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Acceptance Is a Necessary Ingredient for Change

The desire to have teenagers improve their behavior is virtually universal among their parents, teachers, adult relatives and employers. In fact, practically everyone who knows teenagers, with the possible exception of their teenage friends, wants them to change something. This desire, however, is usually strongest for parents. Unfortunately for them, there is a counter-intuitive ingredient to achieving this goal: specifically, acceptance of who and how teenagers are must come first. It is the absence of this ingredient that often thwarts most parental attempts to change a teen’s behavior.

It would be nice or at least easier if acceptance wasn’t necessary for change, but unfortunately, it is.  Actually, this point pertains not just to teenagers, but to all persons.  Here it is in a simple declarative form:  People will not change their behavior for others if they don’t feel accepted by those others first.  And don’t forget, teenagers are people first and teenagers second.  Non-acceptance, along with its social relatives, disapproval, criticism and disrespect, leads to resistance. And when coupled with a request or demand for change, active and/or passive opposition is the typical resulting behavior. In other words, in the face of non-acceptance, people usually steadfastly maintain the behavior that has been targeted for change if they believe those requesting the change find them unacceptable as they are.  Pointing this out as it pertains to teenagers is easy.  Executing a parenting approach that combines acceptance and a request for change that actually leads to change can be daunting. 

I do have one reasonably simple piece of parenting advice that can work. Specifically, I recommend that parents find at least one (five or more would be better) aspect of their teen’s behavior that is acceptable, approvable, creditable and/or respectable, and provide (abundantly) acceptance, approval, credit and respect for it prior to making a request for change.  Following this formula can substantially increase the probability that a teenager (or any person from whom we are requesting change) will at least attempt to comply with the request. For the life of me, I do not know why God designed us this way, but it does appear that acceptance as a prerequisite for change is an ingrained feature of the human species.

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