Isn't that an interesting thought? Is my teenager successful? After all, isn't that what all of this is about? We are all working hard and sacrificing so our child can experience success. Years of a parents life can be invested in driving our kids from one activity to another. We stay on top of homework and school projects. How many times have I drove to Walmart at 10pm to pick up a needed supply for some school project?
I do this so he will experience activities that I hope will allow him to thrive and express himself. I do it so he gets good grades and does not ruin his high school career. Thus allowing him to enter a good college, earn a degree that is in demand, and then get a good job. I am the parent and have the experience and perspective to know what is best for him. Right?
Of course. But something happens along the way. This child of mine begins to look and "act" like a man. Physiologically he is changing very rapidly. He is taller than me! He is driving a car which carries heavy responsibility and serious consequences. And I am thinking it is time to start treating him like a man. Let the training begin! The only problem with that is that the reasoning and rational part of his brain and personality is still under construction.
Have you ever listened to the rationale a teenager will provide for any given situation? Why they didn't get an assignment done, how they ended up with a speeding ticket, why they couldn't make it home before curfew, and on and on. I am listening to this thinking he must be totally out of his mind if he thinks I am going to buy this. Our tendency is to treat them like a delinquent adult who is incapable of being respectful of our rules. So we will come up with more rules and more consequences to manage those rules. And then decide if our teen does not break these rules, they are being successful at learning about consequences and respect.
Teens feel constantly accused. Adults will always have something to comment on when it comes to the behavior of a teen. This comes across in overt comments and subtle cues we provide. As a parent the list is endless, isn't it? We have issues with our teen's friends, the food he eats, when he goes to bed, how much screen time he has, how he drives, the way he gets homework done, the messy room, the dishes left in the family room, the lack of engagement, the way they roll their eyes, the sassy comments, their politics, the shows they watch, the video games they play, a class he skipped, etc., etc., etc. And then we have the dynamic of two parents (or more in blended families) that are in conflict over how to deal with all of this. The teen will pick up on that too.
How is it possible for a teen to thrive and succeed in this environment? The energy in the house can be toxic. The parents are not getting along, the teen is always "in trouble" for something, and no one is truly happy. How do we bring the proper hierarchy back to the house where the parents are parenting together and the children are subject to that parenting?
In my practice I might introduce the Pick Three Strategy. I would work with the parent(s) to reframe all of the issues they are having with the teen. And then together we will determine the three things we really need the teen to get right. Only three! All the rest is just going to be ignored and let go. These have to be actions the teen does, not focused on emotions or attitudes. These three things will generally focus on areas that help with school and staying out of trouble or harming themselves or others. None of the other issues can be addressed. For example, you cannot ask the teen to pick up their room if it is not on the list.
A couple of things are happening here. First, the teen will begin to relax. The positive energy he is experiencing will bring in creativity, resourcefulness, and a sense of "I can do more". Second, the parent's begin to relax. They are in harmony on how to relate to the teen and the hierarchy is restored. This also feeds the positive energy the teen is experiencing. With a teen not feeling constantly accused, we are setting up a real possibility for them to experience success.