Certain questions are more difficult to address than others when dealing with our children. Questions like:
My 16 year old daughter drove home with 3 other friends in her car. That is illegal in my state. How do I punish her?
My son is hanging out with kids I don’t like. What is the best punishment for that behavior?
I found liquor in my son’s room. Will punishing him get him to stop?
Dealing with teens is tough and dealing with their behavior is tougher. Punishment and grounding teenagers is a popular method with parents but it doesn’t teach our kids much. Punishment only makes kids lie more and devise sneakier ways to do what they want to do.
To help kids really learn to act appropriately we need to reach their conscience and give them the skills that need to cope with their challenges of high school, peer pressure, drinking and even drugs.
When dealing with teenagers it is critical to keep the lines of communication open. All our efforts should be directed to this goal. You need to make sure to have the tough conversations when you are calm. To do this you need to use neutral and non-accusatory language. Then you want to move the conversation to coming up with solutions.
Start with the positive:
You have been very responsible with the car in the past…
You friends are likeable and fun…
I have seen you make good decisions about alcohol…
State the problem neutrally:
It is illegal to drive with 3 friends in your car…
I am concerned about the way they are roaming the neighborhood…
I found this bottle of liquor in your room…
Listen to their side of the story without interruptions:
“My friends asked me and they made me feel bad when I said no. They said it is just for a couple of blocks…”
“My friends are great- they are a lot of fun…”
“What is the big deal, all my friends drink…”
Empathize and then state your expectations in a neutral manner:
“I see that it was hard for you to say no to your friends however, I am concerned about your driving illegally.”
“Your friends really appeal to you sense of fun. I am concerned how they act in the neighborhood.”
“You feel that if all your friends are doing it then it is fine. Underage drinking is unacceptable to us.”
Invite your teens to brainstorm and come up with solutions:
“Being a teen, you have a different perspective. We need your input on how to handle this situation appropriately.”
What can you say to your friends so you are not driving illegally again?
“Is there some way for you to disengage from your friends when they are acting inappropriately, when it is not all fun…”
“We need to know that you will not drink again. What ideas do you have to help you do the right thing?”
To open up more conversations about teen life, you can ask:
· “We feel it is important that you know how to withstand peer pressure if you are going to be with teens who are doing drugs or drinking. What kind of strategies do you have to do that?”
· What do other kids do when their friends drink?”
· “What do you think the biggest struggles teens have these days?”
Parenting a teen can be scary. We need to avoid punishing our kids and teach our kids to think for themselves and invite them to come up with solutions to the very tough problems they have as adolescents.
Adina Soclof, MS. CCC-SLP, works as a Parent Educator for Bellefaire Jewish Children’s Bureau facilitating How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk workshops as well as workshops based on Siblings Without Rivalry. Adina also runs parentingsimply.com.