Shaming and Guilting Our Teens: Why it Does Not Work and What is the Real Problem

I recently coached the mother of a teenage son and daughter. She was having many problems with the son, which got her to coach with me. As we got into her story, I found that she had some older children who continued to have problems as young adults. Se was very afraid that her youngest one was now going to end up like her other kids. As she told me of her efforts to motivate her family to do better and become successful in their lives, it became clear that her prime parental motivating tool was to resort to creating guilt and shame in them. This came in two forms. The first was the "look what you are putting me through" variety. "I hurt so much when I see you [wasting your live…getting in so much trouble…using so much drugs….]" The second form is "If you don’t change you are going to end up [just like your father that worthless bum…in jail again…washing dishes for the rest of your life….]" There are others, though these are the main ones.

The problem with this approach is that teenagers in general, and teenage boys in particular, already live in a world of shame and guilt. They are generating more than they can handle on their own without any assistance from their parents. Adolescent years is all about experimenting, failing and goofing up, learning from those mistakes and growing up in the process. That is a painful process. They are constantly aware of and fearful how, they look to others and who they are being judged by others. They are constantly beating themselves up over their short comings. They painfully know and have much guild and shame when their actions or inactions end up creating problems for others, especially their parents. This is painfully frustrating to them when they are aware of what they are doing as they are doing it and do not have the inner tools to stop the destruction and havoc they are causing. The last thing they need to hear is a parent saying, "Do you know what you are putting me through?" That just adds to their frustration without offering guidance and support.

Parents can easily fall into this pattern of feeling like victims and blaming their kids,  when they do not separate their feelings about themselves, the parenting process, and the welfare of their kids from the process of parenting itself and functioning responsibly and deliberately as a parent. It is real easy to feel totally overwhelmed as a parent and end up letting your kids have it, full force, over some mild goof up that did not warrant that kind of response.

I can distinctly remember being in my kitchen, about thirty years ago, with one of my foster sons who was messing up big time and obstinately resisting my best efforts to guide him. I had a sudden thought to go get a baseball bat and do him grave bodily injury. Because such an impulse was totally foreign to my core beliefs and thinking, I was jolted back into the reality that I was caught up in my feelings and not focusing on being the best parent I could be by taking a different approach that he might better relate to.

Our primary mission is to prepare our kids to be successful adults by their own definition of success. Teens will predictably do what they do. Sometimes what they do is to lash out verbally or even physically at others especially their parents because they are a safe target/.Getting upset about the predictable is just drama.

Sometimes, as a parent, I have to put my feelings aside and respond to the current situation in a responsible, appropriate manner. Letting my feeling rule my actions in response to my teen’s totally out of control actions, puts two out of control teenagers in the room and one of them is way too old to be behaving that way! This is a dangerous and degenerative situation. I then become part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

This is why at times of huge adolescent created turmoil in a household the parents need to be each others emotional support. If that is not available then it is imperative for them to get outside support from good friends, clergy mental health professionals or Life Coaches. That is the responsible way to deal with the frustrations of parenthood. Blowing up at our kids in an uncontrolled burst of pent up emotion with guilting and shaming statements that come from feelings of victimhood and self-pity is a sure sign that it is time to get some outside support for our feelings.

Many years ago, I coached a mother who was a very loving, supportive mother with way too many kids and no husband to share the load. Every couple of years she would have a complete nervous break down. Her kids would find her sitting on the floor of her bedroom, babbling like a baby and action totally helpless, throwing temper tantrums. They would call for assistance and she would be carted off to the local mental ward. While she was there her kids and everyone she knew would visit her and pay attention to her and her every need. About three weeks later she would make a miraculous recovery and go home to be that loving, supportive, responsible mom again. This would last for about another couple of years when she would repeat the performance. I finally got across to her that there was a better way of playing this parenting game. If she made sure that her emotional needs were being regularly met by telling all those people who visited her in the hospital, including her kids, that she needed regular, on-going attention and support, she could avoid these hospital time outs.

We tell ourselves that we are doing this for our kids. The problem is that we become more and more ineffective and dysfunctional if we are postponing taking care of our emotional needs. When this happens, our ability to parent well suffers and so do our kids. It is totally possible to do it for our kids and take care of our emotional needs as parents.

Remember the instructions when you are flying about what to do if there is a loss of cabin pressure and the oxygen masks pop out. You are instructed to put on your mask first and then attend to making sure your kids masks are on. Enough said!

About the Author:

Jason Wittman, MPS has a private practice as a Life Coach specializing in working with parents of teenage boys and young adults ( http://TheParentsCoach.com ) He can be reached at jason@theparentscoach.com

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