Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Getting Even Rarely Works

 Watch this video first, and the we'll "talk".

I know WOW, right? I bet many of you have had a similar impulse. Frustrated beyond belief, thinking that you have an entitled, spoiled teen who doesn't appreciate what he/she has. Let's just take that laptop/IPhone/IPad/IPod/Xbox and blast it to smitherines! NOT!!!!

OK this dad is crazy. This is a family in deep trouble. Obviously!!! A healthy family does not air their dirty laundry in public, at least not the adults in the family

So what does a healthy family do, when one member of the family cannot contain their anger, and that family member happens to be a teenager who decides to share her "feelings" about her family publicly on her facebook page to 1000 of her closest friends.

The first thing I would do is see this as a cry for help. Maybe your teen has complained about you on their facebook page, what would you do? Would you punish them and take away their computer/IPhone etc? Or would you wonder to yourself, "wow, my teen is really angry. How can I help her with that. " In the video the dad mentioned that he grounded his daughter for 3 months because she didn't do her chores. Really, a 3 month grounding for that? How about just not driving her to a friend's or to the mall when she asks, if she hasn't emptied the dishwasher. Even if she hadn't made her bed for 3 months, grounding could not be a more ineffective consequence. So what you see here is a teen who clearly feels there is no chance for negotiation, no chance for conversation, and feeling completely helpless and also fearless, as she obviously feels she has nothing left to lose, publicly humiliates her parents.

If you have a teen who is terminally snarky, angry and full of attitude around you, punishing them will not change those behaviors. Taking ownership of half the problem will. I coached a couple recently whose daughter was always angry with them, was constantly lying to them about her whereabouts, and had almost completely isolated herself from the family. This couple had taken everything away from their daughter that they could possibly take away. Communication was at a stand still. Interaction from both parties limited to stoney silence or ferocious anger. So from the daughter's perspective, she had nothing left to lose and therefore no motivation to right things. It turns out these parents were extremely strict and rigid, and as a 16 year old this girl was chafing at the bit. If her parents would not give her any freedom, she would just take it, not unlike the daughter from the video. I asked the parents if they were willing to own some of the problem and try to talk to their daughter.

Here is what happened.
Parents said:" We know you are really angry with us. Clearly we are doing something wrong if you feel that you have to lie and sneak out of the house, and do things we know are not who you are? Please tell us what we can do differently."
Daughter's reaction: " The daughter was shocked by this admission and began to sob.(a shock to the parents who had not seen this side of her for many years) Immediately apologizing for her lying and sneaking out. When she was able to speak she said to them: " You guys always say no to anything I ask, even if it isn't even bad. You won't let me see my friends after school, you won't let me hang out where all my friends hang out, you won't let me see my boyfriend. It's not fair, I do good in school, I work, I do my sports, and you only see the bad stuff. I want to see my friends, I want to see my boyfriend, I just want to be a normal teenager. (these aren't exact words, but this is a true story and I am paraphrasing, but it's pretty close)
resolution: These parents and this daughter loved each other and were very motivated to work this out. The key is that these parents were willing to take some responsibility for this relationship disaster. (Unlike the dad in the video. PS the daughter discussed in the video ran away from home soon after the "shooting") Parents agreed to give their daughter more freedom, and asked in return that she keep them in the loop by checking in with them through texting.  She agreed.

The last time I heard from these parents, things were much better, not perfect but better. Sometimes she forget to check in (teens are like that) but rather than grounding her, or taking something away, they helped her to find a way to remember. Just getting mad at your teen when they screw up is NOT helpful. Look for what's getting in the way from their following through, and FIX IT. Learn from this dad. Getting even never works!

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