Horn On Parenting Teenagers
The President of the National Father Initiative tackles the Daddy of all questions.
having a hard time dealing with my 15-year-old daughter's behavior
at home. She is doing great at school, but at home my wife or I constantly
have to remind her of what she needs to do. This includes her chores
things we think are common sense, such as putting her dishes in the
kitchen sink after she is finished eating. She doesn't seem to take
any initiative at all.
Is this part of this age, or is this related to her intelligence?
Is there anything I can do to get her to be more cooperative around
Let's see now. Your 15-year-old daughter has
to be reminded to do chores and pick up after herself. Hmmm. Sounds
to me like you have a teenager in the house!
Being a teenager
isn't easy. At one moment, teens are testing limits and experimenting
with independence. The next, they are seeking closeness and reassurance
from their parents that they are valued members of the family. Adolescence
also can be a time of great loneliness, yet a time of intense peer
activity and expanding
interpersonal relationships as well.
behavioral contradictions are the result of the primary task of
the teenage years: to achieve a sense of personal identity separate
from their parents. This "search for identity," as noted
psychologist Erik Erikson
called it, is a struggle to know who they are, what they believe
in, and what they want to accomplish in life. The outcome of this
search is neither easy nor certain. That's what makes being a teenager
struggle particularly pressing is the knowledge that very soon they
will be leaving home and on their own. Despite the bravado of adolescence,
deep down they are more than just a little anxious about this
prospect. So they constantly test themselves to see how much of
life they can handle on their own.
One way teens
assert their independence is by being noncompliant around the home.
In this respect, the teen years are really a more mature version
of the terrible twos. The reason that 2- and 3-year-olds can be
frustrating is that they assert their independence by saying "no"
to everything. Teenagers often assert their independence through
many silent "nos."
mean parents should simply sit back and accept noncompliant behavior
from their teenagers. Far from it. But when dealing with teens it
helps to have a little insight into the reasons for their behavior.
So what's a
parent to do? Provide three things: Love, limits and consistency.
The first ingredient
for effectively parenting of teenagers is being warm and affectionate.
Parental warmth is important because it enhances a teenager's desire
to be like his or her parents and to follow household rules. Parents
who are warm and affectionate also are better able to use withdrawal
of affection as a disciplinary technique instead of harsher discipline.
So give your teen lots of hugs, compliments and expressions of love.
is not enough. Parents of teens need to combine high warmth with
limits. Parents of teens need to be ready, willing and able to set
clear limits and apply consequences when those limits are breached.
A key to effective
limit setting is giving clear commands. Instead of saying, "It
would be nice if you could help out around the house a little,"
say, "I want you to pick up the living room before 8 p.m. or
else no TV this evening." Clearly state what you want your
teen to do and the consequence for not doing what you have asked.
guide is to use "grandma's rule" which says, "First
you do what I want you to do, and then you get to do what you want
to do." You might say, for example, "First you must clean
your room, and then you can watch TV," or "First you must
do the dishes, and then you can talk on the phone."
In giving commands
and setting limits, it is important to be firm. Your teenager may
whine and complain about your instruction or limit; she even may
say you are the meanest, rottenest parent in the whole wide world.
Don't you believe it, not even for a second. Research consistently
shows that parents who set and enforce reasonable limits raise more
self-competent, self-confident and well-behaved teens than those
who do not.
need to be consistent. No matter whether you are tired, frustrated
at work or angry with your spouse, you still have to demonstrate
your love for your teen and set firm and consistent limits. When
parents are not consistent, their teenagers are more likely to engage
in aggressive and non-compliant behavior.
There you have
it. The three cardinal rules for parenting teens: show lots of love,
set and enforce clear limits, and be consistent. If you do these
three things, it is very likely your daughter's behavior will improve.
Not to the point where she will be running around the house cheerfully
helping you vacuum and do the dishes, but she will be more motivated
to do as you ask the first time you ask.
As for your
daughter's intelligence level, I don't think that has anything to
do with anything. She's intelligent enough to be doing great in
school, so she's intelligent enough to do what you ask at home when
you ask her to do it. She's just being a teenager. And like teenagers
everywhere, what she needs is loving, firm and consistent parenting.
Wade F. Horn is President of the National Fatherhood Initiative, a
clinical child psychologist, and co-author of several books on parenting
including the Better Homes and Gardens New Father Book (Meredith,
1998) and the Better Homes and Gardens New Teen Book (Meredith, 1999).
He is on the
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