All Teens are not alike
Independence and Responsibility Continuum
Just as teens face this overarching need for more independence so parents face their own overarching need during the teen years. Their need is to help teens learn to accept and deal with increasing responsibilities. While parents may say to their teens clean your room, do your homework, come home on time, and treat your siblings well, they are , in essence, saying, take responsibility for your actions and learn to be more responsible.
Like independence, responsibility exists exists in context and teens may have trouble accepting responsibility or take everything so seriously that they are frenzied and frazzled all of the time. Not wanting to make a mistake, they may want detailed directions for everything or they may resist such direction (maybe because the are just trying to spread their wings) and not want to do anything that a parent suggests. Like independence, responsibility is on a scale from low to high and a teens willingness and skill in taking responsibility is an important aspect to assess before interpreting any particular behavior as good or bad. That is where the Independence and Responsibility Continuum comes into play.
Defining the continuum
Here’s some examples of how a parent might assess various things which teenagers do and then decide how best to respond.
Let’s take profanity: Most of us would likely say that profanity varies: some words are more harsh than others. My relatives even call various words “Idaho adjectives” that I might consider profanity. How I respond depends on whether I see this as a teaching moment or time to demand respect? Is the teen letting off steam or engaging in verbal abuse? Are they trying out something new to see what kind of reaction they will get or is it a pattern approaching bullying?
The wayward Teen
For a wayward teen, profanity may be an expression of deeper rebellion against family rules, school culture, or society at large. If left unchecked, it likely will get worse. LEt’s say a teen uses the F-bomb and say school is dum and he/she wants to quit. So what’s a parent to do? Here’s 9 possible steps steps:
- Take a deep breath to avoid getting hooked by your own feelings of anger or disappointment. This is a time to act, not react.
- Ask yourself: My teen is looking for me to act in a typical pattern: to either get angry or ignore them (fight or flight). How do I usually respond when they use this type of profanity?
- Break the cycle of victim–persecutor–rescuer. Don’t get mad or walk away. Don’t do what you usually do. This is called “breaking set” and allows you to start problem solving.
- Ask your teen: what’s going on? What has someone said or done?
- Listen and probe. Teens don’t like to be interrogated and may have things they don’t want to say. Patiently, ask “what” and “how” questions which are fundamental to problems solving.
- Avoid saying: Why did you say that? (It’s an accusation and not likely to get much information)
- Reinforce family rules against profanity
- Avoid getting into a “contest of wills” by threatening to take away electronics or similar actions
- Ask your teen to give you alternative ways of expressing anger/disappointment with out profanity (role modeling)
The Sensible Teen
- Ask: Wow, that’s unusual for you. What’s up?
- Don’t overreact but don’t let them off the hook, either. They may not know themselves exactly what’s going on or why, at this time, they decided to use profanity they may or may not be using at other times.
- Prime the pump. Give an example of a time when you may have used profanity. Describe the situation, perhaps the negative reaction form others, and your own remorse. Often, this opens up the lines of communication.
- Do a “role reversal.” Ask you teen: what would you do if you were in my situation?
- Summarize action steps but don’t “rub it in”: what are you going to do next time?
The Over stressed Teen
- Comment in a lighthearted way. Something like: Whoa, I guess you’ve had a bad day at school, huh?
- Don’t jump in too soon. Some therapists and counselors suggest that parents ask at least 5 questions to the “over stressed” teen before assuming the parent has heard the full story. Dig deeper.
- Go to the source. Try to figure out if this is peer pressure, melodramatic, or attention seeking through indirect questions that focus on what happened rather than how the teen felt or what they believe.
- Try a “mindfulness exercise” to help you teen exercise more independence and not just follow your advice. A common mindful exercise is to ask the teen to make a drawing: before and after how people feel when there’s lots of profanity in a heated argument. Ask them to draw bystanders as well as participants. Use facial expressions not just stick figures.
- Try to have fun together.
The Indifferent Teen
- Call them out: “I know what you’re trying to do and it won’t work this time.”
- Listen without agreeing or disagreeing. Don’t be persuaded by denial, rationalization, or displacement (which is saying someone one else is mean to them)
- Don’t just confront the behavior; change the situation by insisting that they get involved in active play or sports with friends or neighbors
- Don’t accept guilt or get defensive if/when your teen says: “You are punishing me because I swore at you? I won’t do it again. Don’t make me play sports. It’s no fun.”
- Plan/Schedule some time with you/your spouse/your family to engage in active outdoors. Play together in the coming week (This is called reframing a situation; changing the interaction patterns through active involvement to get different results)
You may also enjoy the corresponding post about When Your Teenager is Acting Out with this below corresponding print: