Can your teenager do the deal?
So many of the arguments and meltdowns we have with our teenagers are about not being able to stick to ‘the deal’. But what exactly is the deal, why do they need to be able to stick to it ?
We have to understand that nirvana from the adolescent perspective is complete independence without responsibility; our job is to link the two. It is not an easy task and that’s why we often end up having the equivalent of World War 3 when we try to bring the two together. The reason they need to be able to do the deal is because they need to learn an important life lesson that actions have consequences, hence the familiar adolescent cry of, ‘its not my fault’ or ‘its nothing to do with me’. God forbid they have to accept responsibility for their actions!!
Let’s take a familiar battleground, negotiating a curfew. We need to agree with our teen what is an appropriate time to be home. Most teenagers can do the deal at least theoretically. However lurking in the background is an unspoken proviso;
‘I said I would agree to be home at 12 but what I didn’t say is that if I’m having fun then I’m not going to stick to it’.
There is nothing malevolent about this. It is merely a reflection of their immaturity. When they are under pressure from the impulse to do what they want the deal goes out of the window.
There are some important parenting lessons to be understood here. The first is that learning to do the deal is a process that usually takes a long time so don’t get into heated monologues about the why’s and wherefores of not being able to do it. If they break the deal then impose a sanction. Don’t impose anything draconian, maybe they are grounded the next weekend. Don’t discuss it or negotiate. It’s not about you being strict or liberal. It’s a consequence of their choice to break the deal, remember actions have consequences.
The other more important consequence is that your teenager’s attitude to and success in making deals will help you determine how much freedom they can manage. Freedom should not be determined by age but by their success in being able to stick to deals.
A poor capacity to be able to stick to a deal is usually linked to poor impulse control (immature decision making) and this can put teenagers at risk. These kinds of teenagers need much more containment (less freedom). Don’t give in to their rant about curtailment of their liberty; it’s about keeping them safe.
I’m only too aware that theory and practice are very different beasts. A feisty teenager won’t welcome what I have suggested I can assure you, but think back to those long forgotten wars with your two year old, the ones about not letting them have a second ice cream. Their rants, however eloquent, are nothing more than sophisticated temper tantrums, ignore them.