Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What Kind Of Parent Am I? Part 4 of 4

Congratulations, the quiz is now over, and you have probably found yourself somewhere between all three parenting styles. The good news here is that all three have something to offer, and there will be times when you'll need to be the too hard parent, the too soft parent, and the parent who is "just right". But the time has definitely come when you have to share some of the control for how your teen lives their life. Paradoxically, that actually gives you more control that just being in control. Does that make sense?? Ok, so to do this, it means giving your teen more responsibility for making their own decisions, and acting more like a coach than a commandant. The issue here is that your teen isn't very good at this decision making thing yet, and here is why.

The frontal cortex of your teen's brain is still in the formative stage. This is the part of the brain that is responsible for decision-making. It is not that your teen can't make decisions (though it is a painful process) it just doesn't come naturally. The impulsivity we know and love in our teens is an example of where they live. Teens live in a feeling brain, hence the doing without thinking, and adults live in a thinking brain. How many times have you said or screamed at your teen after a particularly challenging incident: "What were you thinking?" This is what I mean, they were not thinking... they were feeling. This is why it is so so important to give your teen every opportunity to make and be responsible for decisions. We need to get them to start exercising that thinking part of the brain. This is how brain connections are made.

Here is how. I have developed a system that will give you a road map for helping your teen make decisions and take ownership for their actions. Think of this as the GPS of parenting. 
I call it "the four questions". Like a portable GPS that can be moved from car to car, these four questions can be plugged into most situations with your teen that require expectations and consequences, ie homework, curfews, going out with friends, etc etc. Take for example the issue of curfew, always a sensitive topic. Here is how a conversation usually goes: "What time do I have to be home?" your teen asks. " You, thinking you are being generous say 10:30. And the argument begins. Your teen whines, and finally explodes with a "nobody else has to be in by 10:30", and you being the responsible parent retort with a " Its either 10:30" or nothing and you can stay in for the night..period." So the door slams with your teen behind it. At 10:00 the phone rings with a lovely, loving voice on the other end: "Hi, the movie just got out, and everyone wants to get food, can I go, I don't think I can get home before 11:00?" You are so impressed by their politeness and that they called, you acquiesce, with an "OK honey, see you at 11. And there you have it, your kid has played you. They knew all along that they would end up staying out later, and have now learned that all they need to do is call and sweet-talk you and the deed is done. If you use "the four questions", you can avoid this pitfall.

Teen asks: "What time do I have to be home?" (Insert any issue of your choosing here)
Question 1: "What time do you think you should be home" (put your teen in the position of saying something first) Chances are they will answer with something not as outrageous as you would have thought)
Teen answers: 11:30
Question 2: "What do you think I am worried about if I say yes to 11:30?" (Here is where your teen has to do some thinking. They know you very well, and will probably say something like;" you think if I say 11:30 I'll end up coming in later.")
Question 3: "Yes that does worry me, how are you going to make me feel OK about this?"( Here is where they now become responsible for making a plan)
Teen answers: I promise I will call you a half hour before I come home, just to let you know that I will be there at 11:30.
Question 4: "What is the consequence going to be if you don't follow through on your plan of calling and/or coming in on-time? ( Here is the most important question, because now your teen has to come up with his/her own consequence. So that when the time comes when he doesn't follow through on one of these plans it is his/her own consequence.

The benefit of going through all this is that the plan has been thought through and executed by your teen. So when your teen follows through on this plan you can congratulate them, and if they don't there really isn't much you have to do. The consequence is already in place, and all you have to say is "sorry it didn't work out for you tonight, I guess we'll be hanging together next Friday night since that was what you said you would do if you didn't follow through.

The most important thing to remember is that just because you are sharing the control here, doesn't mean that your kid will come through 100% of the time. Because of course they won't. In the meantime they are learning how to come up with their own plan, and their own consequence. As a result, they will be much more likely to take ownership and responsibility for making it happen.  You get that in order to teach them how to make decisions and be responsible that you have to put them in the position to practice this. Remember, practice makes perfect!

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