Saturday, March 7, 2009

Sue Scheff: Which Battles Should You Pick with your Kids?

Doesn’t this sound familiar? I always remember when my kids were teens my friend would say to me, you have to pick and choose your battles - some issues are just not worth the battle. Years later, Connect with Kids offers some great parenting tips on doing exactly that!

Source: Connect with Kids

“I love shocking [people], because I’m something somebody will remember.”

– Sara Jackson, 16 years old

Teenagers are freedom seekers, risk-takers and rule breakers. Pushing limits is just what teenagers do. “I love the rush. I love the freedom,” says 17-year-old Alan Oliver.

Sixteen-year-old Sara Jackson agrees that breaking rules and taking chances is a rush. “It’s something I take great pride in. I love shocking [people], because I’m something somebody will remember.”

When kids become teens, they start breaking away, trying new things and taking chances. For Sara, that means wearing funky clothes and crazy hairdos. People, especially adults, notice Sara’s wild style.

“They come up to me and say you’re looking kind of crazy today. What’s going on with the whole style thing?” she says.

But some kids find other, more dangerous ways to show their independence. They take risks. Dan O’brien got involved in drugs and alcohol. “I mean, every time I drank, I drank to get drunk,” he says.

Ed Drury, age 17, gets his rush from speeding. Standing around with friends at his favorite Friday night hangout, Ed admits why he likes to come here. “There’s always a lot of racing, a lot of speeding.”

Experts confirm what most of us already know. Teenagers oftentimes don’t think about the consequences of their actions. Says Dr. Nancy Macgarrah: “It’s this whole sense of invulnerability tied with the lack of maturity. “

Since we know teenagers are going to take chances, experts say it’s wise to be strict on the issues that reallymatter.

“You know, it’s not so much … is your hair orange or purple or do you have two earrings or three earrings. I mean, those aren’t life-ending decisions, but whether you wear seatbelts or not, whether you drink and drive or not, you know whether you drive 20 miles over the speed limit. And those all can be life-ending decisions,” Dr. Macgarrah says.

For kids like Sara, dressing funky, doing wild things with their hair and just being a little different all satisfy the need for independence.

“When I spike my hair, it makes me feel good about myself. I like it. It’s something different. It lets people know what kind of person I am,” Sara says.

Tips for Parents
The most difficult challenges many parents face, according to the American Psychological Association, come during their children’s teenage years. Teenagers, dealing with a complex world and hormonal changes, may feel that no one can understand their feelings, least of all their parents. Teens and parents alike may be left feeling angry, frustrated and confused. The APA says methods of discipline that worked well in earlier years no longer seem to be effective. As a result, the teen years are “ripe” for producing conflict in the family. Typical areas of conflict may include:

Disputes over curfew
Choice of friends
Spending time with family instead of friends
School and work performance
Cars and driving privileges
Dating and sexuality
Clothing, hair styles and makeup
Self-destructive behaviors, such as smoking, drinking and using drugs
The teen years are tough, but most families seem to be successful at helping their children accomplish their developmental goals: reducing dependence on parents while becoming increasingly responsible and independent. However, the APA does list some warning signs that things are not going well and that the family may want to seek outside help:

Aggressive behavior or violence by the teen
Drug or alcohol abuse
School truancy
Brushes with the law or runaway behavior
Parents resorting to hitting or other violence in an attempt to maintain discipline
There are different styles and approaches to parenting. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, research shows that effective parents raise well-adjusted children who are more self-reliant, self-controlled and positively curious than children raised by parents who are punitive, overly strict (authoritarian) or permissive. Effective parents demonstrate the following behaviors:

Believe that both the child and the parents have certain rights and that the needs of both are important
Rule out the use physical force to discipline the child
Set clear rules and explain why these rules are important
Reason with the child and consider the child’s point of view even though they may not agree with it
Tips for effective discipline:

Trust your child to do the right thing within the limits of your child’s age and stage of development.
Make sure what you ask for is reasonable.
Speak to your child as you would want to be spoken to if someone were reprimanding you. Don’t resort to name-calling, yelling or other disrespectful behavior.
Be clear about what you mean. Be firm and specific.
Model positive behavior. “Do as I say, not as I do” seldom works.
Allow for negotiation and flexibility, which can help build your child’s social skills.
Let your child experience the consequences of his or her behavior.
Whenever possible, consequences should be delivered immediately, should relate to the rule broken and be short enough in duration that you can move on again to emphasize the positives.
Consequences should be fair and appropriate to the situation and the child’s age.

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
American Psychological Association
Temple University