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Bringing Up A Teenager

Bringing up a teenager in the family can be tricky. You want to love, protect and nurture them while at the same time encouraging them to become an adult and to have their own lives outside the family. There are some approaches that are more workable than others.

1. Some things have to be non-negotiable

Work out which rules or topics are non-negotiable. Talk with your spouse or partner if applicable to make sure both of you are consistent in this and are prepared to present a united front. What should those non-negotiable things include? Basically, anything which places a child’s life or health at risk. You have to be brave and allow quite a bit of manouvrability within those, though, or you might be placing what appear to be arbitrary constraints on your child.

Explain calmly to your child at a quiet time when you are in good communication with him or her -i.e. not in the middle of a dispute about something sensitive- why some particular items are not subject to negotiation. Have him or her see that when you, the parent, say 'No' or that a topic is not up for discussion, you are doing so in the best interests of your child. Get agreement.

2. Open up other areas

Go over with your child which areas are open for discussion and possible negotiation and why. Widen the field. Be adventurous. Let your child see that you are not trying to restrict him or her for restriction’s sake -be open to ideas. The more open you are, the more willing to work with a child’s desires you are, the more that child will see what you mean about the non-negotiable points and come to agree with you even more. Part of what drives teenagers to do dangerous things is a sense of rebellion, so don’t give them reasons to rebel.

3. Draw attention to past agreements

If your child has negotiated with you before and has been successful, he or she will probably try it again and may press even harder, knowing that you have given in in the past. Simply saying things like 'Nevertheless, this will not be happening' or 'I’m sorry you’re upset, but that is final' or 'This is not negotiable', while it’s a start, has the potential of inflaming the situation even more because there's no way for the child to respond.

It’s much better to rationally explain why these things are not negotiable, and to obtain understanding and agreement from your child. Then, when disputes arise, it is the child’s own understanding and agreement that can be appealed to. For example:

'Nevertheless, this will not be happening, because this is one of those decisions which we agreed has to be made by me as your parent for the reasons we discussed.'

or - 'I’m sorry you’re upset, but that is final because you’ll remember that there were good reasons why this should be like this.'

or - 'This is not negotiable because it’s one of those areas where you could be placed in harm’s way and we agreed that this was in your best interests.'

Your child will reflect back analytically on the previous conversation where these things were worked out. Their own sense of right and wrong will be engaged. Gentle prompting back to prior, sanely-worked-out agreements will take the fire out of their counter-arguments and they will come to see sense.

4. Avoid arguments by avoiding the conditions that create them

Try not to get stuck in an argument. While it might be true that the longer the conversation continues, the more your child feels he or she can change your mind, the truth is that you need to appeal to their own reasoning powers early and have them see things clearly for themselves. If you have left this appeal too late, and are trying to get them to ‘see sense’ in the middle of a blazing row, your chances of winning are limited. Fights are won by avoiding the need for a fight in the first place. You will be better able to appeal to reason if the groundwork of reasoning has already been done in quieter times.

5. Reward and validate rightnesses

Always listen to and validate what is right in your children. They may want to express that they feel left out because everyone else is going to a party and they have been forbidden to go. It’s an understandable feeling. But if, having listened to what they have to say and validated them for being so open and honest, you can then have them recollect why this particular party is a potential risk for them, you will have won and so will they.

Reward right behaviour and sensible decisions heavily. If a teenager feels that making the right choices can be pleasant, even if he or she is missing out on their first choice of what they wanted to do or where they wanted to go, the second choice can become a great one too. This will take the whole 'sting' out of the argument and a teenager will quickly recognise that goodness and great experiences come in more forms than was at first believed.

Draw clear, fair boundaries. Explain them fully, obtain understanding and agreement, and then stick to them. And reward the heck out of right choices.

Then everyone wins and there is no real conflict.

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