Do you remember the last time you asked your teenager to do something, and she actually followed through fairly quickly – without you having to ask a second time? If you're like most parents, you do not remember the last time this happened, because your teenager has not responded to your "first requests" in a long time. Whether its chores, homework, turning off the computer, or stopping a fight with a sibling, most parents of defiant teens find themselves forever nagging and pleading and threatening.
Is it even possible to get a defiant teenager to respond to your first request? The answer is "absolutely." But it's going to take some time and effort on your part. Also, it's going to take some time for your teenager to get used to your new method. In this article, we are going to look at a simple 4-step method for getting your teen to cooperate fairly quickly. And as an added bonus, this method will also save you a lot of time and energy spent nagging – no more repeating your requests over and over again.
Step #1: At a time when you and your teenager are on good terms, the household is fairly quiet, and your teenager is calm, have a short conversation with her about how you are “tired of nagging.” For example, "There are many times where I have to ask you three or more times to do something, like chores and homework. I get tired of nagging, and you get tired of hearing me nag. So from this point forward, I'm going to do us both a favor and only ask one time; however, if you choose to ignore me, you will choose a consequence."
Step #2: Talk to your teen about rewards and consequences. Tell him you will be sure that “following through with requests” results in privileges, and “ignoring requests” results in consequences. Also let him know that the consequence will always fit the "crime." For example, if your teenager violates curfew one evening, then an appropriate consequence would be grounding him for the next evening – instead of withholding computer privileges. In this case, the computer had nothing to do with the rule violation. Pulling any old consequence out of your hat at the spur of the moment will likely make a bad problem worse. So, talk with your teenager about some specific examples of what he has to gain by following through on your first requests, and also talk about the specific consequences for lack of cooperation.
Step #3: While it's true that you are not going to nag anymore, you ARE going to allow more time for your teenager to follow through with your request than you may have in times past. In other words, you're not going to ask twice, but your teenager doesn't have to jump immediately to the task at hand (e.g., homework, chores, etc.). So in this way, your teen does NOT have the option of ignoring you, but he can choose (within a reasonable amount of time) when to honor your request. For example, instead of saying, "You haven't fed the dog yet. That's your job, and you need to do it right now!" ...you could say, "I noticed you haven't fed the dog yet. I'll give you 15 minutes to get it done." Then you can also add a rewards-consequence statement like, "If you feed the dog within the next 15 minutes, you can get on the computer for an hour. If you don't, then you can’t."
Note that in step #3, you are giving your teenager some choices, specifically whether or not to feed the dog - and when! This gives an element of control to your teenager, which will make it more likely that she will respond to your request rather than engage you in another power struggle. If she doesn't want to feed the dog within the 15-minute time frame – fine! You feed the dog, and she loses computer privileges.
Step #4: Here you're going to employ the "countdown." In other words, you will be giving one or two reminders as the time counts down. For example, at the 10-minute mark, you could say, "You have 10 minutes" ... and at the 5-minute mark, you could say, "Only five minutes left." So in all reality, this is similar to making three requests rather than one, but it certainly doesn't fall into the "nagging" category because you are not repeatedly saying, "Feed the dog ...you need to feed the dog ...have you fed the dog yet ...how many times do I have to tell you to feed that dog."
When you first begin using this 4-step method, bear in mind that your teenager will have to practice his new response a few times. If you have been resorting to nagging and pleading and threatening for many years now, your teenager is not going to now magically jump whenever you say “snap to.” He's going to test the system. So it's important that you be consistent with both the “rewards for cooperation” and the “consequences for noncooperation.” Know that your teenager is going to fail the first few times – and that’s o.k. Only through consistent practice will he fully understand that things have changed and he can no longer ignore your requests or put you in the position of having to repeat yourself multiple times. So, when he tests the limits and resorts to the usual "request-ignoring behavior," you simply follow through with what you have already told him you would do in steps 1 and 2.
Of course, there will be situations where a countdown is not possible. For example, if your teenager is having a tantrum and punching holes in the wall, you wouldn’t want to say, “You need to quit punching holes in the wall. You’ve got 15 minutes to stop it!” In situations like this, you obviously need to step-in and issue an immediate consequence (which in this case may include calling the cops).
My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents