How Do You Start?

You may have to re-assess how you approach your teen. You may have to rethink the way you think about adolescence. Many parents assume teenagers are rude, hostile, belligerent, and unmanageable, but many times these problems are created by incorrect assumptions about what it means to be a child versus a teenager versus an adult. This is a highly charged period in a child’s life, but with strong guidance combined with a willingness to “let go” when appropriate, it does not have to be an antagonistic situation. This is not to say there will not be conflicts. Conflict is a part of changing relationships, and your relationship WILL change with you children as they pass through adolescence.

What are some of the changes that parents resist? One is the need to allow the child to make some decisions on their own and not have to manipulate or control every choice they make. Another is to allow your child to make mistakes. The third, which follows naturally from these, is not to rescue your child from the consequences of their behavior. We are not saying you should allow your child to behave in a way that is dangerous; this pertains to the more typical choices made in life about school, extracurricular activities, and jobs.

A recent publicized case of teens cheating in school is a great example of parents resisting the need to allow their teenagers to face the consequences of bad decisions. By rescuing their children from the consequences of willful and obvious cheating, the parents sent the message that if you do something wrong, then yell and protest when you are punished, you can get out of punishment. However, the real world does not work this way. These parents did their children a real disservice because they perceived a future benefit to getting the grade pushed up. However, the future benefits of understanding the consequences of unethical behavior far outweigh the benefit of a single grade.

Grade inflation is another example of the changing attitudes toward children. It is a generally accepted fact that grades in college are highly inflated over a decade or two ago. We are basically telling our children they are not capable of earning distinction through hard work and perseverance. Not only do we teach them that you can get more than you’ve earned by manipulating the system; we are teaching them that they are entitled to more than they’ve earned. Unfortunately, when these teens become adults they are often greatly disappointed to find out that in the real world, employers do not base their decisions on wanting to be “nice” and “help out.” They base their decisions on empirical data and results. You don’t perform, you don’t benefit.

When you consider the current scandals in corporate American, you can’t help but wonder how adults developed the idea that they could manipulate results, take short cuts, and basically do whatever they want to get what they think they deserve. These values do not come from a void; they are taught. A false sense of entitlement creates numerous problems for young people, such as reducing the drive to succeed and teaching them that the consequences of their actions can be avoided.

Your teenager is only a few years away from being an adult, and they have to learn how to make decisions, accept the consequences of their behavior, and understand that their parents cannot rescue them every time they exercise poor judgment. If they do not learn these lessons during their adolescence, they will not have developed the necessary skills to reach their highest potential They will think they can just “get by” and still get what they want.