When parenting troubled teens, personal responsibility is the key. Here’s how to instill it.
Parenting troubled teens is never easy. However, it’s one of the most important jobs out there. Teens like this are just trying to test everyone, to see if they are still loved even when they do bad things. For this reason, they do bad things quite frequently! Disciplining them and still loving them is a challenge, but read on for some tips on doing just that.
Before your teen even breaks any rules, sit down and think about your rules. If you haven’t changed them since your teen was barely 13, and she’s now 17, maybe it’s time to reevaluate a little bit. A little bit of freedom and understanding can go a long way. The key to setting up fair rules is allowing the teen to make the choice as to what privileges he or she has. And in allowing choice, that means that if the teen messes up, natural consequences will follow – so if the teen wants privileges, she better not mess up too much. Having a sense of responsibility for oneself is very important for teens.
For example, say your teen breaks curfew. If your town has a legal curfew, your teen runs the risk of being caught by the police. If she has to get up early for school or church in the morning, she’ll be very tired. And that’s okay – these are the risks anyone takes when they “break the rules.” Your teen needs to understand these natural consequences, and be able to take them if they choose to make unwise decisions.
In another example, say your teen skips school. He can get in legal trouble. Most schools will call parents to find ‘missing’ students, and will have police around town looking for anyone they believe is truant. Truant students are taken to a detention center until the end of the school day (in some towns). If your teen finds himself in such a battle (truancy issues or other), let him fight the battle on his own. Support him; but don’t make excuses for him or try to get him out of trouble.
The most important thing a parent can do is show support and love for a teen, no matter what he’s done. There was a teen, one time, who was so troubled that he left his family and ended up living with a friend’s family. His past had not been that great; his parents were not attentive or loving at all. On his birthday, his “new” mom asked him what kind of cake he’d like, and what sort of presents. The teen just turned to stare at her, tears filling his eyes. No one had ever been so nice to him before, and a little bit of kindness and acceptance undid him.
Show your teen that you love him and support him, no matter what he does. Participate willingly in any attempts to correct your teen’s behavior. If a counselor at school recommends that you all see a psychologist, go see one and be as open as you can.
If you have a teen that, no matter how much you try to love, support, accept, and show natural consequences, will NOT cooperate with you, try something else. Put your teen on a very strict schedule. He cannot drive himself anywhere (unless absolutely necessary – like work – to school he can ride the bus). He cannot go out with friends on the weekends. He can basically do nothing.
Supervise his homework and everything else he does as if he were in elementary school. Be loving but not condescending. For each week that he stays out of trouble (doesn’t sneak out, doesn’t get in fights at school, turns in all his homework), remove one of the restrictions. Maybe he can go online for awhile after the first week. Then he can have friends over. Then maybe he can drive to school again. Give him a little bit of responsibility at a time, and make sure he knows that he’s really the one who’s responsible for his own freedom and his own choices.
The core of all of this is to instill a sense of responsibility in your teen, as well as love and acceptance. Talk to your teen often, and let him or her guide the conversation. Ask about school, work, friends, anything you want to, then listen to the answers. Show your teen that you’re there, no matter what. Explain what adult responsibility is really about. Many teens who are a bit irresponsible throughout high school sober up a lot once they’re pushed into the “real world” and suddenly feel enormous responsibility for themselves. A lot of teens don’t do what they’re supposed to because they know someone else will either nag them until they do it, or will do it for them. When a person feels that way, it’s easy to believe that one can’t really make one’s own decisions, so one shouldn’t even try.
If your teen wrecks the car, make him pay for damages or a new car. If it was his car, let him find a way to buy a new one on his own. Don’t buy him another even if it is more convenient for you. In the “real world,” cars don’t grow on trees, and a brand new one doesn’t appear every time you wreck the one you have. Make the teen find rides, ride the bus, or walk everywhere. Inconvenience yourself a little if you have to pick him up sometimes, same as you did before he could drive. If he wants his freedom, he’ll find a way to get a new car and be more careful with it the second time around.
If your teen fails to complete a big project at school, yelling and grounding won’t help much. He’ll get an F, and could even fail the semester of that course. Failing to complete a project at a real job would get him fired; let him understand this. Don’t make excuses for him or help him do the project. Let him take the heat on his own.
Many teens who are in a careful and loving environment that advocates personal responsibility grow up happy and successful. Use these techniques to get your teen to that place.