Dec 07 / Simcha

Are You Asking the Wrong Questions??

Parents struggling with challenging adolescent behavior are often asking themselves (and their therapists) the wrong questions.

They ask:
How do I make my teen listen to me?
How do I make my teen understand that “no” is “no”?
How do I get my teen to cooperate and do what I say?
How do I make my teen’s problematic behavior go away?
What would be an appropriate punishment or consequence for this particular behavior or situation?

These questions share several features in common.  For one thing, they are all short-term.  They also conform with the conventional wisdom that a parent’s role is to be controlling, and that one’s success as a parent is determined by the child’s bending to parental will and control.  The irony of this thinking is that the more rigid and controlling the parent is, the less responsible and responsive the teen tends to be.

Try experimenting with a different way of thinking.  Ask yourself the following questions instead:

How do I help my teen become capable?
How do I get into my teen’s world and support his/her developmental process?
How do I help my teen experience belonging and significance?
How do I help my teen learn social and life (cooperation) skills, such as problem-solving and the ability to identify and communicate his/her feelings?
How can my teen and I use this challenging situation or incident as an opportunity to learn from our mistakes?

When you ask these sorts of questions, you will become a much better different type of parent – one who listens better and is more deeply attuned with your child’s inner life.  You will begin to include your teen in the problem-solving process, to discuss with him/her the ramifications and consequences of any particular behavior, and to make rules that take his/her input into consideration.

When adolescents (and most people for that matter) feel listened to and respected in this way, they will be more likely to cooperate.

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Adapted from:  Positive Discipline for Teenagers (Nelsen & Lott)