Call a truce with teens
6 skills for setting boundaries for teens
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Parents of young children may still get away with that occasional smack (not that it is an acceptable method of discipline at any stage!), but they certainly won’t do so by the time the child reaches adolescence. If parents have been inconsistent – moving between permissiveness and over-harsh reaction and power struggles have become the order of the day, then your child’s 13th birthday is certainly time to take a good long look at your approach to discipline.

In order for discipline to be effective, it is essential for there to be reasonable relationships between parents and teenagers. Relationships rely on positive, open communication. When the rules and limits are being tested and/or ignored, it is time to take a long, hard look at the state of the parent-child relationship. It will achieve nothing if there is a perpetual atmosphere of tension and conflict. Instead of escalating the downward spiral of negativity, parents need to take stock of 6 key skills.

1. Rebel by nature

Adolescence is the stage where a sense of identity is established. Your teen will test your boundaries and your values. Teens are meant to be rebellious – this does not mean that you allow unacceptable behaviour, but that you have an accepting mindset – which will lay a firm foundation for your boundary setting. As much as they need to test rules, they also need the security and safe containment of limits that remain in place.

2. Avoid negative labelling

Teenagers live up to their labels. If they are seen in a negative light, this is how they will come to view themselves. Try to remember that all adjectives have two sides – a negative  and a positive. “Lazy” can also be seen as “relaxed” or “easy-going.” “Stubborn” can be re-labelled as “determined” etc. It does not mean that a parent has to put up with unacceptable, lazy behaviour, but rather that the parent focuses on the aspects of the behavior that they cannot accept and not on the personality of the teen. At the same time the effective parent will keep in mind that the lazy teen can also be seen as relaxed and mellow – rather pleasant characteristics!

3. Use “I” and not “you” language

Aim to separate the deed from the doer. Teens become parent deaf when all they hear all day long are judgmental and harsh criticisms.

“You never tidy your room”
 “Why can’t you ever speak to me decently?”
 “You are selfish and thoughtless” etc.

In the end the only way to cope is to switch off and ignore. You will get far more co-operation if you use I language:
 “I feel disappointed when I see such an untidy room”
 “I feel very upset when you speak to me that way”
 “I find it very difficult to feel positive towards you when you seem never to think of others”

These comments may not get the immediate changes in behaviour you would like, but they will certainly improve the atmosphere in the home – and you will be more likely to achieve co-operation in your attempts at boundary setting.

4. Get in touch with feelings

Feelings always come before behaviour. If the feeling is allowed, the bad behaviour often decreases. Teens have mood swings – and battle with their anger management skills. If parents can let them see that their feelings – no matter how irrational – are always acceptable, but that the behaviour that they choose to manifest these feelings, often is not.

“I can see that you are very angry with me for saying that you may not go out two nights over the weekend, but it is not okay to shout at me and slam doors”

This is respectful – and is far more likely to lead to more acceptable behaviour than the knee-jerk reaction which most parents of teens who are out of control, resort to.

5. Show an interest

•    The last thing you may be sincerely interested in is teen music, movies, fixation with Mxit, Facebook or addiction to SMSing their friends who they have just said goodbye to!
•    But try to find common ground – talk to them about their interests, ask them about the latest songs or their favourite movie. Teenagers do not want their parents to be their friends, but they do need to feel affirmed and connected to adults who accept them the way they are – even when their behaviour has to be corrected.

6. Let them learn from the consequences

•    It is important that rules and expectations are discussed in a calm and reasonable way. Make a time to iron out any problem areas. Tell your teen what your limits are. Allow her to express how she feels and to offer any ideas for solutions. Remember that you are the parent and that, without being autocratic and punitive, you are allowed to set age-appropriate limits and rules – and that, at each stage, there can be non-negotiable rules. eg “You are only 14, it is not negotiable – you may not go to over 18 clubs.”
•    These rules can be amended as the child grows and shows the ability to be responsible. Remember that there is no such thing as freedom without responsibility – and that the boundaries can be moved as the teenager shows the ability to be trusted.
•    The most effective discipline is when a teen is allowed to learn from the consequence of a choice made. The parent puts the boundary in place – after discussion with the child, and then follows through with the implementation of the consequence when the teen chooses to ignore the rule.

The teen years are fraught with obstacles and tensions. However, they can be greatly facilitated if parents work harder on the relationship-building skills upon which effective discipline skills can be built. The only way in which teens will learn to be responsible – and to avoid debilitating power struggles –  is if they learn from the consequences of choices they make, within the safety of the boundaries established by joint communication between parents and their teenagers.

Do you believe it is possible to discipline teens? What works for your family?

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