“Tracey, we are at our whit’s end. We have tried everything and nothing is working!” For over thirty years I have been counseling parents on how to respond to their teens and young adults who seem to be so out of reach. No amount of begging, controlling and cajoling seem to help parents to get through to their kids. They seem to always know better or simply not care what parents have to say. Many feel that their parents were able to go through their own experiences and feel they have a right to go through theirs. Over the age of 18 or once they have left the house they have a point but only as it pertains to risking their own well being, not the family’s.
I am sure many of you have heard the term “Tough love” though it can be confusing. It doesn’t mean turning away from our kids, it actually means helping them to realize that there are consequences to their actions and poor decisions. “Tough love” should be delved out not out of anger but out of care and concern. As I have shared in previous articles, all of which can be accessed on my linked in site: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tracey-shipley-08b7b048/ there is a big difference between natural consequences and applied consequences. Natural happen regardless of human responses to negative behaviors and applied are those that are given by parents, loved ones, authorities, etc. We can only warn our kids to beware of both of these responses to their dangerous choices but at the end of the day it truly is their decision.
It is said that after the age of 15 we can no longer control our kid’s choices, only make them aware of the possible consequences. I always urge parents to come up with a home contract with their teens or young adults still living at home before any issues pop up. Our kids need to know that they have choices. They may choose to break rules but knowing the consequences allows them to make a choice. I suggest that all parties involved be a part of making that decision in order to get a buy in from the one the contract is based on. I have actually found that kids often come up with stricter consequences than their parents would have. Though when the day comes that they need to bear that consequence more often than not they will try to find a way to get out of it.
The first rule of thumb is that No remains a No which is why it needs to be vetted carefully before being said- a hard thing to do in the moment. There is nothing wrong with saying that you need to think about it. The second, though equally important, is to be consistent. No matter the age of our kids they need the security of firm and consistent boundaries. If there are two decision makers in the house make sure that the rule is accepted by both so that you are not being pitted against each other. I realize that this seems basic but when we are on the spot it is hard to stick to our “guns” so to say.
Beyond these two rules it becomes individualized. Every parent deals with different issues depending on their young one.
When I am asked to swoop in to convince a teen or young adult to change their “negative ways” the first thing I insist on is meeting with both parents or all of the decision makers in the house. What I have found through the years is that the problem begins at home. There is a fine balance between over consequences and under consequences. What works for each kid is very different. I suggest that every consequence be related to the infringement that took place so there is logic involved. Another important issue is our kid’s privacy. When is it OK for us to look through their belongings, look into their phones, on their face book page or their instagram? There is a saying that secrets keep a family sick. If there is any concern that the truth is being kept from us that is a cause of alarm and warrants our need to find out what is happening. At the time it may feel like opening Pandora’s Box but if there is indeed something going on that endangers our kids, sooner or later they will be grateful that we allowed them to unload what is truly going on as long as our approach is one of support and not angry reactions.
Very often the teen or young adult does not feel listened to. The classic picture of a patient sitting on the couch spilling out his woes to the therapist is usually just what our kids need. With our busy lives and assumptions the thought that our older kids don’t really need us so much anymore is truly false. They may need us more than ever being faced with so many choices to make based on peer pressure, curiosity and urges. Feel free to share your own quandaries when you were younger. Help them to vet the consequences of any choice they may make. At the end of the day, they are the ones to choose not us but through your conversations they can have a clearer view of what lays in store for them according to the choice they make.
I am also a big supporter of mentors. Whether it’s a relative or an older friend of the family our kids often need a fresh pair of ears and eyes through to see their situation. It doesn’t mean that our advice is not good enough, it’s just a way to gain a wider perspective. Of course if they share who their mentor is it is a good idea to find out about them and the direction they are pointing out to our kids whenever possible, but our kids often need a safe place to turn for questions they don’t feel comfortable posing to us as parents.
There are many support groups around, more than ever since zoom has become so popular. One of them supporting loved ones of alcoholics and addicts is Alanon. One phrase that I really appreciate is “You did not cause it, you can’t cure it and you can’t control it – however you can contribute to it.” Our intervention can either help to relieve the situation or make it worse. This if of course very tricky as is the last part of the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the Wisdom to know the difference.” It’s so very hard to know when to intervene and if so how. I suggest finding a trusted counselor as soon as issues begin to arise and not to wait till they are ingrained in our kids. For any assistance with your teen or young adult feel free to contact me for a free consultation and see my website: www.jerusalemteencounseling.net. One parent’s response to the work I did with her: “Tracey is a highly-trained, very knowledgeable, dedicated, and skilled teen counselor and professional. Her constant wisdom, love, concern, parenting advice, and presence at important school and social welfare meetings and during very difficult moments in my teenager’s and family’s life was truly a life saver. I myself needed every moment of her outstanding care in order to have survived the truly harrowing experiences of being a parent to a highly impulsive, at-risk teen. While I had other professionals involved in the situation, none equaled to Tracey’s ongoing availability and expertise. Luckily and fortunately, our life dramatically improved, thanks to Tracey’s advice and involvement.”
Creativity can give our kids the direction they so need. Parents also turn to me to get their teens involved in my music project “The Jerusalem School of Rock”