When we are born, we bring into the world our temperament and our personality. It is our parent's job to understand what we bring to the table, our nature, and then help us to develop to our fullest. If our parents misunderstand or don't want to accept this part of our nature, we can forever feel misunderstood and at odds with them. Your kid's too bring their temperament and personality to the table. It is what drives their choices, their interests, their emotional reactions, their motivation, and their ability to connect with you and people outside the family. Understanding your teen's personality and what drives their behavior will be the key to keeping them safe as they navigate all the scary, risky choices that present themselves during Adolescence.
I have targeted 4 major personality styles and how these interact with all the temptations that teens encounter, specifically drugs and alcohol. Who is your teen?
- The Risk-Taker: Those of you with these teens will have memories of your teen as a 3 year old running instead of walking. These were the kids that showed no fear. A big slide, can't wait. Climb to the highest rung of the monkey bars, race you! Gets on a sled or puts on a pair of skis, the faster, the steeper, the better. Roller coasters, scary movies, you name it, they are always game. That's what makes being around them so much fun, and of course terrifying. Your parent mantra...BE CAREFUL!!! Now as teenagers, with a brain tuned into risk-taking, the drive for dangerous fun is a powerful motivator. But now it's not steep slides, but fast cars, and power drinking, and being up for trying and doing just about anything. Obviously this "nature" puts them in a vulnerable position. You can't tame this beast but you can teach them. Here is your "I Get It" conversation: Honey, you know what I love about you. I love that you are always up for a new challenge, you're always game for anything. And in life, that can be a wonderful quality, it means you will have an exciting challenging life. Unfortunately right now as a teen, that "up for anything" could put you in a lot of unsafe situations. You really need to understand this about yourself, so that you can put the brakes on before whatever you are "going for" gets out of control. I do worry about how you will manage drinking and driving and drugs and sex. All those exciting things that can get unsafe really fast if you get caught up in the awesome-ness of it all. Lets come up with some ways that can keep you safe."
- The Shy and Anxious Teen: Those of you with teens like these will remember them as being very cautious children. They had difficulty in new and unfamiliar situations. They stuck to you like glue in group settings, feeling uncomfortable around a lot of people. They probably spent much of their time at home with their siblings rather than out on play dates, and needed encouragement to make friends. Over the years you might have seen this child grow more comfortable through involvement in activities like sports where the activity gave them a purpose. But now as teens, the expectations to be social, and chatty, and charming can be overwhelming. These teens are usually well liked. They are easy to be around and make great loyal friends, especially when they are with the kids they feel the most comfortable with. But now there are new expectations, dealing with romantic feelings, flirting, acting cool, these do not come naturally to the shy and anxious kid who lives in their head. Add to that the normal hyper sense of self-consciousness that all teens feel, exaggerated in the shy and anxious teen. This makes these teens very susceptible to drugs and alcohol. Pot mellows them out, and alcohol gives them a false sense of confidence in the situations where they may feel lacking. Your "I Get It" conversation. "You know honey I get that when you are in large group situations where you are least comfortable, you might feel that drinking will make you more comfortable. That worries me, that you might feel that to fit in and be relaxed you will have to drink or smoke pot. That can be a dangerous precedent to set in your life. It is more important for you to learn some strategies to make yourself comfortable rather than relying on alcohol or drugs to do that for you. As an adult, you will be in many situations through work that will stress this part of you. I have confidence that you can figure how to be in groups and be comfortable. Things like finding one person to hang with in the beginning that you feel good with, or be the designated care taker, it gives you an important role to keep your friends safe, and they will really appreciate that. There are lots of things we can come up to help. Lets work together on this."
- The Fun Loving Teen Who doesn't love this kid. This is the kid everyone wants to be around. They are fun, easy to talk to, gets a crowd into action, a leader, loves to have a good time. These are wonderful qualities, and as an adult will help them to be extremely successful. This is a kid with high emotional intelligence. Getting along with people is her/her specialty. As a teen, this kid will ALWAYS be up for a party!!! Your "I get it" conversation. "You know what I love about you honey, everybody always wants to be around you, including me. You are one hell of a fun person. I only worry about that now, because you are always up for a good time,and I know that sometimes can mean alcohol and drugs, whatever enhances that "good time." We are going to need to come up with some strategies to keep you safe, when your party hearty head takes over."
- The impulsive teen These teens as children were the kids you had to remind a thousand times to "look both way before you cross" or they would have bolted across the street to chase a lost ball, or, your shoes are untied, don't run unless you tie them. This teen interrupts, shouts out in class rather than raising her/his hand, and has little patience for waiting around for anything. As a teen being asked by a friend: "Hey you wanna.... will always garner an immediate yes. This teen will not want to take the time to think much through. Now this is on top of the already teen impulsiveness that all teens have due to a developing frontal cortex. This teen is faced with a double whammy. Not only the nature he brings to the table, but also the nature that is part of his newly developing teenage brain. A potentially lethal combination. Educating your teen about his/her nature potential is extremely important here. Criticizing them over and over again for not thinking things through will not be productive. Understanding with them how this can be for them is comforting. Your "I get it" conversation: You know honey " I totally get how hard it is for you to put the brakes on something when you want to go full force ahead. You mind and your body just say GO. This worries me because now that your life is presenting you with lots of choices, your natural tendency is not think it through before acting. Maybe we can start at count to ten rule. When someone says: "hey lets do....." rather than just going for it, you take a second, take a deep breath and literally count to 10 before you act. This may truly save your life one day!"
The last category I want to mention here is what happens when teens are facing a crisis. Maybe there is a divorce or separation that is weighing on your teen, maybe a death in the family, or an ill grandparent, maybe family financial problems or a parent's job loss. Maybe a recent break-up with a beau, or a feeling that he/she has disappointed you yet again with low grades. There could be a million things that your teen might be good at masking, making you think that they are handling it. Trust me, they are probably not handling it, and low grades, nasty temper, low energy, room hibernation, never home, all can be signs that whatever the stress is, has consequences. This can be a particularly vulnerable time for a teen and drug and alcohol use. They feel bad, and booze or drugs makes them feel better, end of story. Your job is to help label the feelings given the behavior you are seeing. Making observations, not asking questions. " You know honey, I'm guessing that (fill in the blank here with your guess) that this divorce is really hard for you. I notice you spend more time in your room, and want to avoid hanging with me. You seem to be sleeping a lot. I really get that this is a tough time. I know sometimes when people go through tough times they might find some comfort from drinking or smoking pot, and I worry that when you are out with your friends, that this might become a way for you to cope with this all. I get that can be an easy way to feel better, but ultimately you have to deal with what is making you feel bad. You know you can always talk to me, but that might be hard for you right now, so I am going to set you up with some counseling to get you through this crisis. "
The bottom line here is you have to give voice and words to the underlying motivators that make your teen vulnerable to teen temptations. Just saying don't do it or else, is not a game changer.