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Kind and Firm Parenting for Parents of Teens

Article based on the work of Jane Nelsen, Ed.D, Lynn Lott, LMFT

I’m sure we all remember those toddler days when our kids were really good at saying “no”, running away when it was diaper changing time or throwing a fit because their favorite shirt wasn’t clean and ready to wear.  Weren’t they suppose to grow out of this?  If you’re feeling challenged, provoked, threatened or defeated by your teen’s behavior, cheer up, you’re not alone! Even though our teens have gained a few years, they can still be experts at successfully engaging us in power struggles.  

Think of the teen that finds every distraction possible rather than getting ready for school on time. Or the teen that digs in their heels saying “you can’t make me do my homework, and I’m not going to do it, I don’t care if I go to college!”  Or how about the teen that argues about everything!

Get into your teen's world

Whenever your teen’s behavior leaves you feeling provoked, challenged, threatened or defeated, take a few minutes to calm down.  Leave the room, count to ten, call a friend.  Then, when you’re feeling calm, take a moment to get into your teen’s world.  Don’t just think about their world, but really get into it….what is important to them?  Are they thinking about when they can clean their room or do the dinner dishes, or how they want to spend the whole evening preparing for their Science test?  Probably not!  Most likely a teen is thinking about….”what am I going to wear to school tomorrow? should I e-mail that boy in my second period class? My best friend is ignoring me! How can I be more popular?  I wonder if I could sneak out this weekend to go to that party.”  

Our adult world looks very different than our teen’s world.  Our priorities are different and that is okay. We’re adults, we’ve been there, done that….Now it is our teen’s turn to go through the process of growing up.  This process is sometimes referred to as “individuation”.  Individuating is a process that kids go through to become more of themselves, to become independent from their parents.  It often looks like rebellion because it appears that they are doing everything possible to go against our values and our morals.  What is important to us, as parents, may become a place of rebellion for our teens.  By individuating they get to experience the other side, they get to experiment with life in a different way.  This can be a very scary time for parents, and believe it or not, a very scary time for teens.  

Kind and Firm Parenting Tools

Adapted from Positive Discipline for Teenagers, Nelsen, Lott

The next time you are feeling challenged, provoked or threatened, take time to calm down and then try one of these Kind and Firm Parenting Tools:

    1. Talk with your teenager-not to, at, or for him or her.  (It is okay to share your feelings using “I” messages)
    2. Use “what and how” questions to help your teenager explore the consequences of his or her choices….this is different than imposing a consequence on your teen.  Do this with a tone of curiosity and respect.  Stay away from questions that begin with “why”.  “Why” creates defensiveness and sets a tone of blame.
    3. Increase a sense of understanding by sharing a time when you had had a similar experience.
    4. Decide, with dignity and respect, what you will do.  Make an agreement with your teen and be willing to follow-through. (State what you will do instead of what you are going to try to make your teenager do.)
    5. Let the message of love get through.  Never do or say anything that will drive a relationship apart.  Do and say only that which will bring a relationship closer.

Our teens need “Kind and Firm” parenting.  Parenting that tells them, “I love you and respect you, and I also love and respect myself.  Kind and Firm parenting creates balance, communication and respect within families.  It is respectful to the teen, the parent and the situation at hand.  It gets ourselves and our teens through the challenges of the teen age years and brings us to the young adult years with our dignity, and our child’s dignity, in tact.

by Melanie R. Miller, M.Ed.,

Parent Educator, School Counselor, and Certified Positive Discipline Associate

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