Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The theory of Relativity for teenagers.

Since adding Theodore to our family I have had to look twice at our parenting practices. Not because of Theo-boy but, because of Leopold's typically teen attitude problems some days. I know full well he is a product of his parents and their parenting-and it ain't pretty.

Now, let me first say that I do know a thing or two about the psychology of this and I'm actually a bit educated and well read on some of these things. Having an ADhD child I started getting this education when he was about 3 and I was ready to pull my hair out and I've continued since then. It's evolving to this day.
In that education there are 5 very profound things that stand out to me-yet I seem to forget them on a daily basis. Those 5 things combine to make up the Theory Of Relativity for Teenagers.

Thing #1. Parenting Is Easy. I met a woman many, many moons ago who told me that parenting was easy. Kids have two options: right or left. If they go right everything is grand and they get the good things they want. If they go left there is a consequence for that. The end.
My first thought was "lady, you are about as bright as a burnt out light bulb because I have 4 children and let me tell you IT IS NOT EASY." THEN I thought that she was parenting in the "My Way Or The Highway" style and we all know that doesn't work well. And a few years went by... Parenting didn't get any easier but, her advice was rattling around in my head somewhere because I remembered it! I started to REALLY consider it. SHE WAS RIGHT! If I give the kids the foundation and the knowledge to make the proper choices and then allow them to make the choices they too will figure this out. If you choose to be in by curfew you will be allowed to go out again tomorrow night. If you choose not to be in by curfew you don't get to go out again. The end. No further discussion.

Thing #1. Choose your battles. Back when that ADhD child was about 4 or 5 and I was tearing my hair out with him I talked to his doctor who gave me some very sage advice: Pick your battles carefully. For many things that we battle with our children over there are natural consequences that happen and we don't even have to look like the bad guy!!! If it's 12 degrees outside and he doesn't want to wear a coat? Guess what? He's going to be cold. And you don't get sick from cold air or not wearing a coat-he'll be just fine suffering through 10 minutes of freezing his butt off. He'll get the picture.
Teenagers make life interesting and you REALLY have to pick those battles carefully. You also have to make the battles you do choose to enter count-big time. You only get about 5 minutes per day of a teens life to make a difference-make it count. Is the color of their clothing REALLY worth battling over? LaVerne's clothes NEVER match. She just doesn't care. She's clean and she is confident enough in herself that she doesn't have to be a fashionista or impress anyone. If she wants to wear sweats and a hoodie looking like a slouch? I am ok with that. It DRIVES. ME. INSANE. But, it's not a battle worth picking. Is it REALLY going to count later in life? She knows how to dress properly when she needs to and does. Choose your battles very, very carefully.

Thing #3 Consistency is the key. You must do this consistently. If there are consequences for their actions there must always be consequences-not just on Tuesdays that have even dates or when you feel like it or when you remember. In life the consequences of your actions happen every time you do (or don't do) something. If you fail to wash your clothes-you either go naked or wear dirty clothes. The cleaning fairy isn't gonna come do them because you didn't bother. Your clothes are going to be dirty unless you wash them. As parents we tend to rescue our children from their actions. After all, they are only kids and that's why they have parents-to guide them through and make sure that things are done properly. Well, yes, that's true however, if we keep rescuing them how are they ever going to learn to be responsible? STOP DOING IT! EVERY action must have it's reactions-good or bad. If you do your laundry a couple of days ahead of when you need your warm ups? You don't have to worry the night before the game if they're washed or going to be dried in time! AND you don't have to wear smelly warm ups to the game resulting in that bath of Axe Body Spray that will choke the rest of the team right out of the locker room.

Thing #4 Unpredictability is the lock that the key of consistency fits into. WHAT? First you want me to be consistent and now you are telling me to be unpredictable. Yep. I really am. Keep them off balance. If they can't predict they will get a certain reaction by doing something like having a fit why would they do it?  Kids argue and fight and do what ever it is that your child does to get his own way because you will predictably react the same way. Stop. Don't react the way they expect you to react. In his book Have A New Teenager by Friday Dr. Kevin Leman tells this story very close to the beginning:
[his daughter, Lauren, walks into his office where he's working] Lauren eyed me and said calmly, "Hey, I want to get a piercing in my nose and have it connect to my mouth"
"Oh, good, honey," I said. "we're having spaghetti tonight."
auren turned to me with a twinkle in her eye. "Oh, Dad, that is good."
The point is, parent, you don't have to react to everything. 
I am pretty sure his purpose in sharing that story at the beginning of the book is to get you to thinking about how his unpredictable reaction threw his daughter off guard and she didn't know how to react. Therefore there was no tantrum, argument or battle of wills. The point is to keep them off guard. They know there will be consequences because you will be consistent. BUT they don't know when that consequence or life lesson will be coming. They have to be on THEIR guard instead of you being on guard. I HIGHLY recommend Dr. Leman's books Have A New Kid By Friday and Have A New Teenager By Friday. EPIPHANY? OH YES!

Last but, not least Thing #5. Because they can. When you wonder WHY on Earth your child just threw a temper tantrum of epic proportions it's because they can. They get SOMETHING out of it even if it's just to drive you out of your mind. They know it's open for debate if they throw a tantrum or make you feel guilty or... They know there is a chance they may be able to win. And, hopefully, we've taught our kids to reach for success. They're only doing what they're taught to do! So, go back to being unpredictable and change your reaction. Instead of arguing back and getting into a heated debate in which your blood pressure skyrockets and everyone within a country mile if the two of you is miserable-change your reaction. When they start to rant and rave and act a lunatic? Calmly and quietly walk away. Ignore the ugly behavior. DO NOT react in the heat of the moment. Think it through and remember to be unpredictable. First, when you walk away they won't know what to do when you don't play this scenario out like you're supposed to. Second there is a consequence for that temper tantrum... and it will come. Later. When someone has calmed down and is done acting like a stark raving lunatic and says "mom, can I go out long-boarding?" Where you reply with "nope. You acted like a lunatic earlier and it was rude and disrespectful." WHich will probably result in another lunatic fit where you walk away all over again. After repeating this a few times you'll discover that those teenagers are smart little suckers and they figure out that it's not working anymore. They have to change their tactics.

The 5 profound rules of parenting all combine into the theory of relativity for teenagers. For each action there is an equal and opposite reaction. You can't control their behavior, you can only control your own behavior. By changing the action YOU make you will thereby change the reaction that they have. If you begin throwing the ball to bounce back to the right it's not going to come to your left. The short end of this: Change your action up until it produces the reaction you are seeking. If you want the ball to go to the right figure out what angle to bounce it at in order to get it to go right.

Now let's see if I can put this flash of brilliance to good use...

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