolescents say they want, they function best with structure peppered with creativity. This means that parents should be clear about requirements and responsibilities but there should be room for negotiation. In spite of our obsession with all things technical, (yes, you too parents); we actually benefit from lively discussion and learn many socialization skills as a result. These skills will become extinct if we do not hone them. So, turn off your laptops, desktops, phones, pagers, tablets, televisions, and proceed.

  1. Youngsters need chores and responsibilities. These should be on par with their ability. Putting responsibilities into practice when young, results in more successful patterns throughout a person’s life. These could include, but are not limited to teenagers making their own lunches, their beds, doing dishes, taking out the trash, walking the family pet and backyard poop patrol. It is your job as a parent to be clear with them how you want these items accomplished by giving clear, sequential directions on more than one occasion. (Try to remember, kids really try to achieve what is expected but they are not mind readers.) It is also appropriate for adolescents to set the table, fold their clothes and keep their room in reasonable condition. As they advance in years, these responsibilities can increase in complexity. (However, there is a delicate balance between reasonable expectations and being an unpaid servant and babysitter.) For example, youngsters should not be running the household or be completely accountable for their smaller siblings. Their brains are not conceptually developed to make adult choices potentially resulting in errors in judgment. Developing a chore chart can support successful outcomes especially with youngsters fitting on the hyperactive spectrum. As an additional note, helping you with chores has two benefits. The children will lighten your responsibility load and will allow for more joint family activities.
  2. Facilitate and engage in lively family discussion with your children. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Having weekly family meetings is one option. Having supper together as often as possible (with electronic devices, for parents and youth, turned off), is vital! As difficult as it is for most parents this means two things. First, parents have to learn to listen to the subtext of their children’s conversations. In other words, what aren’t they saying? Additionally, what behavior do you want to see in your youth? Many parents either model bad behavior for their children or never tell them what their expectations are. Is it any wonder that children then try on these behaviors because they think they’re a good alternative, because the peer pressure is too difficult to withstand or because they don’t understand what you want? Second, tell them drugs, alcohol, smoking, sex are off limits! And tell them why! One specific tool that is very useful with engaging your family in conversation is creating a talking stick. The stick is built and decorated by the whole family. Then at the dinner table (or in the living room) the stick is handed to each individual so they can report on their day, their concerns and their successes. When one individual has the stick, the others (including parents) have to listen with respect. Then it will be the next person’s turn and so on. This exercise engages the brain, the family and helps get a feel for how things are going each day.
  3. Reward positive behavior. This means, catch your children being good. Appreciate the things they accomplish. An example might be that they’ve gotten themselves up in the morning
    for school for a whole week, they’ve accomplished some of the goals that you set together; they display passion about a school project or extracurricular activity or helping at home. Parents make huge errors with their children by focusing on what they do wrong. Out of habit, they utilize primarily negative attention. A youngster’s brain is wired to desire any parental attention. Negative attention is better than none. So behavior will continue to be displayed inappropriately to obtain a response. I have seen numerous children in sibling groups where one child is behaving badly and parents are frustrated and constantly focusing on this child. The other sibling is doing well in school, socializing well and surviving so they get no attention. Is it any wonder that the child with the issues continues to misbehave to obtain attention despite the fact that it is negative? Naturally there is a difference between a child with psychological or even physical markers and a child who simply wants the parent to notice them. Parents may have to look at the situation critically and if needed have their child assessed by professionals including MD’s to rule out physical diagnosis and a licensed mental health expert to rule out a psychological diagnosis.
  4. Encourage negotiation when appropriate. It’s okay for your child to convince you of something; if it is reasonable. Showing that you have some flexibility supports their growth as long as you remain steadfast on the important issues. Develop the idea that you trust them. This knowledge will go a long way in supporting their growth. This flexibility is not the same as “giving in” after they wear you down on a specific subject. Say what you mean and mean what you say. If they see you waffling, you’ve lost the battle and the war. Remember, kids count on their parents to give them structure and are smart enough to “work you” until you throw your hands in the air. Think of it as opposite sides of the same coin; if you stick to your guns on an important issue, when they genuinely need something they will know that they can count on your support.
    If the above are big changes from your previous behavior both partners and children are going to wonder. They will likely engage in sabotage to have you shift back to “homeostasis” or the previous steady state. You will more than likely encounter resistance. Don’t allow this hinder your intentions.

The next article will focus on “helicopter parenting”, over-scheduling and how Generation Y has become the teacup generation.