Change is a conscious choice that often times is conquered by unconscious baggage. Take smokers for example . Most people who smoke cigarettes know that they will eventually kill them and want to “quit”, but can’t. Why? Because there are underlying conflicts that keep the person “hooked” and any change is experienced as terrifying. Yep, that’s right. Change is terrifying even if it’s in the best interest of the person. This is because the unknown is just that. Unknown. Based on each person’s experiences , the future may be bright or dark. People with a generally positive attitude manage change better than those who have had their hard knocks. Either way, change is a wrench in the spokes of a person’s daily homeostasis.
So, change involves conscious choice and focusing on something new, something different. Something uncomfortable. Most people seem to live in the past or the future. The intention of this is predictability which is in a way adaptive. Past experiences give a person some sort of a road map which reduces anxiety on the one hand but then biases the person to look at new situations as just that, new. Living in the future once again is a mental attempt to gain some sort of control. The problem however, is that if you don’t have a crystal ball, you are 50% likely at to predict the wrong outcome. But, then again predicting is an attempt to control. Living in the past tends to make most people feel sad or unfulfilled. Living in the unpredicted future usually makes a person feel anxious. Living now is just that. Here is where change fits in. Not going backwards or forwards often leaves a person feeling “strange”. Painfully not going backwards or forwards is painful. Habitually, people go one way or the other. Stopping that pattern is painful. But, when one experiences the mastery of the present, they feel better. They feel stronger. In fact, they are more attentive to the task at hand. Managing what is the immediate quest alleviates anxiety and also promotes self esteem. When I treat kids with ADHD and I can get them to stay present, they overcome their anxiety which is at the root of their inattention.
Change is painful but necessary. Growth is based on overcoming the hurtles of life. But, when a person jumps that hurtle and focuses on the next one, they get faster and stronger. So, put the past behind you and stop trying to predict the future. Change is now. It may be painfully unfamiliar, but worth it.
“OUCH”. The connotations associated with Tough Love are commonly negative. It feels as though the approach is “mean” and “harsh”, rather than a “wake up” call that behavior needs to change. The approach does entail “love”, but the delivery is not done in a teddy bear fashion. It is direct and to the point. The behavior must change or there will be a consequence. This approach is based on Learning Theory. That negatively reinforcing a behavior reduces the repetition of the behavior in question. A child hits their sibling and they gets a time out because a parent will not allow their child to do something “wrong”. Tough love. What is the alternative? Reinforcing “positive” behavior? Positive Parenting? Nope, the research does not support this approach. This is why. Kids are not that simple. They are not dogs. If a kid thinks they can get away with something, they will. This is reality. When a child has a limit, they are forced to change. If they get a reward for being “good”, this has nothing to do with the “bad” behavior. Rewarding successful behavior is also essential, but, it’s not enough. Parents need to be the “bad” guy sometimes and it’s a tough position to take for most parents. Why? It is much easier to gratify a child than punish them. Most parents cringe when they feel as though they have made their own child cry. “Ouch”. Guilt is one of the most common pitfalls of good parenting. But remember, no pain, no gain. Limits promote growth and inhibit regression. Most successful schools in fact utilize a Tough Love approach and are the most effective in promoting appropriate behavior and have the fewest problems with both Bullies & Mean Girls. These school also produce the most students who go to College. Why? The students know that there are Standards that must be followed or there will be a price to pay. Kids can understand this and it is helpful, not harmful.
The difference between technology and human behavior are quite different. Technology does change , but human behavior does not. People behave consistently despite the changing world around them. For example, violent television and video games are proved to cause overstimulation in most kids if they are overexposed. Overstimulation is a human condition. However, the ways that we effectively deal with it is the same now as it was 100 years ago. Limits. Tough love. Dealing with behavior is well defined with research and clinical data. Kids need limits when they break the rules. Otherwise, they become entitled and self-centered. Parents have to sometimes be the “bad guys” because they love their children. In fact , the optimal role of a parent is to help their child to function in society, and not live in some sort of “special” bubble.
Kids who act out have problems. They have not internalized rules and the essence of right versus wrong. Limits, rules, laws, and adult intervention are necessary to keep kids on track but this does not happen a lot of the time. Why ? Parents fear setting limits. They fear their kids not liking them and fear they are hurting them. No. Limits are love. Kids need parents to draw the line. They are not yet capable of self-responsibility until they reach at least late adolescence ( 17 years + ).
Even Sigmund Freud in his landmark essay Civilization and its Discontents spelled out how without rules, laws, and holding people accountable, society would not exist,and he was right on this one. Parents need to set limits. They need to be tough when their kids are not towing their own ability to self-regulate according to their age. Infantilization is treating a kid as though they cannot follow a rule. This communicates to the child that they don’t have to. When they reach Adulthood, they become selfish, non empathic, and pathetic. “YUCK”.
So parents, don’t be afraid to be “tough” in the love department when your kid acts entitled or don’t tow the line of what they are able to accomplish. It’s okay to reinforce when they do something well but it is equally or more important to stop them from doing something wrong or stupid. That is love. Looking out for the best interests of a child’s complete development is the optimal role of good parenting. But, you have to be tough sometimes to show your kids that you really do love them.
Why do teenagers always seem to act their worst when they are home around their families? It’s true, don’t you think ? We all become confused when we hear those stories from our friends about how polite, engaging, vocal, expressive, and endearing our little “teen angels” are at their house. And, when they tell you how lucky you are to have them, you pinch yourself to make sure this is not a dream. If they only knew what went on behind the closed doors of “home” . If they only knew… what would they really think then? Unless of course they had a teen at home too. Take Bill and Sherry. For the past two weeks their 13 year old ,not-so darling daughter Chloe has refused to speak to either of them after they took away her iPhone when she forgot to text her mother from the school dance last Friday night. Since then, Chloe has refused to communicate with either parent other than to tell them that she “hates” them, slams the door whenever she enters or leaves the house and told them that she plans to join a cult and tour North Korea this summer. Needless to say, Bill and Sherry are afraid and worried that she must be falling apart all over the place and were about ready to call my office. However, to their surprise their semi-annual parent-teacher conference yesterday left both parents in shock. As Mrs. Smith told Chloe’s parents that she was a delight in class, getting almost all A’s, was a leader and a lovely young lady, Bill asked Mrs. Smith if she was sure she was referring to “their” Chloe. Mrs. Smith laughed in delight and said, “ remember she is 13 and is your child, not mine”.
Face it, Parents have the ability to bring out the best and worst in their children. So much of how our kid’s act has to do with how we choose to parent and respond to them. Also it has to do with the child’s temperament and phase of development they are going through. Remember parents, Adolescence is a phase… okay a tough phase… but it is a phase nevertheless with a beginning and end. They will grow up to be an adult, it just takes a Village to get them there and we hope healthy.
Teenagers are confusing. They are confused themselves. Sandwiched between both wanting to be independent but still needing their parents for lots of things while going through a multitude of both biological and psychological changes, they are vulnerable creatures. Gauky bodily changes, body hair, pimples, homework, social status and the agonizing list continues. Just ask a teen. They do love to complain and and yet this is one way to get them to actually talk to you. They do get physically tired from life and also from growing so sleeping in on the weekends is sometimes because they are genuinely tired, not just lazy.
To love an adolescent you have to know them and what they are going through. This is difficult though because they don’t like to talk to their parents much anymore – a phase thing – they will talk again when they feel strong, but parents generally need to “infer” what’s going on with them based on remembering one’s own teenage joys and blunders, and responding to them with empathy, love and needed limits to help them manage those tough times. Teens do need limits or they may not make it to adulthood as their natural level of judgment is at best “inconsistent” as they often feel immortal . It’s a teen ego-thing. The healthy teens seem as though they have the world by the tail outside of home because they save their plethora of feelings and needs for where they feel the safest…at home. As a baby they should’ve learned that mom and dad take away their stress and make it all better. This is a good thing and the teens have this experience stored somewhere in their mind. Therefore, there is a sense of comfort being able to let down the outer image when in a safe place. It’s the savvy parent who can realize that those home battles are in the service of healthy development and it helps to laugh ( inside laugh) at some of their dramatics as long as no one gets hurt or something broken. I could say “ encourage your teen to talk about their feelings with you”, but that’s not developmentally going to work at least for most teens. A few words here and there… telling you all of the things you do wrong as a parent and straining to be respectful, is more realistic. Don’t ask them questions, make comments about things you know are going on for them or comment on their mood – “you seem happy today”. You may get a sentence of a response this way rather than some sort of grunt.
So, how do you survive a teen at home? Ride out the storm with them. Assure them that you are in for the ride by sitting next to them serving as their wingman when they can’t steer the ship on their own. But, when they do navigate well make a big deal about it and tell them they should feel good and proud. Teens do love to feel good. This they do have in common with adults.
Finally, to help you better understand what you are dealing with here is how to understand emotionally where a teen will often be developmentally at home. Merely take the first digit off their teenage age and you will see the toddler-equivalent : 13 = 3, etc. By 18, ( 8 ) , they start to become more rule bound and not so random. Once into the 20’s, no need to take off any digits, they have become “real” adults who talk to you again like an old friend and magically ask you about your day.
So the next time your 13 year-old say (more…)
Background: Debbie always thought she had a great relationship with her 2 and a half year old son Benjamin. As a full time mom during his infancy, she and Ben were close and happy as the two of them spent hours of time during the day bonding, learning, and playing. It was during his third year however, that their relationship went through a significant change. Benjamin became frequently frustrated with Debbie whenever she would say “no” to him or not gratify his numerous wishes. As he was becoming more verbal, he would let her know his dismay by telling her he “did not like her”; that she “was a bad mom” and would often pout and ignore her. For Debbie, this left her feeling both bewildered and sad. “How could he change so quickly”, and “where did I go wrong creating a rude child”. (more…)
Background: As all parents, we are familiar with our children once they begin to speak to challenge our authority as they attempt to become separate and independent from us, which is a healthy and natural process. I have never met a parent however, who enjoys when their child does not listen or follow directions even if they know this is a normal and expected part of both childhood and adolescence. Typically, a parent feels “disrespected” or “insulted” and either becomes angry or hurt when their children “act up” or “out”, especially in public places, but even at home. In fact, many children normally are respectful, listen, or follow directions everywhere but home, which again supports the normality of a child wishing to be “bigger” and “stronger” in search of more self-confidence and autonomy. Clearly, strong willed children (those with a strong in-born temperament) are more challenging than the more quiet child, and parents with such “spirited” child have to exert even more patience than the parents with easier going children. (more…)
Background: As parents, we are all familiar with those frustrating moments when our children whine or complain when they sense something inside of them does not feel right. Whining stems from two different sources: physical or emotional. From the physical side whining will emerge from as early as two and run through adolescence and is related to physical discomfort which usually is not psychosomatic but actually due to some sort of illness or pain, such as fatigue. The second, and most common cause of whining, is emotionally based and cause by frustration related to having to do something they do not wish to do. Excessive whining is common and normal in the 2 to 4 year old age group as these children are trying to break away from their mother and strive towards independence. (more…)
Background: When parents get anxious, children get anxious. It’s really that simple. That old adage of “take care of yourself, before trying to take care of others”, applies to parenting as well. After all, most invested parents will state that parenting is the most important, rewarding, yet most stressful “job” in the world, and it is! Perhaps the most common trait of any good parent is “worry”. This is a good thing, for worry equals caring and protection which are necessary to raise healthy children. But as with anything, too much or too little of something usually has shortcomings. A parent who is too anxious is going to be both stressed out and stress out their child, while a parent who is not “concerned enough”, may not be helping their child enough and the child then internalizes this experience and responds to themselves and others in the same manner. (more…)
Background: If your family is like most, your children and adolescents are still in a state of denial that school begins next week given the holiday festivities. As parents however, you are ready for the holidays to end and excited about getting them back into structure and routine. Many parents avoid the concept of talking to their children about school re-starting for fear of putting their children into bad moods and getting into a fight. On the other hand, when parents do not approach talking about getting ready for school again and looking ahead to perhaps new year’s expectations for success, the avoided conflicts tend to emerge shortly after school begins when problems may already have arisen or repeated themselves from the following term. In addition, when parents do not discuss this upcoming change, children will often go into a short term slump as they re-enter school due to not managing their feelings of disappointment. (more…)