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How To Raise Responsible Teens: Everything Parents Need To Know

The thought of raising adolescents often comes with fear and trembling accompanied by visions of raging hormones and slamming doors. In a world that often teaches us to "watch out for number one," it can be a challenge to raise responsible teenagers.

Below are THE BEST TIPS to follow that will help moms and dads provide opportunities for their teenagers to develop responsible behaviors:

1. Adolescence is a time when teens move quickly from being dependent where they look up to you and usually want to please, to becoming independent and wanting to make their own decisions and think for themselves. This path is not always smooth because the changes can be hard to cope with for both you and your adolescent. This is a time for moms and dads to gradually help adolescents to take responsibility for themselves. During adolescence your teens may seem to temporarily reject your values and it is easy to become frustrated and distressed and feel that you have lost your influence and control over your teens. Shouting, stubbornness, irrational behavior, sulkiness and crying can be expected from time to time as they 'test out the waters', try new ways of managing their lives, and deal with the ups and downs of teenage life. It can be a difficult time for everyone and requires consideration and patience on all sides.

2. Adolescents need some rules and limits. It works best if you can work these out together with your adolescent so that she feels she has some choice. This means there is more chance of her being responsible.

3. Adolescents usually have more than enough social outlets. They need boundaries and safe, secure situations in which to grow. You are the provider of both, and when you act like a friend, your adolescent will lose security. Adolescents who view their moms and dads as authority figures and providers are more likely to be close to them in adulthood. Despite what appearances might suggest, adolescents do not respect moms and dads who behave like adolescents. Relating to your adolescent, based on your own experiences, can be a successful method of working through challenging situations, but at no time should you lose your parental status.

4. Allow for some risk taking, but also keep your adolescent's safety in mind. You need to have some rules that protect your adolescent's safety away from home and some for how she behaves in the home.

5. Ask yourself how important it is to 'win' the battle. Focus on the important things and learn to overlook minor ones.

6. At times, you may feel like the enemy, and your adolescent might actually refer to you as such. No matter how hurt you may feel, it is important to remain the one person who consistently stands by your adolescent. Peers and educators will come and go. But you will always be the mother or father. By establishing rules and consequences, you’re the one person in your adolescent’s life that holds him accountable no matter what. Even if we don’t like authority figures in our lives, they typically establish order and security.

7. Authority and mutual respect are essential. You have to mean what you say and stick to your guns. If your adolescent is grounded for two weeks, then make sure he stays home the full two weeks. Without follow through, adolescents won’t get the message and will continue to test you.

8. Be generous in times of stress (e.g., exams or a romance break-up). It will be appreciated.

9. Be mindful that limits for 13-year-olds are not suitable for 16-year-olds and are far less suitable for 18-year-olds.

10. Before you jump in and react, look for the cause. Listen first to what your adolescent has to say.

11. Continually reminding your adolescent of past mistakes is not helpful. It is important to give your adolescent a chance to try again after a mistake. Mistakes are how we all learn.

12. Don't decide on rules in the middle of a crisis, especially if your adolescent is in trouble for doing something wrong.

13. Don't store up bad feelings from the last time your adolescent broke the rules.

14. Every teenager should feel some discomfort. Your adolescent should have to deal with whatever results from his behavior as long as it’s fair, reasonable, and directly related. At the same time, don’t set up rules and regulations that might put him in danger. For example, if his curfew is midnight, don’t require him to speed in order to make it home on time. As long as he calls ahead and doesn’t bend the curfew consistently, give him some leeway with the exact minute he has to be back.

15. Expect and insist on a fair share in helping with chores so that your adolescent learns to contribute, feels a part of the family and shares the load.

16. Gradually remove the limits as your adolescent takes over the reins of her own life.

17. If behavior seems to be getting out of control or there is violence, you need to get support.

18. It’s essential to make sure your adolescent knows that you love him despite anything he does. Even greater, you love him enough to not let him develop behaviors that may be harmful to him or anyone else. Direct your criticisms and comments at the behavior, not the adolescent. If your adolescent fails a course due to lack of effort, don’t use phrases like “You’re lazy” or “You’ll never do well because you don’t try.” While you may even feel that these thoughts are accurate at the time, they only condemn and don’t solve the real issue. Focus on the behavior that created the problem such as not studying or not asking for needed help. Be sure to express that you’re not only confident that the behavior can change, but you’re expecting it to change. Then work together on specific restrictions and actions that need to take place for the behavior to improve.

19. It’s not funny when your adolescent messes up, particularly when you’re left to clean up the mess. Losing your sense of humor won’t help. It may not seem funny at the time, but most challenging situations can eventually be viewed in a comical way. If your adolescent feels comfortable laughing and joking with you regularly, he’ll also be more likely to listen when you get serious.

20. Just because rules are broken does not mean there shouldn't be any rules. When rules are broken, there needs to be some consequence, but this has to be carefully thought about.

21. Look after yourself. Get support, talk to others and give yourself a 'break' without feeling guilty.

22. Moms and dads may feel that they put in a lot of effort with their adolescent and they are often hurt when even the most reasonable agreements are not kept. This is normal and part of your adolescent testing. It is wiser not to over-react.

23. Moms and dads want to be respected but don’t always return that respect by listening to their adolescent. Not listening to your adolescent expresses that you don’t feel he has anything valuable to say. Even when disagreeing, adolescents should be given time to express their feelings and thoughts. This shouldn’t give an adolescent the right to be ugly or behave inappropriately, of course. Modeling and developing guidelines for how argumentative ideas should be expressed is essential. If you want to be heard, learn to listen.

24. Most teens simply “shut down” when the parent gets “pissed” and starts yelling at them. Sometimes moms and dads only punish once they have reached the end of their patience. In reality, this allows adolescents to misbehave for a period of time before suffering any consequences. Not only is this confusing, it can also lead to abuse. Dealing with an adolescent emotionally often produces dramatic immediate effects, but ultimately it creates a communication wall in the relationship. Consistent parenting prevents punishing in anger and rage. Stepping away from the situation to recover emotionally also proves helpful.

25. Often you need to do things together on their terms. Listen to their ideas without trying to force your ideas on them. Take an interest in what is important to them and you will have a good baseline to work from.

26. Regarding chores, expect that you will often have to remind him and that in his eyes he is "the only one doing anything" and that he "has done heaps already!"

27. Remember even when you love your adolescents you can still get angry and dislike what they do at times.

28. Save grounding for the worst violations (e.g., staying out past curfew, hanging out in places you haven’t approved, harming others, doing something illegal, etc.). Restrict privileges (e.g., using the car or computer) for less serious offenses like neglecting schoolwork or not filling the gas tank. The most minor errors, such as letting dirty laundry pile up, may simply mean your adolescent won’t have clean clothes to wear.

29. Set consequences that can be quickly completed and then give your adolescent a chance to try again (e.g., "You came home very late after we agreed on a time, so tomorrow I will pick you up" or "Tomorrow you will have to stay home").

30. Show your adolescent how to earn freedom. Tell her: “You are responsible for what you choose to do and for what happens to you and others as a result of your decisions and actions.” It’s your adolescent’s choice. The more she proves to be responsible (i.e., dependable and honest), the more freedom you can give her. If she violates your trust by acting irresponsibly, you take away some of that freedom. For instance, if she gets a speeding ticket, take away her license until she rebuilds your trust. The two of you should collaborate on how she can begin to earn back your confidence. If moms and dads start from the assumption that their kids are honest and responsible, adolescents will want to live up to that trust. But don’t assume children will figure things out on their own.

31. Some of life’s greatest lessons result from failing. Moms and dads who micromanage their adolescents because they are afraid of their adolescent failing prevent their youngster from developing important life skills. As much as you don’t want to have to discipline your adolescent, letting him fail and living with the consequences can teach him more than your chosen discipline.

32. Some parents use a technique called “placing a guilt-trip.” Guilt may create an immediate response, but this style of discipline actually promotes internal emotional issues for adolescents that may not be dealt with until adulthood, if ever. Reasoning with an adolescent, providing a basis for your expectations and consequences, does not always evoke an immediate response, but the long-term results are typically more positive.

33. Trusting your adolescent is an important part of your relationship. Trust has to be earned by both of you. Remind yourself that your adolescent is struggling with lots of new feelings and his behavior could be showing genuine unhappiness which needs your concern.

34. Try to find out from other moms and dads what limits they are setting and remember that if you are too far away from what their friends' moms and dads are doing, you will have much more difficulty in getting your adolescent to cooperate with you.

35. Understand that what works for one teenager might not work for another.

36. What you say to yourself makes all the difference in how you cope with teenage problems. If you think, "Why should I have to put up with this behavior?" you are more likely to act in a way that drags out the battle, than if you think, "My son is struggling at the moment and I need to work out the best way to sort this out".

37. Whatever you decide in the way of disciplinary measures, know that your adolescent is likely to see it as punishment and be resentful – but if you don't take any action, you are making it more difficult for yourself next time.

38. Whenever possible, the discipline should be reflective of wrongdoing. For example, if an adolescent returns home after curfew, limiting his nights out temporarily would be appropriate. An adolescent that doesn’t complete school work might be required to miss a social event to complete the work. If the adolescent misses the social event as a consequence, but doesn’t actually do school work, the consequences don’t make sense and just seem spiteful.

39. While all kids need consistent discipline, it’s even more important for adolescents. They get frustrated when a behavior is acceptable one day and not acceptable the next. The established rules need specific consequences. Realistic and consistent consequences demonstrate a “real world” view for adolescents. Creating house rules with consequences, then responding appropriately, provides all kids with security and direction.

40. Work on your relationship with your teenager first, because no discipline will be successful unless this is the basis. Having a good relationship takes time.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: How To Effectively Discipline Unruly Teenagers


Anonymous said...

Hello Mark,

I just wanted to tell you that your on-line newsletters have become a central part of my husband and I being able to deal with situations have recently come our way w/our son who has Asperger's Syndrome/just being a teen. How 'timely' they have been has given me a good laugh! I'm just so thankful for your insight & counsel and wanted to let you know your work is much appreciated! I wish for you a peaceful/relaxing and blessed Thanksgiving Holiday!


Anonymous said...

Presently my son is home, now unemployed and is hanging around with drug taking teenagers and older people. He doesn't have the money to do drugs but I know in the recent past he drank heavily and smoked pot. He was making progress when he worked as an apprentice mechanic. I believe he has a personality disorder or bi polar but who knows as he refuses to seek help. In the last 3 weeks he has deteriorated - threatened me, his brother and broke a window to gain access when locked out during the day. It is never his fault, he has an excuse for all and is very manipulative. He told people when he ran away I was violent. I am being calm but trying to be assertive. He grew up with boundaries, rewards and lots of love and encouragement. He has changed completely. I have 2 siblings with depression. He doesn't act depressed but is always trying to be cool , act and look cool. His behavior is very infantile in many ways We have offered incentives - put money with his money to acquire a car/motorbike. Now he has stopped working I have offered chores for money to stop him turning to crime. He wanted me to pick him up at 2am this morning. I agreed even though he had said he was sleeping over but when he asked for his new girl friend to stay I said no and when asked why explained that she was present during the break-in. i have taken him to court 3 days ago to get a warning from the court to stop the damage (holes in walls) in his room. I am at my wits end. My husband wants to kick him out and this is affecting our relationship. His younger brother was sent a text last night when i refused to bring girlfriend back (said him only - he declined) stating "tell mum I am doing heroin".

Any suggestions?

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