September 25, 2016

What Teens need from their Parents. (Hint: It’s not Grounding & Punishment.)



“I raised my first four kids with the consequences school of discipline. I feel they learned nothing except how to not get caught and a lot of resentment. I am now raising my granddaughters that I’ve had since infancy, they are 12 and 13. I have dropped the whole grounding, loss of privilege etc. I prefer connection and conversation. So far…so good.” ~ Marcea Stone Pugliese

It was noon and my 12-year-old daughter wasn’t up yet. How could she sleep this long? Was she sick? Did she have a concussion?

Just a few days earlier she had totaled the family car when she’d taken it out for what we used to call a “joy ride”—she had smashed through the windshield and was lucky to be alive.

We were worried and desperate to know what to do or how to respond. By grounding her we thought we were teaching her a lesson.

It was a horrible time in my life as a mother. The car ride had been just one in a series of stubborn, rebellious activities. I felt as though I had lost contact with my own daughter.

My friend said, “She just made a mistake,” and hearing her say that made me furious.

“Mistake?” I challenged. “I feel like I’m under siege and that my life has been invaded by a little girl who grew up into a wild, angry, stranger.”

What had gone wrong? After all, hadn’t I promised myself I would do things different than my parents had done? That I would be the perfect mother? How dare my 12-year-old daughter come along and prove me wrong?

“I’m sorry,” I said to my friend. “Under the circumstances, she needs consequences.”

But that was years ago and since then I have fully realized that growing up is hard enough to do, let alone having to do it while carrying the responsibility for your mother’s good reputation as a parent. Under those circumstances, mistakes are not allowed.

Today I no longer believe that imposing consequences such as grounding or removing the phone or the car when teens make mistakes teaches them anything.

Today I know that life itself offers plenty of learning all on its own and that while watching kids make mistakes is the hardest thing to do as a parent, it is also the most essential.

“If [kids] aren’t making mistakes, they’re not learning.” ~ Jim Fitzgerald

Teen years are full of challenging and even anxiety-prone periods of growth and what teens need from their parents is to be understood, to be supported without judgment, and to be provided with homes and families that offer safe havens for their jangle of emotions.

They don’t need consequences, which are merely power struggles wearing a different cloak and which are likely to do nothing but cause estrangement, hostility and bad feelings all round.

Besides, they don’t work.

A very wise man I once knew said, “If a parent gets into a power struggle with their child, the parent will always will lose.”

I finally decided to look into my daughter’s bedroom all those years ago to see what was going on.

Opening the door a crack I stuck my head in a bit so as not to wake her. To this day, I still remember the empty bed and the white curtains fluttering in the open window.

Eff you Mom!

I got the message. I needed help.

“The trick is for us to be mature ourselves by the time our kids come along. If we haven’t figured ourselves out first, what do we [really] have to pass on to our children?” ~ Jim Fitzgerald

With professional insight I learned a lot about my daughter’s behavior and where it fit into the normal course of development but most importantly, I learned a lot about myself and my role in her angst. After all, it takes two to dance, even if the dance is a power struggle.

My daughter wasn’t the only one who had made mistakes. I had made them too and when I took responsibility for mine and realized that it was me who had to take the initiative and let go first, things changed.

My daughter responded differently to the new signals I was sending her and over time, what I had seen as a stubborn, unapproachable and angry teenager I began to see instead as an independent, intelligent, and exciting young woman with whom I was able to develop a loving, respectful and fun relationship.

Here are some of the points I remember that made such a difference:

> Don’t take things personally.

> See mistakes as just that—mistakes—not weapons aimed at you.

> Don’t expect perfection.

> Be concerned if she doesn’t make mistakes.

> Listen with loving kindness to her struggles as she tries to find her footing in the strange new world called adolescence.

> Help her to see the natural consequences of her mistakes and talk with her about whether those consequences were what she intended.

> Understand that you are her support person, guide, mentor, and safety coordinator, not her judge.

> Understand that teenagers are driven by emotions and impulses rather than by reason or just plain stubbornness or meanness.

> Stop blaming her (or yourself) and be the first one to change.

“We only have the tools we are given to start with. If we start to build a house and we are given the wrong tools, we are going to make a mess. Having a child is like being given a picture of a finished product and a bag of tools that someone else left behind. When we start building and putting the obvious pieces together, things go okay, but when we need to put in pipes, or electric or roofing and we have no experience for reference, we make mistakes…” ~  Kat Kennerr


I would like to thank my Facebook friends Marcea Stone Pugliese, Jim Fitzgerald and Kat Kenner for giving permission to use their insights and contributions to this piece.


Author: Carmelene Siani

Image: Eryne!/Flickr

Editor: Katarina Tavčar

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