Goodness of Fit: Giving Up Being Right Doesn’t Make You Wrong

Sam bursts through the door after school, throws his book bag on the ground, and heads toward his room.  Mom is in the kitchen making a cup of tea when she hears Sam get home.  She hollers, “Hey kid….how was school? What is your plan for tonight?” Sam says, “I don’t know” while heading up the stairs.  Clearly Sam was upset about something.  Mom wonders…what should I do? Do I try to talk to him, wait for him to come to me, or just let it go for now.  As she stirs the honey in her tea,  her thoughts drift to how her day had gone. She had actually had a pretty rough day herself.  In fact, things at work had been going down hill for about a month. She feels emotionally exhausted, but knows that she needs to reach out to her son.

Mom begins to walk upstairs. How many different ways could this conversation go and why? Both are coming to the conversation with their own personality, thoughts, feelings, and experiences.   For years, psychologists have tried to understand what contributes to effective parenting and strong parent-child relationships.  And for years, researchers have said that this is cultivated by things like knowing what’s going on in your teens life: with whom are they spending time, what are they doing, where are they going, when will they be home, and how they’re doing.  Another component is finding the right balance of being responsiveness to them and having a structured and predictable environment.   This sounds easy enough, right?  The Goodness of Fit Model suggests that the  teen’s temperament, the parent’s temperament, and the demands and expectations of the environment are important contributors to how easy it really is. 

The Goodness of Fit Model Model suggests that a teen’s development is not based on a specific personality trait, but rather on the the way in which  their temperament, other people’s temperament, and their environment interact.  A person’s temperament is their natural style of interacting with people, places and things, whereas the environment is inclusive of all the different contexts in which people interact with one another.  These contexts include things like family, school, work, and peer groups.  A good fit is established by finding, or creating, a match in these areas: 1) the parent and the child’s temperament, (2) the parent and his/her environment, and (3) the teen and his/her environment. When this happens, parent-teen relationships are healthier and teens are happier with themselves and the world around them.  Teens have a higher self-esteem when they feel like they can successfully navigate their relationships and activities.  As you would expect, a poor match can have the opposite impact.

You have more options for how you respond to situations when you enter into them with an understanding of both you and your teen’s perspective. Giving up being right doesn’t mean you have to be wrong.  It may be that you and your teen simply approach things differently. When you are present to who your teen is and why they react the way they do,  you can avoid some of the recurring battles in your household.   Doing this goes a long way in  building trust between you and your teen, while making parenting more enjoyable!

The Goodness of Fit Model looks at two component: The behavior fit and the emotional fit.  The behavioral fit refers to the fit between the person and the environment, while the emotional fit refers to the fit between individuals.  Using the  example above, let’s look at behavioral fit.  Maybe Sam likes to keep to himself, but he shares a bedroom with his teenage brother. This can leave Sam frustrated when he wants space and his room is occupied by his brother.  When you think about emotional fit, consider whether your teen has a compatible or incompatible temperament in relation to some the people in his/her life….including yourself!  Looking at our example again, maybe the mom is really introverted and is internally processing her bad day at work, while Sam wants to talk about what he is feeling.  It is normal for it to be more challenging for you to understand a teen who has a very different temperament than you. You may even find yourself having less patience to deal with certain things because of your teen’s temperament.

Whether your temperament clashes or is compatible with your teen, you can have a big impact on the interactions you have with one another, and your level of satisfaction!  Start by recognizing the similarities and differences, and consider when you can  make adjustments in your parenting to better meet the needs of your teen.  You can also help your teen learn how to interact with people who  approach situations in different ways than themselves. Below are some additional strategies for understanding and managing “fit”:

  • Have discussions that acknowledge, but do not judge the other person’s way of interacting in the world. This will increase trust and understanding in your relationship.
  • Approach your teen with empathy and work through differences in a way that acknowledges both reactions. Giving up being right, doesn’t mean you have to be wrong.
  • Teach teens to recognize the “other” person’s perspective. This is also important because it is during this time that teens tend to be heavily focused on themselves.
  • Help your teen recognize and engage in environments that fit their personal temperament.
  • Anticipate what your teen may need in order to handle a person or an environment that is not a good fit. For example, prepare a shy teen for overcrowded events. Teens do better when they know what to expect.
  • Have realistic expectations of teens. Try to avoid putting them in situations that are counter to their temperament. This can make them feel bad about themselves and can ultimately decrease their self-esteem.
  • Acknowledge teens who have a challenging temperament. By doing this, you can recognize that teen behavior is not always a result of “bad” parenting. You alone are not fully responsible for the way your teen is or is not.
  • Engage your teen in activities that match their temperament. It can be helpful to put active teens in sports, emotionally expressive teens in music, funny teens in drama, and academic teens in math or chess club.
  • Find chores that match their temperament.  Consider having active teens mow the lawn, less active kids fold the laundry, and  emotionally expressive teens walk the dogs.

When teens learn to put themselves in situations that “fit” their temperament, they are able to feel successful in their interactions with others and the world around them!

Happy Parenting,

The Search for Identity: Who Am I? What Am I Committed To? What Am I Afraid Of?

Identity development is one of the most fundamental tasks teens face. It is during this time that they are most likely to try on different aspects of their personality as they work to figure out who they are and who they want to become.  Your teen will grow and develop. Some characteristics will stay the same, some will change, and some will change and then go back to the way they were before.  As challenging and emotional as it can be, this is a good time to be sensitive to how difficult it was to be in a constant state of evaluating “Who am I?”

Your identity is a complex set of attributes that contribute to how you describe yourself and what makes you unique. Before you try to understand your teen, think about how you might answer the following questions:

  1. How would you describe yourself?
  2. What are three things that you are committed to?
  3. What are you afraid of and why?

Now, think of the world of a teenager. How would your teen describe him/herself? Putting some thought into this can give you new insight into your teen’s identity. Children typically describe themselves using specific adjectives. Seven year old Johnny may say, “I am kind and funny” and nine year old Suzie may say, “I am talkative and nice.” This changes in the teen years. Fifteen year old Johnny can see that he is kind sometimes, and unkind other times. He can tell you that he is funny when he hangs out with his guy friends and quiet around girls.  Similarly, 17 year old Suzie can tell you that she is talkative around people she knows and quiet in new situations. She can articulate that she is generally nice, but can be mean when she is tired.  How teens describe themselves is an aspect of their identity and one that becomes more and more sophisticated as their brains develops.

What three things were you committed to? What do you think your teen is committed to? This is important to consider because our identity is also built on the things we do.   A  teen that is committed to daily swim practice defines herself as an athlete,  a teen that looks for a job at 16 sees himself as hardworking, and a teen that volunteers at the humane society describes herself as an animal lover.  If you think about what your teen commits to, you can link it to certain characteristics that make  up their his/her personality.  Adults can relate to this. What is the first thing you tell someone that you just met?  Do you say where you work, tell them about your children, or mention your favorite activities? Like teens, these are parts of you that you are committed to and enjoy sharing with other people.

All teens have fears. They may be afraid of looking bad, saying or doing the wrong thing in a social situation, or doing poorly on an exam.  The impact of these fears can be compounded by their inability to distinguish their thoughts from the thoughts of others.  For example: If a teen thinks her hair looks bad then she also thinks that everyone else thinks her hair looks bad. All this thinking about what other people are thinking can be really exhausting!  Fears impact identity development by inhibiting a teen from trying new things and making new commitments that build competencies and esteem.

Here are some things to think about as you help your teenager go through this transition:

  • Pay attention to how teens describe themselves.  Tell stories that are rich with characteristics you have observed. Your teen may choose to add these to how he/her description.
  • Engage teens in conversations about the things they like to do. Help your teen explore new areas.
  • Remember that independence bread confidence. Find safe opportunities for your teen to express his/her independence and develop new competencies.
  • Make a big deal out of their accomplishments. Verbalize the things you see working for your teen in different situations.
  • Recognize that experimentation is normal. A big part of your role is to pay attention and reel your teen in with clear about boundaries, expectations and consequences.

Happy Parenting!

Shelly

Two Weeks in the “Pig on Skates”: Parenting Thoughts From the Road

As we drive down the Oregon coast on Highway 101 in the 34-foot RV that my family has come to call the “Pig on Skates”, I am reminded by how much we gain from spending time with our teens.  In today’s busy world, it is so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day hustle and bustle of life.  And, while summer brings warm weather, long days, and fantastic freedom, it also brings new ways for our teens to fill their days.  Many replace school, activities, and time with friends with things like sleeping in, going to work or attending camps, and spending even more time with friends.  As parents, we have to take advantage of the moments when we get the opportunity to grab their attention.

Recently, a parent shared the following concern with me. She said,

I love it when I get time with my teens. But, I find myself feeling like I have to take advantage of every opportunity I get to teach them something.  Isn’t that my job as a parent? When my daughter talks about her boyfriend, I impart on her what I know about relationships. When my son talks about his dream of being an astronaut, I share with him the kind of schooling and experience he will need. I learned early on to take advantage of “teachable moments”, but I am starting to feel like they are getting in the way of my relationship with my teens.

Teachable moments are certainly an important part of parenting. If you think of their developing brains as gardens, each conversation is a seed that is planted in that garden. One difference between the seeds that become part of the soil and those that grow into healthy plants is how they are nourished.  Sometimes teens resist information and other times they receive and nourish it.  Research suggests that teen pay less attention when they feel as though their parent is lecturing them and more attention when they feel as though they are part of the conversation. Teens may verbally resist what you share with comments like, “You really just don’t understand” or “Things are different now than they were when you were a teen. Or, they may check out and let their mind drift to other thoughts.  When this happens, it is time to check how you are talking and give them opportunities to contribute to the conversation.

This is not to say that we should stop talking to our teens about important issues. Even those seeds that lay dormant for a period of time can spring up when the teen is ready to receive the information. However, it is also important to remember that what we have to teach our teen is not always communicated through our words of wisdom and experience. You have probably heard things like, most of your communication is delivered through your body language and your actions speak louder than words.  As your teen matures, he or she will pay more and more attention to the subtleties of who you are and how you respond to different situations.

Don’t forget that one of the other ways that you have influence as a parent is through listening, having fun, and sharing in day-to-day experiences with them.  It is in these moments that you get to share a piece of who you are with your teen. As we get closer and closer to going home, I find am thankful for the time we spend singing to Aerosmith as we drove down the road in our “Pig on Skates” and swimming in rivers, lakes, and oceans along the way. I will remember building fires on the beach, dancing to all kinds of music, being silly and laughing at each others funny faces. Above all, I will cherish the little parts of themselves that they shared and the ways that they opened up to me by just “being together”.

Happy Parenting!

Shelly

Raising a Teen Can Feel Like Being in an Arena with a Matador

Consider this scene

After many moves and years of hanging onto “keepsakes”, the Smiths are cleaning the basement in preparation for a garage sale. The two kids have been told that they can keep part of the profits if they help with both the preparation and sale of the items. The day before the garage sale, mom approaches her teen. “I have a couple important meetings at work today and I could really use your help finishing up the pricing of the things in the garage. When your sister wakes up, can the two of  you please try to finish that up so that we are ready for this weekend?”  Keep in mind that even though the kids have helped, mom has really done about 80% of what it has taken to get ready for the garage sale.  Her teenage daughter responds with, “Can’t we just work on it together when you get home? I am really tired and I haven’t seen my boyfriend for a week. I was planning on sleeping a little longer, catching up with some friends for lunch, and then hanging out at the pool with John for a couple hours. As you can imagine, this doesn’t go over very well. Mom is instantly annoyed, frustrated, and overwhelmed with all the  responsibilities she has that day.   At this point, mom looses it a little. She replies with, “All I am asking you to do is price a few things. With both of you working, it shouldn’t take more than an hour out of your day. I am glad to see you taking care of yourself, but it would be nice if you could contribute to the family a little more.” The teen responds with, “Maybe you should take care of yourself a little more. If you took time to get some rest and have lunch with friends, you would be a lot happier and more fun to be around!” Mom decides not want to engage in what was quickly becoming an argument. She walks away, telling her daughter she will check in with her again before she goes to work.

What comes up for you when you read this? This mom may be asking herself things like: When did my teen stop asking if she could do something and start telling me what she is doing?  How can she say such hurtful things to me? Doesn’t she understand what would happen if I  just decided to take the day off every time I needed to “take care of myself”?  Why can’t she see all the things I do for her?

Teens like the one above can be very egocentric.  To be egocentric is to think only of oneself, without regard for the feelings or desires of others.  This explains why teens see the world through their own eyes, basing choices on their personal priorities and limited experience.  As challenging as it can be for those around them, being egocentric is a necessary characteristic of identity development.  Typically, teens will move in and out of being able to see another person’s perspective, and they will practice this new skill on you!  Often times, it is not they they are trying to be mean or hurtful. Rather, they simply are not focused on how they are making you feel.

Parenting challenges us to look at situations for what they are and not take things personally.  It is in the very moments when we are tempted to lecture, ground, or holler at our teens that they need us to disengage emotionally, get grounded, and respond with thoughtfulness.  This following strategy may help:

  • Disengage: Engaging in an emotional dialogue with a teen is like being in an arena with a matador.  The matador tries to wear out the bull and the bull runs around chasing a red cape. Meanwhile, the bull gets more and more upset and exhausted.  If you are inclined to react, walk away and come back to the conversation when YOU are ready.
  • When you are ready, restate your expectation. Keep it simple and direct.
  • Describe, specifically, what needs to be done to meet that expectation.
  • Share how their contribution benefits their family or community.
  • Explain the consequences.

When you resist the temptation to get in the arena with the matador, you can be more skillful in your interactions.  Using situations like the one above as coachable moments allows you to make a positive contribution to both their sense of self and their growing understanding of who they are becoming. Sharing how their efforts make a larger contribution can help build positive self-esteem in teens. The word ‘esteem’ comes from a Latin word that means ‘to estimate’. So, self-esteem is related to how teens estimate, or regard, themselves. Experts suggest that it is through their contributions that teens develop skills and regard themselves as capable. They begin to recognize that they play an important role in reaching a larger goal.  It also helps them to be less egocentric as they begin to see how their actions impact people outside of themselves.

Happy Parenting!

Shelly

Your Teen Was Born Vulnerable & Imperfect

I have heard a lot of parents say, “Being a parent has taught me how to be a better person.” Why is it that our children are often the ones that push us to grow as individuals? What does it look like, to be a better person? Parents tell me that they became a better person because parenting inspired them to be more patient, authentic, observant, and aware of themselves. Many shared a commitment to self-improvement.

A friend of mine once said, “teens need us to protect them from themselves.” We enter the world of parenting with an huge sense of responsibility, and we learn very quickly that our children will look to us as models for what it means to be human. Teens need our guidance to stay safe, be thoughtful, live with purpose, develop work ethics, show compassion, and engage with others in a way that shows they can take responsibility for themselves and for their contributions to the world.

The following video is not just about parenting a teen, it is about what the author, Brene Brown, would call being whole hearted. She keeps it light and funny as she talks about what it is like to live life with courage and to accept that we are all vulnerable and imperfect. She reminds us that being a “good parent” is not about having perfect teens, it is about having teens who feel worthy. This video is longer than what I would usually post. However, I think the next 20 minutes will be well worth your time. You might even find yourself watching it more than once!

I would enjoy hearing your thoughts and comments after viewing this video. How did you relate to what she shared? How does all of this apply to our parenting?

Happy Parenting!

Shelly

Parenting Styles & The Characteristics of Teens

The other day, my husband and went window shopping for new furniture to put in the front room of our house. Of course, what seems like a fairly easy task turned into a much more complicated ordeal. Do we get leather, microfiber, or suede? Do we want a pattern or solid color? What color? How many pillows do we want on the couch? Do we want a big, deep chair or small chair? The list goes on and on…. I realized that while we share very similar tastes, our idea of the “perfect” set-up for the front room was very different! It made me think about parenting teens, and the fact that we don’t always agree on how to parent our teens either!

As individuals, we are never surprised by the fact that people have different styles in clothing, couches and house colors. Yet, for some reason, we are surprised when people do not parent the way we would parent. Why is that? In many ways, it is because we come to parenting with strong ideas and beliefs about what it takes to be a “good” parent. There are some immediate pitfalls to this. First, there is an underlying judgement. In my experience, judging another parent often results in facing a similar dilemma. Second, there is usually more than one way to handle a particular situation. It is always important to remember that parents are the best judge of what will work for their individual and unique teenager.

Even though it feels like we make decisions and respond to our teens on a case-by-case basis, the way we respond has a lot to do with our parenting style. Parenting styles are shaped by the way in which we combine our warmth and affection for our teen with structure and discipline. Years of research suggests that there are four different parenting styles, each of which contributes to various characteristics in teens.

The one that is thought to have the best outcomes for teens is authoritative parenting. Adolescent experts, Nancy Darling and Laurence Steinberg, advise parents to think about this type of parenting as an “emotional context rather than a compilation of specific parenting practices”. Parents set a tone that communicates clear rules and guidelines, with expectations for appropriate conduct. In practice, these rules and guidelines are often established together. These parents are present and available to listen and answer questions. Parents monitor their teen and are nurturing when their teens make mistakes. This is not to say that teens don’t get consequences, rather that the consequences are delivered without shame and guilt. When parented this way, teens are more likely to be confident, responsible, and good at school. They are less likely to use or abuse drugs or alcohol, be involved in delinquent behaviors, or experience anxiety and depression.

The other three styles are:
1. Authoritarian parents use a more demanding and less warm and communicative style with their teen. This style is shaped by strict rules and no explanation. The expectation is to “do it because I said so”. Teens tend to have a lower self-esteem, and be less self-reliant, persistent, and socially poised. These teens tend to do as well in school as those from authoritative homes, but have less faith in their abilities.

2. Indulgent parents have fewer rules and lower expectations for maturity or self-control. This style is also characterized by parents being very nurturing and communicative, often taking on the role of “friend”. These teens report higher drug and alcohol use, lower school performance, and a bigger resistance to authority.

3. Uninvolved parents are less demanding, responsive, and communicative. These parents provide for their teen’s basic needs, but stay fairly detached from the day-to-day aspects of their teen’s life. In extreme cases, they may reject or neglect the needs of their teen. Teens from uninvolved parents tend to be less self-reliant, less socially skilled, more likely to exhibit psychological problems such as anxiety and depression, have higher rates of drug use and delinquency, and be less interested and less successful in school.

It is important to recognize that even the most well-intentioned parents are not going to be “authoritative” all the time. In fact, most parents find themselves falling into each of the four parenting styles at some point during the teen years. It is not healthy or helpful to analyze every move you make as a parent. Once, a parent educator told me to think of it as the 80/20 rule. The important thing is to be thoughtful in your approach and try to get it right most of the time.

How do you  know your parenting style? It can be helpful to consider:

  • How clear are you about boundaries and rules of the house?
  • What do you do when the rules are broken?
  • How comfortable are you in hearing your teen’s opinion, suggestions, alternatives?
  • How often do you find yourself explaining your reasoning?
  • Do you know who your kids friends are? Their parents?
  • How comfortable are you with compromise?
  • Do you have to nag your teen to get things done?
  • How often do you feel like your teen is taking advantage of your good nature?

If you are interested in finding out your parenting style, there are a variety of websites that offer free parenting style quizzes.  It can be interesting to take a couple and see where you fall. The best way to use this kind of informaiton is not to criticize yourself, but identify your strengths and weaknesses. Having more knowledge on how you parent can help you to grow in the areas that you deem important. Below are few recommended sites for parenting style quizzes. While these quizzes may use slightly different language, you will get the general idea.

  1. http://www.parenting.com/Mom/signalPatterns.jsp
  2. http://www.activeparenting.com/Parents-Parenting_Style_Quiz
  3. http://www.parentstoolshop.com/HTML/quiz.htm
  4. http://parenting.quiz.kaboose.com/11-what-s-your-parenting-style

Happy Parenting!

Shelly

Give Me Five Minutes and Two Words: Therapy for You & Your Teen

Sometimes a little humor can go a long way! This last weekend, one of my counseling students shared this video with me and it made me laugh. It also made me think of raising teens. When I returned home, I shared this video with my own two teens. Jokingly I said, “Should I give this technique a try at home?” They both laughed and said, “As long as we can use it too!” I suspect there may be times in the future when we pull this one out of our bag of tricks just to lighten things up a bit!

On a more serious note, it is not uncommon for parents of teens to want their teen to just listen and do what they have asked them to do. Have you ever wished you could just say, “Stop It!” and your teen would just stop; stop leaving lights on in every room, stop hanging out with someone, stop leaving their bike outside all night, stop procrastinating in school, or stop coming home late. Of course every teen is different and every parent faces different challenges in helping their teen develop into a thoughtful and responsible young adult.

The problem is that as teens get older, they need to develop their own identity, one with the values, beliefs, and self-expression that is uniquely theirs. This helps to explain why “Stop It!” by itself doesn’t work. Sometimes we have to see certain situations as learning opportunities, ones in which teens can make their own decisions and live with the consequences. Other times, our teens need us to hold a hard, firm boundary and say “Stop It” or “Absolutely Not”!  Experts say that the most effective style of parenting is one that combines clear rules and expectations with being responsive, warm, and nurturing.   Using this style results in teens who grow into happy, capable and successful adults.

This may sound logical, or even easy to implement. The problem is that we don’t respond to situations like robots or machines.  In actuality, we are a lot more thoughtful about how we respond and we don’t always get it to right.  But, how can this be when the suggestions for “effective” parenting are so clear and our intentions are so genuine.   Let’s look at some of the things that influence how we, as parents, handle different situations.

  • We are emotional beings. Because our teens are one of our most important investments, we want to do it right. This desire can lead to being too harsh on our teens and then overly critical of our parenting.
  • We have experience.  We want to protect our teens from the things we have learned from our experiences.  This inhibits teens from having their own experiences.
  • We assign meaning.  We interpret situations and believe that our interpretations are the “truth”.  This leads to making assumptions instead of asking our teen to share with us.
  • We speak from our perspective.  We talk to them as if they have the same knowledge and understanding we have of the world.  We wish that we could impart our knowledge on them, while our teens want to figure it out themselves.
  • We want their love. We want a close relationship with our children. This can lead to protecting them, rather than letting them live with the natural consequences of their choices.
  • We get busy.  Sometimes when our teens need our attention the most, we are distracted or too busy to listen.  This can lead to having less communication, or even feeling disconnected from our teens’ lives.

The end goal is to be nurturing and responsive at the same time that we establish clear rules, guidelines, and expectations for appropriate conduct.  But, it is important to remember that knowing this doesn’t mean that it will be easy.   There will be times when we feel as though we have been too harsh or not harsh enough. Focus on “getting it right” as much as you can, and practice being patient with yourself. If you find yourself being too critical of yourself, just “Stop It!” Focusing on the past doesn’t allow you to move forward.

Happy Parenting!

Shelly

Are Teens Really Wild Animals?

My first test of being responsible for another living thing happened when I was in college. I received a Black Labrador Retriever from another college student who had purchased this full-bred, papered puppy before realizing that “Having a puppy is a lot of work!” His lanky body and big feet made him goofy and his playful free spirit made him extremely cute! As endearing as this 10 week old puppy was, he had a lot to learn about life and I had a lot to learn about being his mom! He had to learn to go to the bathroom outside, listen when he was called and refrain from chewing everything in sight! I had to learn how to teach him these things.

Looking back on this experience, I realize there are some parallels between raising a puppy and raising a teen. Both have a lot to learn about life, both get away with things occasionally because they are so cute, and both need consistent rules, boundaries and affection to grow up. One of the first things I did was get my dog, Cassidy, a kennel. He spent all of his alone time in this kennel; he even slept in it at night. This helped him learn not to chew or go to the bathroom inside. However, the true test of his learning would come when he got to stay home alone, without having to be in his kennel. It was at that point that I would know if I could really trust him. Don’t we experience this same realization with our teens? We can only know that they have learned and that we can trust them when we let them loose to face the world and make their own decisions.

When Cassidy was six months old, I decided it was time. He had graduated to having the freedom to roam the apartment for a few hours at a time. From this experience, I learned some pretty important things that can be related to raising teens. First, I learned that Cassidy liked his kennel. His cozy little den was comfortable, safe, and predictable. Most of the time, he was in his kennel when I got home, even though he was no longer restricted. Teens are not all that different. Teens need their home to be comfortable, safe, and predictable. Even though they may argue differently, setting rules and expectations for behavior and following through with consequences gives them a sense of security. If home is not comfortable, safe and predictable, where can teens go to gain a sense of control in the midst of their chaotic life?

I also learned that bored puppies make for naughty puppies. Cassidy stayed out of trouble when there were toys for him to play with and bones for him to chew. Teens also need ways to stay busy. As they get older and increasingly independent, they need an appropriate balance of extracurricular activities and leisure time. Every teen wants down time, but too much down time can be troublesome. It robs them of the opportunity to develop confidence and skills and creates a setting where they can make bad choices in an effort to fill their time.

Finally, I learned that Cassidy got in trouble when something new was introduced to his safe and structured environment. One of his first adventures out of his kennel was spoiled by a “care package” that my mom sent me. True to form, this package was filled with laundry soap, homemade cookies, and other goodies and necessities. Cassidy ate all the cookies, which obviously had a “negative” impact on his behavior. Who knew a 6 month old puppy could completely destroy a lazy-boy chair! Our teens are going to be introduced to new things all the time and there is no way that we can predict every scenario. However, we can pay attention, consider possibilities, and do our best to prepare them for the unexpected. Teens also need to know that their parents don’t expect them to know everything. They feel great relief when they know they can call on a parent for help and guidance. Our role is to be both available and approachable so that our teens can ask for help anytime they feel unsure or unsafe. I’ve known many teens that have said things like: “I felt so much better after I told my dad everything” and “I was relieved when I told my mom and was no longer alone in dealing with my problems”

It is absurd to say that raising a dog is just like raising a teen. We all know that the stakes are quite a bit higher with teens. Still, pets often provide the first context for us to learn about being responsible for another living thing. How we love and discipline our pets has an impact on the kind of pet they become. It may be fun for you to think about your experiences with animals, consider other parallels, and share a story with us!

How You Respond Can Influence Your Teen’s Behavior

Think back to when you first brought your baby home. There you sat, fully responsible for the livelihood of this child. You may have felt exhausted, or even a little overwhelmed by all that had changed. Yet, you loved this baby more than anything in the world and very quickly realized how much he/she enriched your life. I remember people calling my house, saying “What are you up to?” Often, my reply was “Just sitting here watching my baby sleep” I thought to myself, who would have believed that I could just sit and watch someone sleep for hours at a time!”

The following video is a profound illustration of the importance of parent-child interactions, and the impact that our responses can have on the actions and behaviors of our children. While this video shows a mom and her infant, there is an important message to parents of teens;  how we respond to our teen influences their behavior.

As parents, we try to do all we can to nurture and provide for our baby’s needs. When they smile at us, we smile back. When they cry, we try to sooth them. We play, touch, laugh, coo, feed, clean, rock, and tickle them. These interactions play a very important role in both their social-emotional development, and their attachment to their parent. It is through these interactions that they begin developing a relationship with you. And, it is through that relationship that they develop patterns that guide their perceptions, emotions, thoughts, and expectations in relationships they will have as teens.

We have very different interactions with teens.  We typically don’t coo, tickle toes, or rock teens, but they still need us to respond to them in a way that connects and builds relationship. And just like the infant in this video, teens may pull away, act out, or cry for help when we don’t pay attention and respond to their needs. They simply act out and cry for help in different ways. In fact, psychologists suggest that even rule breaking or delinquent behavior is often a wake up call for families that their teen needs something that he/she is not getting.

The following tips can help you pay attention and respond to your teen in a way that strengthens your relationship and prepares him/her to have good relationships with others:

  • Pay close attention to their emotions.  They will not be as transparent as infants. Give them lots of opportunity and room to talk about how they are feeling.
  • Listen with an open mind. Make a big effort to understand where they are coming from, even when you feel differently.
  • Understand that adults tend to use logic, while teens use emotion to explain their behavior. Often times, you must connect with your teen on an emotion level before they can even hear your logic.
  • Learn to identify the cues they use to show you that they need you. For example: While a baby may shriek to engage you, a teen may withdraw, play basketball, or draw a bath.
  • Realize that teens may not see or understand their own behavior. Help them to recognize what they are feeling and thinking by making observations and asking gentle questions like: “You look sad. Is everything ok?” or “I imagine you feel overwhelmed with everything that is due at school this week.”
  • Listen without trying to solve things for them.  It can be helpful to ask permission when you really want to offer your advice: “Can I share with you what has worked for me?” or “I have some thoughts about that. Would you like to hear them?”
  • Be mindful of your body language. Just like the mom showing no expression in the video induced a desperate response for her infant, your body language will communicate how you are hearing your teen. Showing sincere interests and not overreacting communicates trust that they can keep talking.
  • Show empathy. This demonstrates understanding and normalizes their feelings. Teens can feel guilt and/or shame when they feel like the only person in the world to experience something or feel a certain way.

Happy Parenting!

Positive Parenting Tips to Build Self Esteem in Teens

Just recently, I was talking with a 16 year old teen about what it was like to be 16. He said,

There is a lot of change at 16. You know it is hard to believe I am almost 17, and that 10 months ago I was just 15….there is a very big difference between being 15 and 17! A lot has changed in my life. I have gained some good things, and some bad things. I have lost some good things and some bad things. Now, I am deciding who I want to be.

What a great way to put it!  At 15 years old, teens are just entering middle adolescence.  High school is a new experience, thinking is becoming more abstract, and opportunities for new activities (both in school and with peers) are expanding rapidly.  By 17 years old, teens are gaining more and more autonomy and developing increasing amounts of responsibility for themselves and for their choices. They may be driving, working, dating, and juggling activities and school.

This period of time is a transformative time when teens try on new styles, build new friendships, take new jobs, and engage in new activities…..all in a search for understanding who they are,  who they are becoming, and who they want to be in the future. They are living out the consequences of their choices, however negative or positive they may be.  Even though many teens are reflecting on how their choices shape their identity, lack of brain development in the frontal lobe can make it challenging for them to think deep into the future.  As parents, it is important to remember that you can facilitate increased awareness by showing empathy, asking questions, and sharing your experiences with your teen.

Teens this age can act like adults one minute and kids the next, as they actively work to integrate all the different aspects of the self.  Throughout this process, teens need parents to use positive parenting techniques that help them build self-esteem and confidence.  Positive parenting is a psychological term that is used more and more to describe a form of disciplining children and teens. It differs from the more traditional sequence of positive rewards and negative punishments by putting a bigger focus is on communication, empathy, and understanding. Positive parenting can be done in conjunction with setting limits and boundaries that match your family’s needs and values. Below are 5 positive parenting tips that can help you connect with your teen:

  • Seek understanding: Try to approach situations from their perspective. Teens like it when you try to speak their language.
  • Talk with them, not at them: This means asking lots of questions, searching for clarity, rephrasing what they say back to them.
  • Get to their level: Sit together so that your eyes can connect at the same level.
  • Separate the deed from the doer: Show teens unconditional love by addressing the behavior without being critical of them as individuals.
  • State what you would like, not what you don’t like: Try saying “Feel free to take hourly breaks to check your Facebook” instead of “Don’t get on Facebook while you are doing homework!”

There is a consistent link between self-esteem in children and these kinds of parenting characteristics. Children with high self-esteem describe their parents as encouraging independence and being accepting of who they are as individuals.