If you’re just joining us, we are reading the book Boundaries With Teens: When to Say Yes, How to Say No by Dr. John Townsend. Go to the Reading Schedule if you want to start at the beginning.
We are covering chapters 18 and 19 this week. If you would like to join us, you can download the book for Kindle through my affiliate link: Boundaries With Teens and get started right away. Come back every Monday from now through the end of July, as we cover 2 chapters per week and discuss them in the comments of each week’s post.
Be sure to subscribe to receive posts by email so you’ll get them as they come out. (Enter your email address in the blue bar up at the top of this window.)
Don’t Get Derailed.
The title of Chapter 18 is appropriate in so many ways. Over the course of this book we have looked at our own backgrounds, our parenting strengths (and weaknesses), the character flaws and motivations our kids have, and begun to set some boundaries with them.
The derailing comes in subtle ways, and it comes in obvious ways.
Mostly it comes by way of manipulation. Why are teenagers so adept at manipulating us? Whether it be by explosive tantrums, or whining pleas, the effect is the same: We cave. We don’t want to deal with that kid’s angry accusations, however wrong they are, so we just don’t go there. “It’s not worth the fight” we tell ourselves.
Your Daddy’s girl who always, always comes up with the most logical explanations, and she was only ten minutes late so what’s the big deal? Except that she is ten minutes late on a regular basis and you’ve already told her what would happen if she was late again. But you gave in and let her off with barely (another) warning.
Are we proud of this? No way. But we still do it. I say “we” because this chapter could have been about our family. The examples hit SO close to home the author could have been sitting in our living room, listening to our endless go-rounds with our daughter. Endless. We didn’t know much about setting boundaries. Obviously she knew more about how to bend and break them than we did about enforcing them, and when we did enforce them it was with an iron fist. No grace, no love, just angry rules and heavy handed consequences given out of frustration.
“Most teens react with manipulation, arguments, anger, or defiance when their parents set limits with them.”
Yes, they definitely do. And they use as many tactics as they can come up with to get what they want. Dr. Townsend gives some guidelines for setting realistic boundaries and enforcing them.
1. Know what is a typical consequence for kids their age, as in, talk to other parents about how they dole out consequences.
2. Set the rules and consequences WITH your teen, rather than when he’s away. He won’t be able to say “Well you never did that before. You never told me that!” Work them out together.
3. Learn to contain your teen’s angry reactions. This is new territory for me personally, and something that we would have really benefited from. (Read the chapter because it goes very in depth on why and how to do this.)
“While your gut-level reaction might be to escalate to the same level as your kid, or to back off, neither is the best response. The first forces your teen into a power struggle with you, and the second conveys that the anger will keep you from setting limits.”
4. Use active listening. Your teen needs to know that you are listening and hearing him. Repeat back to him what he says, such as “You are upset because I am enforcing your curfew time. You feel that it’s unfair for me to restrict you from your friends” rather than “You’re just mad because you’re in trouble. If you would have just come home on time you’d be able to hang out with your friends tomorrow. You did this to yourself.” Show him you are understanding what he is saying and keep your own feelings and experience out of it.
5. Don’t let them manipulate you. Learn to recognize manipulation! Ask a trusted friend or other adult who is around you and your kids regularly to make observations. Then listen to them.
6. Follow through no matter what. Enforce the rules you set.
7. Watch out for the yes-kids. Kids who always comply may have emotional or other issues related to pleasing you, or they may be mask wearers who are one way with you, and another way with their friends. (We had one of these and it took us a long time to figure it out. By then she was into a lot of unhealthy activities!)
Above all, pick your battles.
You need to decide which are important issues and what rules are worth enforcing. Choose consequences that hit your teens where they live. You know the things that your teen finds most valuable: Music, dancing, computer or video games, driving, their cell phone, time with friends. Always take away things before adding things. If taking away the cell phone for two weeks is effective, then there is no reason to pile on a lot of other consequences on top of that.
Make the punishment fit the crime.
If she is texting while driving, you could take the phone, the keys, or both. Oversleeping might warrant an earlier bedtime. Disrespecting a neighbor could earn him being that person’s errand boy for a week.
Natural consequences are the easiest because usually you don’t have to do anything.
Getting caught texting at school will won’t even involve you. The teacher may confiscate the phone. If he gets benched from the wrestling team due to bad grades, well, he gets benched. He’s the one who has to live with that choice. (Our son did this, two days before the championships! It was a very sad tournament for him.)
Choose consequences that you can live with.
If you ground your teen, remember you’ll be grounded too. If you decide to make her weed your flower beds, you’ll need to be around to make sure that she does it the way you want it done. Be selective and make what ever you choose, enforceable.
I hope that this study has been helpful for you. Every parent needs a few more tools in their parenting repertoire, and this book has been that for me. I pray that if you’ve been reading and following along, you will feel better prepared for spending the summer with your teenager.
Part Four is the last section in the book, and I’m not going to cover all of it in posts. It is more of a reference for various teen issues, from academics, drugs, and self-mutilation, to driving, the Internet, handling money, friends, and sexual activity. If you’ve just been reading along but haven’t read Boundaries With Teens: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, I urge you to get the book!
I can’t tell you how much I have learned from reading it, and how many regrets I have about the way we parented in the past. We weren’t bad parents, we just didn’t have a clear focus for the whys and hows. This was my second time reading the book, and I’ll keep it on my Kindle so I can glean from it as needed. We still have two preteens at home, and we don’t want to repeat the same mistakes.
What have you learned from this study? Anything really big? What are you changing because of it?