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Disciplining Teens - issue​​​​1234

Communicating ​​​With Silence

The progress of speech from birth to adolescence usually goes something like this:

  • Stage 1 - Infants communicate through crying, laughing and cooing.
  • Stage 2 - Young toddlers voice a few words.
  • Stage 3 - The dam breaks, and your young child talks and talks and talks until you think he or she might pass out from lack of oxygen.

But then something strange happens. When your child enters his or her teenage years, rather than progressing to a higher stage of communication, this once talkative kid instead reverts to Stage 2, speaking in single words or short phrases, punctuated only by the occasional glare or eye roll. Your thoughtful questions are greeted with responses such as, "I don't know," "Nothing," or "Whatever."

So what's going on here? Has your child lost the ability to speak? Hardly. In fact, he or she likely speaks perfectly well with his or her peers. The problem, unfortunately, is you and others of your kind - adults.

You see, your teen has learned that communicating with adults opens him or her up to judgment and criticism. And they're mostly right. After all, most adults feel superior to teens, and that makes it difficult not to be condescending and judgmental when speaking with them. If adults spoke with teens on subjects in which they were actually interested (their loves and hates, favorite pop stars, sports teams, etc.), rather than communicating only to deliver lectures and warnings, they would find teenagers are quite capable of carrying on conversations.

One other issue worth mentioning is that parents often engage in conversation with their teens at times that are convenient to them. This means that the conversation in question is taking time away from your teen - time he or she would likely spend playing video games or texting with friends. That means your teen sees communicating with you as a penalty. Instead, why not pick a time that's convenient for your teen? There's a much better chance you'll find your teen engaged rather than withdrawn.

Teaching Activity

Learn About Their Interests

There are other ways to communicate besides speech. Music, for instance, can communicate emotion incredibly well. So for this activity, let your teen do just that with a "DJ Night." Have your teen provide the soundtrack for your family dinner. If there are multiple teens or kids in your house, each kid gets a night. Talking about music is a good way to share interests and learn what your kids like and why they like it. Ask them what they know about the artist and where they first heard the song. Google the artist and learn more about them.

Social Skills

Expressing Feelings Appropriately

When teens finally do decide to speak, they may have trouble communicating their feelings. Remember, thanks to human physiology, they're driven by emotion and instant gratification at that age. So, if your teen wants to express his or her feelings, the following steps can be useful:

  • Remain - calm and relaxed.
  • Look - at the person you are talking to.
  • Describe - the feelings you are currently having.
  • Avoid - profanity and statements of blame.
  • Take Responsibility - for the feelings you are having.
  • Thank - the person for listening.

Discipline ​Dispassionately

Remember the last time you got a speeding ticket? The officer who pulled you over wasn't emotional. He didn't yell at you. Instead, he was very matter of fact. He told you what you did wrong and wrote you the ticket. And how did you drive away? Very carefully, obeying all traffic rules, right?

This is a great model for disciplining teenagers. As with the officer issuing the ticket, a dispassionate delivery of consequences is required when disciplining your teen for a rule infraction. If you go down the alternate road - getting angry, raising your voice, etc. - you not only jeopardize the success of the discipline you are dealing with, but also your relationship with your teenager.

Bear in mind that while you may be delivering discipline in a dispassionate manner, your teen may not act similarly in response. After all, it's natural to be upset when on the receiving end of discipline. That being said, if he or she escalates the response by becoming aggressive or noncompliant, you should not likewise raise the emotional tenor of the interaction. Instead, you simply increase the consequence of the original infraction.

Resist the temptation to get emotional. Because if you don't, you can risk turning a simple teaching interaction into a major confrontation that can set you back.

Teaching Activity

Set Expectations

It's much easier to operate within the rules if everyone knows what they are. Call a family meeting and establish a set of written rules of the house - things like curfews, chores, homework hours, etc. - and get your teen to sign off on them. This way they cannot plead ignorance when one of the rules is broken. You can also establish specific consequences for breaking specific rules. For instance, coming home after curfew may mean that your teen loses video game privileges for a week. If they know that ahead of time, they may be less inclined to break the rule in the first place.

Social Skills

Using Structured Problem Solving (SODAS)

When a teen breaks the rules, it's usually because he or she has made a poor choice. To help avoid this, it's helpful to learn SODAS:

  • Define - the problem Situation.
  • Generate - two or more Options.
  • Look - at each option's potential Disadvantages.
  • Look - at each option's potential Advantages.
  • Decide - on the best Solution.

Dark ​Clouds Rolling In

Even the happiest pre-teen child can suddenly be transformed into an angst-filled, moping and ​moody teen. ​Things that wouldn't have fazed him or her a few years ago now seem monumental in his or her scope. On an emotional scale of 1-10, your child, who once hovered near the 5 or 6 mark, is now stuck on the ragged edge near 9 or 10.

There are several things at work here causing this change. Some of it is the effect of the physiological changes in your teen's brain - emotions are ruling the day. But there are other factors at play as well.

It is in the early teenage years that children begin to discover their identity and independence. This creates a ripple effect that vibrates throughout their adolescence. First, it means they're less interested in engaging in activities or conversations that interest adults. They have their own passions and concerns. This can lead them to seem aloof and uncommunicative. It can also lead to frustration because your activities are keeping them from enjoying theirs. Frustration leads to anger and rage.

Another source of frustration born from this newfound independence is the fact that while teens feel as if they don't need parents and other adults around, they still require us for things like rides, money and signatures for permission to engage in school activities. For a newly empowered teen, this can feel somewhat weakening.

Understanding the root causes of your teen's journey from sunshine to storm won't stop it from happening. However, it will give you insight into your adolescent's current mental state, which will eventually help you better communicate with him or her - something that parents should strive for at all times.

Teaching Activity

Expressing Emotions

Expressing emotions is difficult enough for an adult, let alone for a teen who is grappling with these alien feelings for the first time. Art has been a fundamental way to communicate emotion for thousands of years. For this activity, have your teen think of a particular feeling or emotion and have him or her represent it with a collage cut from magazines and catalogs. Alternately, if your teen is so inclined, you can have him or her do this with an original sketch or painting. The important point is to represent the emotion in question graphically, rather than by voice. Discuss it together and work to find ways to deal with it.

Social Skills

Dealing With Frustration

Teenagers are often dealing with romantic relationships and infatuations for the first time. This entails opening up emotionally to another person and leaving themselves exposed and unguarded. When a romantic gesture is rejected, it can seem like the end of the world. To guard against overreaction, try the following:

  • Identify - feelings of frustration as they arise.
  • Determine - the source of these feelings.
  • Breathe - deeply and relax when frustrations arise.
  • Discuss - frustrations with a caring adult or peer.
  • Find - alternative activities that promote feelings of success.

Creating ​​Rewards for Effective Discipline

Scarcity drives value. This fundamental principle is the lynchpin of our entire economic system. You can see it at work everywhere, from the price of gold to the price of milk. The brilliant thing is this same principle can be adapted to develop a series of rewards that will give your teen the incentive to follow the rules.

What do teens want? Well, broadly speaking, they want more freedom. Freedom to come and go when and how they please. Freedom to enjoy the latest electronic games and gadgets. Freedom to text and chat with their friends.

All these privileges have one thing in common: you. As a parent or guardian of a teen, you are the one who holds the key to all of these. As such, you are in the position to dole out these privileges as rewards for your teen's good behavior.

The best part of these prized privileges? They're free!

You don't have to bribe your teen with money or promise to buy him or her a new video game or pair of jeans. You simply create a batch of rewards that can be given out whenever your teen earns them.

Your son brings home an impressive report card? Maybe he gets to stay out an extra half hour every night next week. Your daughter cleans her room without prompting? Maybe she gets an extra half hour of chat time with her friends after supper.

You needn't stop there. Survey your home for other things your teen desires - TV time, sleeping in late on weekend mornings, etc. - the only limit is your imagination.

And, as we have mentioned before, it's important to "catch your teen being good." That means, you shouldn't just give out expected rewards for expected achievements (e.g. your son knows if he passes his calculus test, he'll get an extra half hour of video game time); you should also give out unexpected rewards. For instance, your daughter took her little sister to the park, giving you some much-needed downtime. You could say, "You know, I really appreciated you taking your sister to the park the other day. Tonight, instead of helping with dishes, you can FaceTime with your friends for half an hour."

It should be mentioned, of course, that while we're talking about rewards here, you are also in the position to take away privileges as consequences for negative behavior. Meaning that if your son bombs the aforementioned calculus test, not only does he lose that half hour of gaming time, he also loses his video game privileges for a week.

The bottom line is you are in charge and hold the key to the freedoms and privileges teens cherish most.

Teaching Activity

Develop a Rewards System

This time, the activity is pretty obvious: set up a system of rewards for your teen. First, think really hard about what your teen wants most. What does he or she constantly ask for or complain about not having? Then figure out a way to chop these rewards into easily doled out bits (using increments of time works well). Then call a family meeting to let everyone know that this is going to be the way of things for the future. It helps, too, if you have a list of rules already made up. As with most people, teens do much better if they know what's expected of them.

Social Skills

Staying on Task

In order to earn the rewards mentioned earlier in this email, your teen needs to abide by your rules and accomplish the things he or she has been asked to accomplish. One important way to improve the odds this will happen is if your teen learns how to stay on task by using the following skill steps:

  • Look - at your task or assignment.
  • Think - about the steps needed to complete the task.
  • Focus - all of your attention on your task.
  • Stop - working on your task only with permission from the adult who gave you the task.
  • Ignore - distractions and interruptions by others.

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