The Two “Musts” of Parenting

There are only two "musts" when parenting teens. I say "musts" because they provide the foundation for everything else. These two principles build on each other and will greatly influence the value structure that your teen will develop and will let them know you are a reliable source of guidance.

The first principle is that when asked, either directly or indirectly, always label irresponsibility as irresponsibility. If you think that what your teen has done is not in his or the world he lives in’s best interests, he needs you to tell him what you think.

Teens are always testing adults to see if they are reliable sources of guidance. They might act like they are not interested in guidance. That is just a brave cover for a questioning inside. The way they test is to ask for an answer to something for which they already know the answer and evaluate the reply they get. If their parents, in a futile attempt to court their friendship, give an answer that is anything less than what their kids already know to be the truth, their teens will know that they are not a reliable source for moral and responsible guidance on matters where they do not know the answer.

There is no such thing as a non-judgmental reply. You, as the parent, are being called on for your opinion. To give a non-judgmental answer is taken by teens in one of two ways. The first is that since you didn’t label their act or proposed act as being irresponsible then you are sanctioning it. No opinion is an opinion! The second way they interpret such a reply is that you don’t care about them. If you did, you would let them know when you think they are about to be in possible or impending trouble.

As kids get older, it is important to wait until asked either directly or indirectly for your guidance or opinion. Reserve direct unrequested interventions for those situations where you see grave consequences if they were to continue on their present path. If you have been consistently giving good reliable advice, you will be regularly called on, although usually when they have exhausted all other possible sources of answers, but they will call.

Many times you will be asked indirectly. It takes some real active listening to hear the question because it probably will come as a statement. It could be the telling of a recent exploit that was borderline unsafe, illegal or both. Your reply ought to be given in the same conversational, relaxed manner at their story, so as not to break the rapport of the conversation. None-the-less it needs to be very clear in your reply that what was just told to you concerns you for their sake. For example, when I worked on the streets with kids and one of them told me that he had just done some major shoplifting and got away with it, my answer said in a joking off-handed manner was, "I am sure glad that I still have my jail pass so I will be able to visit you when you’re not so slick the next time." My rule is that I can not let any tale of irresponsibility go by without my view being quite clear. The only reason I was being told these stories was to get my opinion. The same goes for you and your teens.

The second "must" principle goes hand-in-hand with the first principle. You must always be a great role model for your teens. The saying is, "If you talk the talk, you must walk the walk!" If you are hoping to raise your children and teens with good manners, honesty, good wholesome ways of doing things, eating, and living moral lives, then you must model those attributes and model them more absolutely than you can expect them to be followed. Your teens will learn more from what you do than what you say. Actions DO speak louder than words!

Teens will naturally amplify what you do to justify what they want to do. Teens view the world in absolutes. It is either this or that. There are no grey areas, no distinctions. For instance; you are shopping for groceries with them and you "sample" an apricot without asking the clerk for a taste. In your teen’s minds, you either bought the apricot or you stole it. It matters not that most green grocers expect minor sampling. Your stealing the piece of fruit will be taken by your teens as license and a justification to shoplift.

It is a good idea to, every once in a while, take inventory of what you do in your teen’s presence in absolute terms, as they would see it. Then ask yourself if you are living a good example. Remember, knocking off a six-pack of beer while watching a football game, even though you won’t be driving, is saying to your teen that drinking a six-pack in one sitting is an O.K. thing to do and they probably will do it while driving! Smoking that occasional marijuana joint at a party with your friends will be taken by your teens as a green light to get high all the time.

An important part of parenting is being a great role model. Sometimes being a great role model involves forgoing some of those goodies that might be O.K. if you weren’t a great parent. It is a small price to pay for keeping your teens on a responsibly steady path. If my father could choke down liver every Wednesday while we were growing up so that we would not have his bias against liver, you can certainly make the necessary sacrifices to insure that your kids do not pick up and amplify your not-so-great habits.

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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