Is Your Teen Driving You Crazy? ...by Bill Knell
If your teen is driving you crazy, here are a few real world suggestions that can help! Teens test the limits of any parent's sanity. It's easy for parents to overreact and find fault with their teen, but there's plenty of blame to go around. Start with nature. A recent series of tests have shown that all teenagers experience a certain amount of electrical disarray in their brain functions. This may account for what parents notice as unusual or irrational behavior at times. A parent's overreaction to their teen's annoying behavioral swings can add insult to injury and bring out the worst in any child.
Don't worry, you are still in charge! A teen's assertiveness is what prepares them for life apart from their parents. How you deal with them during those troublesome years is likely to set the tone for any relationship you hope to maintain with your child when they become adults. Reacting to their behavior strictly on emotion or as a challenge to your authority is unlikely to produce the results you want. It will also produce a wall between you and your teen which will end any useful communication.
As a dad with seven kids, it's been my experience that parenting requires walking a tightrope. You have to balance a desire for your children to grow into responsible and fulfilled adults, with a need to allow them to develop their own personality and be who they want to be. Fortunately for me, none of them have taken up guitar and started playing ear-shattering music, while biting the heads off of canaries, hoping to be the next Ozzie Osbourne. But what happens if they do?
Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, I had more then a few friends who had garage bands and wanted fame. Their parents tolerated what they considered to be a brief fling with music, but kept the pressure on for their kids to stay in school and pursue other career avenues while waiting for their big break. Most of those teens ended up as adults with other careers and appreciated the guidance their parents provided. This tells me that the way their parents handled things was reasonable and worked.
If your teen has a desire to move in a path that doesn't suit you, it's time for some serious decision making. If you shut off their opportunity to express themselves, you may shut them out. So you might have to tolerate some loud guitar playing from time to time in order to retain a certain level of influence over them. In other cases, you might have to make a few trips to the doctor because your teen loves skating or skateboarding and has sustained an injury or three. Make them understand that their ability to enjoy personal interests, which may or may not lead to a career, hinges on your ability to be allowed input into their choices.
It's one thing to encourage self-expression, but another to provide negative influence. Many parents allow underage teens to drink alcoholic beverages or smoke in the home. Sometimes it has to do with the culture they come from, in other cases it's allowed because the parents did it when they were teens. Before you allow your child to do something which is, essentially illegal, consider the ramifications. When you allow teens to break the law, for whatever reason, you are teaching them situation ethics. This means that they can obey or disobey the law, depending on the situation. But that's not the only consequence.
A family with a teen who is the star of their school sports team is likely to host a victory party at one time or another. Some parents tolerate and even encourage the consumption of alcoholic beverages at such an event. They buy a keg of beer for everyone and balk at the idea that one beer is going to hurt anyone. But think of the precedent that sets? The lesson learned by teens will be that anytime anything exciting or good happens, it's time for a beer or several. The old, "Do as I say, don't do as I do" defense doesn't hold water. Children learn by example and always have.
Even self-expression must have it's limits. I met a family not long ago with two teen boys that were fourteen and sixteen years old. They moved into a home around the corner from where we lived. While talking with their father, I found out that the boys were completely obsessed with backyard wrestling. Their parents had even purchased an old boxing ring, fixed it up and allowed the kids to use it for wrestling matches. But after a friend of one of their teens had seriously injured himself while backyard wrestling at someone else's house, the parents were having second thoughts. So what do you do when you said YES and now need to say NO?
As a youth, I had my own experiences with wrestling and got an idea. Most injuries that occur during backyard wrestling matches happen because there is no adult supervision. I suggested that the parents hit the books and find out everything possible about the Greco-Roman style of wrestling. What most kids watch on TV in the way of pro wrestling is a perversion of that. Real wrestling can be just as satisfying from the standpoint of a physical challenge as two people trying to hit each other with folding chairs or throw the other person out of the ring. They drew up a list of rules and made it so that neighborhood kids could take part in matches and practice only when they agreed to abide by the rules. Responsible adults would need to be present to referee matches or practice sessions. Taking these steps was a better choice then simply cutting the kids off from something they have grown to love.
Giving your teens room to stretch is very important. Treating a teen like a little kid is a terrible mistake. The key is to make them understand that having more personal freedom involves showing more personal responsibility. If you decide to extend a curfew for example, give your teen a cell phone or insist on preset check in times. Make sure they are ready, willing and able to tell you where they are at all times. Set reasonable limits. Teens left to themselves to cruise around aimlessly are accidents looking to happen. Help them learn the importance of time use and being able to focus on things by insisting they create an itinerary. Explain that their new freedoms are entirely dependent on their ability to use them without putting themselves at risk or getting in trouble. If they violate your trust, send a message by cutting back their privileges.
Things usually get ugly in most families when a teen doesn't get what they want, but stand your ground! Giving in to their whims, reducing punishments or restoring privileges before the preset time will send a bad message. Instead, take the sting out of their time to reflect by going out with your teen. See a movie together, go bowling or participate in any sport you have a common interest in. Spending time with your teen is important. As much as they want to get away from you, they also need to know that you still love them. Nothing sends that message better then being involved in their life.
Most parents will spend the better part of a teen's years trying to protect them from themselves. Body piercing and tattoos are a good example. When it comes to doing things that have permanent consequences, parents have an important decision to make. Even if parents have tattoos or body piercing, that doesn't mean that allowing a teen to do it is a wise move. I cannot tell you how many times I have come across people whose children said to them later in life, "Why in the world did you let me do that?" Due to the many physical and mental changes they're undergoing, what seems to them like a rational decision today may prove regrettable later in life. I recommend that parents urge their teens to put off any decisions that involve the permanent alteration of their personal appearance until after they move out on their own or reach their twenty-first birthday.
What about out and out rebellion? That goes much deeper then just self expression. In my view the real question is, "How much rebellion is too much?" Your kid decides that they want to go gothic, what do you do? To make a long story short, going Gothic usually means looking kind of like, well, a vampire! As bad as it sounds, it's probably no worse then the pompadour haircuts and leather jackets, flower power tie dyed stuff, punk or disco looks from other generations. Ever seen a vintage 1940's Zoot Suit? What might be a problem is that some gothic teens cut each other and actually drink blood. Your best response to a teen's request to make any major changes to their wardrobe is probably, "Why?"
Most teens make major changes in their lives because they feel left out. This can be an invitation for cults and negative influences to step in and take over. Help your child to step back and take a look at why they might want to associate with one group or another. Give them options. The worst case scenario and the biggest cause of teen suicides is when a teen feels they have no options. For teens, today is far more important then yesterday or tomorrow. It's all they can see. Show them that things will get better and involve them in an alternative activity with more positive aspects.
Being a parent isn't a spectator sport, especially when it comes to teens. The more involved you are in your teenager's life, the less likely it is that they will fall into the common teenage traps of drug abuse or teen pregnancy. The problems begin when you allow them to fall off of your radar screen. Allowing teens more freedom means watching what they do more closely. Talk to your teens, don't preach, but explain the consequences of poor choices. If you did things that were less then desirable as a teen, never make light of or brag about your choices. The message you send is the message your teen will receive, so make it a positive one!