Thanks for dropping by, and welcome if you are a first-time visitor to these pages.
Over the last few months I've been spending quite a bit of my working week talking with parents who have been feeling overwhelmed with the task of raising their adolescents. The young person whom they have previously had a reasonable relationship with has morphed into some idle and disrespectful person who now prioritises their own time with friends over time with family. And when they are with family, they are often sullen and oppositional. Nothing too new or surprising there. But what is concerning is how overwhelmed and even powerless their parents wind up feeling. Parents who have previously felt quite comfortable in their raising of a younger child have seemingly lost much of their confidence and felt out of their depth when it comes to taking charge of a teen. And parental confidence is not helped by young people who seem increasingly worldly and articulate, due to their high levels or electronic connectedness with the wider world...
The great news for parents who feel they are only keeping their heads above water, with this is that it is very fixable, though of course like all things family-related, the sooner they get on to this, the easier it is for everyone. They can then wind up feeling back in their rightful place at the helm of the family and meanwhile the young person (even though they may complain and test the parents as they seek to get things back on track) will actually feel more secure and contained also. It's a win-win situation.
I often ask parents of adolescents to describe their "parenting style". And if you are wondering what this means, there are around (depending on who you read) 4 or 5 likely different parenting styles. Rather than go through all of those right now, there's just one that I want to suggest that parents should be aiming for. And that's the Authoritative style. But before we get into that, it's really important that we don't confuse that with the Authoritarian style. The two sound very similar, but the authoritative style is respectful of the young person, with regard to their views, their individual development etc., whilst also providing the containment, support and boundaries that enable young people to thrive and develop. Whereas the authoritarian style is usually rigid, black and white and takes no real account of the developing young person. In the end the authoritarian style causes a gulf to develop between parents and kids, at the very life stage (of the young person's development) when parents and young people are needing to remain connected.
So what are Authoritative Parents doing differently?
1) Parents role-model good emotional stability. They don't use silent treatment, with either their co-parent or with any of the young people in the house. Nor do they rant and rave and lose the plot (I continue to be surprised by parents who have complained to me over the years of my doing this work, about the way their young person will "act out" with loud or aggressive behaviour. Yet it's soon apparent that the young person has been exposed to these types of behaviours, from either or both parents - who are then dumbfounded when the young person then starts doing this themselves...).
2) Authoritative parents role-model respectful interactions with the young person. This means parents not using sarcasm, belittling comments or verbal insults. This in turn highly increases the chances of the young person being respectful to parents, and to other adult figures in their lives. Parents can't just demand to be respected "because I am the parent." As with all the people we interact with during the course of our lives, if we demonstrate respect, we get it back.
3) Authoritative parents work with each other. Families where one parents rules in an autocratic way, with the other parent then trying to counter this by playing the role of the pacifier or peacemaker or "good guy," is a really common dynamic, yet so unhelpful for everyone involved. Of course parents won't always see eye to eye about everything - that's OK. But for at least say, 80% of the time, adolescents (in fact all the kids in the family) need to see that mum and dad are on the same page, that they back each other, that they can't be played off against each other. The parents will have a shared "parenting policy", that they have both thought out, and for which they will review the effectiveness of from time to time.
We know too that not all kids are going to live in intact nuclear families with both parents physically present at all times. But the need for parental consistency remains - so separated or divorced parents need to put aside any adult conflict that is residual to their couple relationship (a "Big Ask" I know - but kids are entitled to this) so that they can provide their adolescent (and any other kids they share) with the type of parenting they need. Parents who have re-partnered need to also have their new partners on board with their parenting approach.
4) Authoritative parents listen to their young person's ideas and opinions. In fact they actively seek these out. Part of being a successful parent involves raising kids who have confidence and belief in their own ideas, even when they may be at odds with significant others. And when it comes to the way parents run things at home, there will be more buy-in for teens, if they have had input into family decision making, remembering too, that it's OK for parents to retain executive decision making responsibility.
5) Authoritative parents don't nag and yell and don't use the same old ineffective methods, all the while expecting different results. They experiment with different approaches. And most importantly, they make good use of rewards and consequences. It's important for the young people in the house to know what is expected of them, to know what their boundaries are. Of course they are going to test these from time to time to see how serious parents are about sticking to their guns. Kids need to know in advance (ie., what the parenting policy is) as to what reasonable consequences will be enforced when they are out of line. Technology is great here, as teens are already so engaged with it. (If it needs to be so intrusive into the lives of families, smart parents are recruiting it more and more as both a reward and a consequence).
What's really important too, is to not just focus on "not OK" behaviours, but to also be on the look-out (and of course acknowledge) for good behaviour - parents who do this regularly notice that they (a) get more positive behaviours overall, and (b) their kids are more accepting of consequences when they don't get it right, if they are frequently caught also being good.
It's also important to keep rewards fresh and interesting - what a young person is excited about this week will likely become ho-hum in a few weeks. Parents need to remember too, that if they themselves don't stay committed to the importance of rewards, then it's hard to expect their young person to. Parents need to be the Cheer Squad and lead from the front.
I've also heard a few parents say over the years, that consequences simply don't work for their teenager because there is nothing they really care about. Well, maybe.... Often this can be a case of a young person conning a parent into thinking that there is nothing that matters to them - but the reality is there will always be something. It's the parent's job to be the detective and find out exactly what that is, and make that work for them. In the end, all stages of our lives, from early childhood to late life, will be shaped by the influence of rewards or consequences in many shapes and forms. (Have a look here for some really useful ideas about how to make consequences work effectively).
The Best Bits: Thanks for hanging in there! If you have managed to keep your attention span focused to this far down the page, you are indeed a TIC (True Internet Champion - see my last post...)! So I'm going to reward you by telling you what characteristics and behaviours a young person whose parents use a consistent authoritative parenting style will likely wind up with:
1)They will tend to have happier dispositions.
2) They likely have better emotional control and regulation.
3) They will have better social skills - ie., be respectful and polite in their interactions with others.
4) They will have increased belief in their own ability to learn new skills.
Worthwhile persevering if the outcome is a well-rounded and very functional young person, and not forgetting their confident and satisfied parents.
If you want to read more about parenting styles from the New Zealand Father and Child website, jump over here. Or if you remember That 70's Show, have a look at the clip below to see more reasons why an authoritarian parenting style does not work....
Good luck with your young person - and if you want any help with this stuff, you can contact me here, and I'll be happy to help out.
"Some occasional thoughts about families, relationships, and other things that distract us...."