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Today’s Teen - issue12345

It Takes ​Two to Tangle

It's inevitable. You will get into disagreements with your teen. And because teens are governed by their ​emotions, as we have previously identified, these disagreements will often manifest themselves verbally: yelling, screaming, hurling epithets, etc.

Think of a tug-of-war with you on one end and your teen on the other. Each side pulls and struggles, gaining an inch here or an inch there until one or both parties end up in the mud. There's another, better way to end a tug-of-war. You simply let go of the rope. Without the other person, there is no tug... and no war.

What we're talking about here is the silent treatment. It's a quick and simple remedy to the argumentative teenager. And silence makes anyone ​uncomfortable, especially teenagers. This is particularly effective when teens are at their worst - swearing, yelling, threatening to move out, etc.

The reason this works has to do with how the brain operates during and after a verbal confrontation. While an argument is in progress, there is little time for reflection in the teenage brain; it's all emotion, all the time. However, after the argument passes, the brain tends to replay the conflict and assess it by "reviewing the tape." If there is only one voice on the tape - the teen's - the reflective part of the brain stands a chance of learning from it. However, if your voice is on that tape, too, chances are the teen will think himself or herself justified in the argument and nothing will be learned.

Although it is simple to understand, the silent treatment isn't easy to implement. While teens are governed by their passions and adults tend to be more rational, it doesn't mean we are devoid of emotions altogether. Far from it! This is why it is so tempting to let the emotions fly in an argument with an adolescent. After all, we have more experience and wisdom. We've been teenagers and graduated to adulthood. And there is a ninety-percent chance we're right and our teen is wrong. So it's understandable why we'd want to "let 'er rip." But if we do, though we may win the argument (in our minds, anyway) in the short term, we stand to lose the war in the long term by building a wall between us and our child, brick by argumentative brick.

Teaching Activity

The Silent Treatment

This teaching activity is simply to put the silent treatment into operation the next time you and your teen have a disagreement that becomes heated. It will be difficult. It may not succeed the first time. But you must persevere. It should be noted that the silent treatment can't simply be a case of you leaving the room (though this is still preferable to engaging in argument). Instead, you must remain in the room, but silent. This will have an unnerving effect on teens. They simply are not accustomed to having their parents in their physical presence and saying nothing. You'll find that in most cases, your teen's verbal bluster will quickly run out of steam.

Social Skills

Disagreeing Appropriately

All arguments arise from disagreement - and disagreement is a natural part of life. We are all human and individual, and we often see things differently than others. The key to not letting a simple difference of opinion escalate into a full-blown war of words is to know the steps to the skill of Disagreeing Appropriately:

  • Look - at the person.
  • Use - a pleasant voice.
  • Say - "I understand how you feel."
  • Tell - why you feel differently.
  • Give - a reason.
  • Listen - to the other person.

The Wrong Crowd

"When you throw a glove in the mud, the mud doesn't get 'glove-y.'"

- Pat Friman, PhD, ABPP
- Boys Town Parenting Expert

What happens when a good kid starts hanging out with a bunch of other kids who aren't so good? Is it likely that his goodness will rub off on the group? While this is possible, it's much more likely that the group's not-so-goodness will rub off on the formerly good kid.

To say that the teenage years are incredibly awkward would be a gross understatement. Physical and mental changes cause embarrassment with alarming regularity. Because of this, teens are desperate to fit in with a group. Unfortunately, this means that they are extremely vulnerable to the dangers of being absorbed by a group of kids that engages in antisocial, dangerous or even illegal behavior. And a teen who is good in his or her heart may engage in those activities simply to fit in with this group. This is peer pressure.

The lure is understandable and obvious. We know that teens are driven by emotion rather than logic. We also know that they tend to engage in activities that provide instant gratification. Unfortunately, antisocial, dangerous and illegal activities tend to provide just that, while the opposite is true of walking a straight and narrow path. Put simply, from an adolescent perspective, breaking the rules is fun; following the rules is boring.

This is why parents must be extremely vigilant when it comes to the company their teens keep. It's also a good idea to get to know the parents of your teen's friends. Not only will this give you an insight into your teen's friends' upbringing, it will also afford you a network of eyes and ears keeping you all apprised of the group's activities.

The second part of this equation is to go out of your way to provide abundant praise for your kids whenever they engage in positive behavior. A phrase used often at Boys Town is to "catch your child being good." Beyond praise, you can reward your teen for positive behavior by raising their curfew by half an hour on the weekend or extending gaming or social media time.

Remember, the best way to keep your glove clean is to keep it out of the mud in the first place.

Teaching Activity

Host a Gathering

Ask your teen to invite some of his or her friends over to have a movie night, play video games or some other group activity. If he or she is reluctant to invite them over, there may be a reason for this - specifically that he or she knows they're not the kind of kids you would approve of. If your teen does accept, it gives you the opportunity to meet his or her friends in person and to gauge their personalities up close. Either way, you'll learn more about your teen's friends.

Social Skills

Resisting Peer Pressure

As mentioned earlier, teens often feel a desperate need to fit in. To do so, they will often engage in activities they know are harmful or wrong. This is the essence of peer pressure, and it's something every teen faces at one time or another. Talk to your teen about peer pressure, and give them the following skill steps to resist it:

  • Look - at the person.
  • Use - a calm, assertive voice tone.
  • State - clearly you do not want to engage in the inappropriate activity.
  • Suggest - an alternative activity. Give a reason.
  • Continue - to say "No", even if the person persists.
  • Ask - him or her to leave or remove yourself from the situation, if the peer will not accept your "No" answer.

Dealing With Irrationality

"Why did you do that???"

"I dunno."

This brief exchange is commonly heard in homes all across America. The first voice is the incredulous parent, having discovered that his or her teen has just done something mindboggling. The second is the teen, responding tersely but honestly, because he or she really doesn't know.

As previously discussed, there is a reason for this. The part of the brain that deals with rational thought does not fully develop until we reach our mid-20s. This, unfortunately, leaves teenagers in the grasp of their emotions, often engaging in activities that offer immediate gratification, whether the emotion is rage, happiness or anything in-between.

The upshot of all this is that it is essentially futile to understand why your teen does the things he or she does. It also means that it is equally futile to get into an argument with your teenage son or daughter because, in doing so, you run the risk of simply engaging in emotional, rage-driven actions that risk closing the lines of communication between you and your teen - something you don't want to happen.

Teaching Activity

Getting Them Involved

Here's an activity designed to get your teen actively involved in something that benefits the whole family: making dinner. Have your teen plan, shop for and cook a meal for the entire family. Your adolescent chef can make anything he or she wants - within reason of course.

Give them a set amount of money for purchasing ingredients. This also helps them learn to budget, which is another rational activity. Be available throughout the process if your teen asks for help.

Cooking a meal is an activity that requires a set of skills that lead to a specific outcome, so it's a great way to get your teen to develop planning skills. Also, it teaches a fundamental life skill that will serve your teen well when he or she is older and out of the house.

Social Skills

Asking for Help

If your teen tries the above teaching activity, there is always the chance that things won't go exactly as planned. Failure is inevitable in life, and those who go on to be successful as adults understand that failure is an opportunity to learn and grow. When failure happens - and it will - have your teen try the following:

  • Accurately Identify - that you did not succeed in a particular activity.
  • Remain - calm and relaxed.
  • Instruct them to control emotional behavior.
  • Find - a caring adult and discuss your disappointment or other negative feelings.
  • Be Willing - to try again to be successful.

Making Sense of Chaos

We were all teenagers once, right? So why does it seem like teenagers are from another planet? Why are they so difficult to understand? And why do ​they do things that range from weird and strange to downright stupid and dangerous?

Believe it or not, there is actually a physiological explanation for the above questions, and it has to do with the way the human brain develops. You see, the prefrontal cortex - the part of the brain that governs rational thought - doesn't fully develop until most people are in their mid-twenties. Instead, your teen is governed much more by the portion of the brain that governs emotional responses.

In short, this means that teens are driven by emotion much more than logic. This is why teens do things like take dad's car out for a joyride or blow off studying for a test to go to a movie. They are more geared toward activities that deliver instant gratification and emotion - and less geared toward things that contribute to rational thought.

In light of this information, it may be tempting to give up entirely, believing your teen's chaotic behavior is purely a result of a natural process of brain development and, therefore, out of your hands. However, that is not the case. As a parent, you do have a great influence over your teen and can help guide him or her through this roller-coaster stage of development.

Teaching Activity

Get on Their Level

For this activity, the assignment is to get to know your teen on his or her level. Try to carve out 30 minutes or so a week - more if possible - to spend some one-on-one time with your teen. Let it be known that he or she can say anything during this session without fear of repercussion. Try to get your teen to open up and tell you things that are pressing on his or her mind, whether they are fears or worries or new relationships or whatever. While some topics may seem mundane to you as an adult, they will be of serious import to your adolescent child, so treat them as such. Others will surprise you in the seriousness of their nature. You may even find yourself being able to relate them to issues you experienced at that age. The important thing is to communicate. The more you do, the more you will know and understand what's going on in your teen's life.

Social Skills

Following Instructions

This skill is useful for both teen and parent, although it is likely that the teen is in greater need of learning it. So when you or your child is upset over something, use the following skill steps:

  • Learn - what situations cause you ​to lose control or make you angry.
  • Monitor - the feelings you have in stressful situations.
  • Instruct - yourself to breathe deeply and relax when stressful feelings begin to arise.
  • Reword - angry feelings so they are expressed appropriately and calmly to others.
  • Praise - yourself for controlling emotional outbursts.

Acceptance ​​​Before Change

It may seem odd at times but teenagers are ​people too. You read that correctly. Your adolescent son or daughter is a person first and a teen second. We say this may seem odd because from an adult's point of view, teenagers are alien creatures whose behavior most of us - parents, relatives, teachers and employers - would like to see change.

If you want to change your teen's behavior - or, more accurately, if you want your teen to change his or her behavior - simply issuing edicts "from on high" is likely not the best way to do it. If you want your teen's behavior to change, you must first accept him or her for who he or she is. Because without your acceptance, your teen will likely see and only hear disrespect, disapproval and criticism. And this will almost certainly be met with resistance.

It should be noted this works for adults too. Think about it: would you be willing to change a fundamental part of your character for someone whom you did not respect and from whom you received only disapproval and criticism?

The bottom line is people will not change their behavior for others if they don't feel accepted by them first.

Teaching Activity

Find Acceptance

Your assignment is to find something to accept about your teen and to praise him or her for it as a prerequisite for a change in behavior. For example, perhaps your teenage son has entered an antisocial phase, preferring to spend most of his time in his room with headphones on making electronic music on his computer. Instead of ordering him to shut his laptop and engage with the rest of the family, ask to hear some of his music. Take an interest in what he's doing. And, above all, praise his creativity and talent. If you do this, he is much more likely to understand your position when you explain that, while you're very proud of his creative passions, you also want him to remain a part of the family - and that means he can't spend all his time in his bedroom shut off from the world. This is only one example, of course. Whatever behavior you want to see changed, make sure you find at least one aspect of your teen that you can accept and praise.

Social Skills

Showing Appreciation

This social skill is a good one for both your teen and for you. After all, we're talking acceptance here, which is a two-way street. So when showing appreciation for someone, follow these steps:

  • Look - at the person.
  • Use - a pleasant, sincere voice tone.
  • Say - "Thank you for..." and specifically describe what the person did that you appreciate.
  • Give - a reason for why it was so beneficial, if appropriate.
  • Offer - future help or favors on your part.

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