So many parents I hear from are desperate to change teenage behaviour. They have tried everything they can think of and their teenager’s behaviour seems to only get worse not better.
One of the things lots of these situations have in common is that parents are trying to effect change in their teenager’s behaviour, but are doing so the had way. They are missing a key ingredient of effecting behavioural change – Acceptance.
It seems counter intuitive to start the process of changing bad behaviour by acceptance, but I can assure you it is vital to a lasting and positive change.
My mantra in all situations where parents are trying to effect change is “Remember your ABC.”
Acceptance Before Change
If you want to see your teenager change, then this is where you need to start.
Why Acceptance Is Important
Your teenager will be open to you as an agent of change when they feel accepted by you.
Accepting your teenager is an important, but difficult, mind-shift for many parents.
It is so easy for our teenager’s short comings to dominate how we perceive them. The more conscious we become of their failings, the more negatives we see. It can become an downward spiral of frustration and disappointment.
This negative cycle results in many of us trying harder and harder to correct our teens attitudes and behaviour. We become more critical, more demanding, and feel increasingly stressed and angry.
These negative emotions come out in how we then relate to our teenager. Teenagers perceive the negativity and interpret its meaning “You are not good enough” or “When you change I will accept you.”
The more we relate to our teenager out of frustration and anger the less receptive they become to our influence. The harder we try to make a teenager change the more stubborn and rebellious they become.
This is why acceptance is so important and foundational to how parents impact teenage behaviour.
What Is Acceptance?
Acceptance means acknowledging your teenager is the way he is today and choosing to deal with it as a fact of life.
He is as he is today. He might change in the future, but here and now this is who he is.
He is your child, and you chose to love him the way he is.
This is different to constantly saying “I wish he would…” or “When is he going to…” or “I’m so sick off…”
Acceptance is being able to see your teen for who he is, shortcomings and all, and say I love you as you are.
Acceptance doesn’t mean that you have to approve, agree, condone, support, or even tolerate certain behaviours or attitudes that your teen displays.
Acceptance doesn’t mean that you forget the things they have said or done that have hurt you or others.
Acceptance doesn’t mean you avoid taking appropriate actions to protect yourself and others from unsafe behaviour.
Acceptance doesn’t always mean lowering your expectations or hopes for your teen.
Acceptance doesn’t mean never getting annoyed, frustrated or angry at your teen’s behaviour.
Acceptance is acknowledging what is happening, how your teen is behaving, all the feelings that generates for you, and then choosing to say “This is who we are today, and I can live with that today.”
Acceptance isn’t easy. And it can take some effort to get there. But it is important.
Understanding Acceptance and Change
Acceptance as the foundation for transformation is true for all of us. And it is vital to transform teenage behaviour.
If you had someone in your life who was always critical or you, putting you down, and constantly disapproved of you, would you be open to allowing that person to speak meaningfully into your life?
I doubt it.
It is likely you would become defensive whenever they said something and dismissive of any suggestions they made. Rather than allowing them to influence your life, you would likely become increasingly critical and judgmental of them.
The reality is the people who you listen to and respect are those who you feel accepted and valued by.
The same is true for your teenager.
If as a parent, you have become a constant source of criticism, judgement, nagging, and disapproval, then your teenager is going to be very reluctant to comply with anything you have to say.
If your teenager feels like she has to change to earn your acceptance then she will be far more resistant and closed off to your input into her life. When she feels like you are against her and not for her, then she will shut you out as much as possible.
The result being your relationship with your teenager deteriorates and your her attitude and behaviour is likely to get worse not better.
When your teenager feels accepted by you, not only will she be more pleasant to get along with, but she will be more open to you and your influence.
If your teenager feels like you value her and care for her, then she will see you as someone who worth listening to and following.
Teenage Behaviour & Development
There are reasons why 13 year old’s aren’t considered adults or expected to fulfill all the responsibilities of adults; they aren’t emotionally, physically or mentally ready to be adults.
When considering what drives you nuts about your teenager it is important to consider is it their character that is bugging you, or is it a function of their development that is annoying you? I always say to parents “Don’t confuse character with development!”
When your young teenager constantly forgets things or seems permanently disorganised, it isn’t because she is incompetent and going to grow up to be useless. Young teenagers are vague and forgetful because their developing brains are under construction and a side effect is forgetfulness and disorganisation. She will grow out of it – but not tomorrow.
When you normally sensible 16 year old son starts doing some stupid and dangerous things with his friends, it doesn’t mean he is turning into a delinquent or is destined to be reckless. Adolescent males in their mid teens are wired to take risks and very susceptible to the influence of their mates- especially in the heat of the moment. He will grow out of it.
When teens do annoying, frustrating things it is good to stop and ask yourself, is it just my teen or do most teens this age do similar things?
If it is developmental, then a constructive response is to work with them to develop some strategies for helping them get through the phase. Help your early teen daughter work out systems to be better organised. Talk to your son about avoiding situations where he is likely to make dumb choices.
Accepting where they are up to in their development can help take the anxiety and emotional intensity out of it for you. It also leads you towards constructive responses rather than yelling and negative labeling.
Don’t Take It All Personally
We live is a culture that creates an amazing pressure on parents to “get it right.” You don’t have to look hard any day to find an article or news report that is shaming or accusing parents of failing in someway.
This culture of parent blaming can cause us all to feel like our kid’s failings are a reflection on our parenting. When our teenagers stuff up, we think it somehow exposes our parenting failures.
When we take our teenagers behaviour as a reflection our parenting performance we direct a whole heap of negative emotions in their direction.
Your teen’s behaviour is not always a reflection of who you are or your parenting.
Teen’s are going to do dumb things, have emotional outbursts, loose their temper, say outrageous things, push limits, make mistakes. None of these things mean you are failing as a parent. No matter how diligent a parent you are, your teen is still going to be a teenager at some point.
There is no such thing as a perfect parent – so don’t expect you will be one. There is no such thing as a perfect teenager, so don’t think your teenagers imperfections are all about you and your parenting.
Face Up To Your Emotions
Acceptance of your teen doesn’t mean that the emotional toll of their behaviour will disappear. Living with a moody, disrespectful or uncooperative teenager is difficult.
Your teen is probably going cause you a whole world of pain. So admit it and deal with the feelings constructively.
Constructively does not mean venting your emotions at your teenager. Your feelings of anger, frustration, and disappointment are real and justified. However while the feelings aren’t wrong, how you express them can make things worse not better.
If your teen does not acknowledge the negative impact of what they have done, you getting angry and resenting them won’t change that. In fact in many cases it will result in your teenager thinking you are the one with the problem.
If your teen knows he has done something to upset or hurt you, your anger will only distract him from his own culpability and remorseful feelings.
So consider other outlets for your negative feelings towards your teen. Have a rant to you partner about how “our” teenager is driving you nuts. Go for a run, write in journal, or scream into a pillow. Whatever it is, find someway to dissipate the energy away from your teenager.
Acknowledging how you feel and expressing the emotion in a safe place will enable you to respond to your teen an a more constructive fashion. When you aren’t seething with rage or feeling completely fed up, you much more likely to engage in a positive conversation with your teenager.
Look For The Positives
A good way to interrupt the cycle of negativity and criticism is to consciously look for the things you appreciate about your teenager.
Make an effort everyday to identify something about who your teenager is or what they do that is positive. What is it about him that you appreciate? What did she do today that was helpful or a step in the right direction?
Once you identify it, make a point to communicate to your teenager. You don’t have to make a big song or dance about it, just a simple comment that starts with “ I really admire the way you…” or “ I appreciated it today when you…”
It might be worth finding a place to note the things down, so in those times when you are being driven crazy, you can pull out your list and be reminded of the positives about your teenager.
Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff
A consequence of not accepting your teen can be that you become hyper critical of everything about them.
One way to make acceptance more doable, is to make a list of the things that drive you nuts about your teenager and then cross out the stuff that really doesn’t matter in the long run.
For instance, a teenager’s bedroom is a common sore point for many parents. But in the big scheme of things, is a messy bedroom an issue that needs to be dealt with right away in order for your teen to live a successful life?
Sure a messy bedroom might annoy you and not be how you want to live, but if your teen is okay with it, just let it go. Shut the door and don’t think about it. It isn’t impacting you and your life. That is one less issue for you to have to process and manage.
Likewise the music a teenager listens too. So what if you don’t like it? As long as you don’t have to hear it and it isn’t keeping people awake, is there any reason for you to get excited about it? Expressing disapproval over music or computer games just creates negative noise for very little gain.
Acknowledge the State of Play
For the things on your list that you can’t cross off, make a habit everyday of reading through them and acknowledging how things are and who your teen is today.
Take the list and before reading it you say to yourself “I accept (teens name). I accept him/her knowing that ….(then read the list of issues) i.e. he doesn’t clean up after himself, is hard to talk to, is treating his siblings badly, is constantly disrespectful to me….etc”
This isn’t condoning or saying the behaviour is okay or shouldn’t change. It is merely reinforcing that you need to start with who your teen is today and be conscious of choosing to accept them as they are.
When you can shift your mindset to accepting your teen first and then seeing what happens, you will be surprised at how much easier change is.
Why not give some of these things a try and let me know how you go.