Lately I’ve heard story after story about teens rebelling and acting out with zero consequences. Sure there’s a lot of fighting and arguing and negotiating (which is infuriating and draining for both teens and parents), but when all is said and done the teen walks away with all of their privileges in tact and all of their luxuries at hand.
No rules. No boundaries. No ramifications.
Perhaps even worse than the lack of boundaries are the empty threats: parents claim they will _________ (fill in the blank: take away the cell phone, cut off the Netflix account, revoke the car keys, etc.) BUT NEVER FOLLOW THROUGH. Subsequently, teens come to learn that no matter how poorly they behave, no matter how many school assignments they blow off, no matter how many times they break curfew, at the end of the day they will still get everything they want. It’s quite simple really:
No Boundaries + Empty Threats = The Quickest Way to Raise a Brat
But if parents are so frustrated by their teen’s outrageous behavior, then why, WHY do they continue to allow it?!
Here are some of the most common responses I hear and how I coach parents accordingly:
“I’m too tired; I just can’t fight anymore.”
-I really empathize with this one. Parenting is not for the faint of heart and I completely understand the sheer exhaustion that comes along with parenting a defiant teen. BUT, and I say this with the utmost love and respect, giving up the fight is equivalent to giving up on your kid. Now is the time to dig deep and practice role-modeling resilience in the face of a challenge. Don’t kid yourself—if you think that letting your teen steam roll you just this one time won’t result in a sustained pattern of defiance, you’ve got another thing coming. So take a nap. Take a break. Whatever you need to do to recharge your parenting batteries, do it. Because tomorrow is likely to bring another battle and you will be faced with the same choice: back down or buck up? So remember: everyone in a family deserves equal respect, but not equal power. As a parent, it is your duty to harness your parental authority in the name of raising a decent and respectful human.
“I can’t stand when she’s mad at me. It’s easier to just let it slide.”
-Duh. Of course it’s easier to let it slide, but there are several underlying reasons for this common explanation. Some parents are more interested in being their teen’s friend than their parent (when the need for acceptance trumps everything.) For other parents, fear of abandonment prevents them from laying down the law (“what if she never forgives me?!”) And still for others, enduring the wrath of a teen is simply unbearable (“She won’t look at me or talk to me. It’s like I’m living with a mortal enemy and I can’t take it.”) Regardless of the underlying cause, the bottom line is this: You DON’T need your teen’s friendship, she WILL get over it, and you absolutely CAN survive an adolescent meltdown. You’re in this for the long haul. A few hours, days or even weeks of kicking and screaming or the silent treatment is better than a lifetime of being disrespected. We must stay focused on the big picture rather than get caught up in the drama of the day.
“All of my friends say their kids act the same way— how can I expect anything different from my teen?”
-Ok, yes, adolescence is often marked by rebellious and erratic behavior. Hormones, brain development, and several other factors contribute to this common experience. BUT, we all know at least one teen that is consistently respectful and kind. Do you think that happened by accident?? In my experience, these teens are products of parents who are unwilling to compromise on their values. PERIOD. When their teen behaves in a way that does not honor the family values, consequences are enforced without question. It truly doesn’t matter what anyone else around you is saying or doing. You have the right to determine what is best for your family and to act accordingly. If you value respect, gratitude and contribution, consider how you can hold your teen accountable to those values—and follow through!
“My husband and I disagree about how to handle these situations.”
-I see this all the time: one parent is the disciplinarian (bad cop) and the other lets everything slide (good cop.) Here’s the deal: if you and your partner are not aligned in setting and holding boundaries, your teen will play one of you against the other and ultimately run the show. Every. Single. Time. It is IMPERATIVE that parents are on the same page about expectations and consequences. But whatever you do—do NOT hash this out in front of your teen or let your teen negotiate with you. Behind closed doors, in private, establish agreed upon rules that you can both enforce consistently.
Now it’s time to learn how to set some boundaries and stick to them! Here’s my three-step approach to help you feel empowered and confident.
Step 1: Outline your expectations. It seems obvious, but many parents get upset when teens don’t intuitively know what’s expected of them like tidying up their room or clearing the dinner table. Decide what boundaries are non-negotiable (about everything from homework to chores to electronics) and sit down with your to teen to explain how and why you came to this particular set of rules. (And trust me, “because I said so” won’t cut it!) Sometimes, creating a contract can help to eliminate confusion and clarify both expectations and privileges. Note: for a family who has had very little structure in the past, this might be a huge shift for a teen to suddenly have hard and fast rules. To that end, managing expectations and giving a grace period for adjustment is important to the success of the process.
Step 2: Hold your sacred ground. When we don’t enforce the boundaries that are most important to us, we wind up feeling resentful, hurt and angry. Subsequently, it’s incredibly difficult to be a loving and generous parent when we are always operating from a state of frustration. While it might be painful to enforce a boundary initially, doing so ultimately frees us up emotionally to be an even better parent. Enforcing boundaries is NOT about dominating or wielding power over your teen. It’s about teaching respect and honoring your values. And when it comes time to follow through, I encourage you to embody this quote by Brené Brown: “Don’t shrink, don’t puff up, just stand your sacred ground.” In essence, there’s no need to get caught up in your teens negotiations or manipulations. Simply tow the line without taking the bait.
Step 3: Remember your goal. In moments of calm, most parents agree that raising a child to have good character, judgment and morals is more important than giving them access to opportunities, privileges and luxuries. But in the heat of an argument with a teen, it’s easy to compromise that goal for the sake of keeping the peace. It’s absolutely critical to maintain character development as a priority even when the going gets tough. Trust me, I realize this is easier said than done—especially when enforcing the boundaries has a negative ripple effect on others. For instance, when grounding your teen from dance class means the whole troupe suffers in her absence, or when you have to revoke driving privileges and the carpool schedule gets blown to bits. But once again, if we are focusing on the big picture, we can see that these temporary inconveniences are critically important to teaching our kids the value of respect.
Here’s to honoring your values and raising a generation of respectful teens!