“So I’m Never Supposed To Have Any Fun?”

CAParents like to call it attitude; I’ve dubbed it exaggerated sarcasm.  Call it what you will, it’s designed to push our buttons – and it’s usually successful!

Last week we instituted a seating chart for 7th and 8th graders in the lunchroom, which caused the expected whining and complaining.  One angry young man approached me and said,  “So we can’t sit by whoever we want?”   Such phrases don’t translate well in print, but anyone who’s heard them will be familiar with his tone of voice.

As my blood pressure rose, I was tempted to take the bait, replying defensively with, “Look, you brought this on yourself.  If you could just behave appropriately, you wouldn’t have to suffer.  I’m not the bad guy here.”  However, experience has taught me that my response would not be met with, “Oh, you’re right.  Thank you for explaining it to me.”  Instead, the door would be opened for arguing and proclaiming of innocence and accusations of picking on people for no reason.

So instead I just said, “Yep, pretty much,”  accompanied by a small, sad smile and a shrug.  The young man looked frustrated, shook his head in disgust, and walked away muttering.  I wisely did not ask him what he was muttering, as that would have started a fresh conflict, and my goal was to defuse this one.

In the 1983 movie War Games,  a young Matthew Broderick teaches a computer about the futility of thermonuclear war by having it play several games of tic-tac-toe.  In the end, the computer comes to an important conclusion – one every parent would be wise to adopt when faced with teenage attitude:

“The best move. . .is not to play.”

1.  When we hear you say, “My kid tells me everything,” we shake our heads with sadness, because we know you are being seriously manipulated.  Your child tells you 1) what makes him look good; 2) what he thinks you want to hear, and 3) whatever will push your buttons to make you mad at the school or teacher and let him off the hook.  Seriously, what teen ever tells a parent EVERYTHING?

2. We wish you’d help us fight the dress code battle.  I had a parent once who, after I pointed out in front of her that her daughter couldn’t wear that at school, turned on her daughter and said, “See?  I told you!”  If she’d already told her, then why was her daughter at school in that outfit?  Why had she been allowed out the door in it?  I know why – because Mom wanted us to fight the battle instead of her.

3. It’s time to stop cutting the crusts off your teenager’s sandwiches.  This speaks volumes to us about your parenting style; you’re not ready to scrstls sndee your child as an adolescent.  You might also still be picking out his clothes, ordering for him in a restaurant, and cleaning his bedroom.  While you say you’re doing it because you love him, what you’re really doing is delaying his independence.  He won’t wake up one day and suddenly be a mature and responsible adult; you have to give him a chance to practice.

4. What seem like little things to you – chewing gum or texting at school – are big issues to us because they mean a student does not respect the rules.  “You’d really suspend my daughter for texting at school?”  No – we’d suspend her for repeated acts of defiance, because if she’s continually breaking one rule, chances are we’ve caught her breaking others.  When you downplay the situation, it only encourages her to keep seeing what she can get away with.

5. When we tell your child “No, you can’t,” and he gets angry and argues with us, we know he’s doing so because it works with you.  The same goes for whining – we know he’s using it on us because it gets him his way at home.  Hold your ground in the face of arguing and whining, and you’ll help your child to be more socially acceptable at school – and eventually in the workplace.

6. When we hear your teens use “please” and “thank you” without prompting, and we see them holding the door or letting others go first, we know you have taught them to be polite and considerate of others.  This is also true when they apologize, clean up after themselves, and refrain from interrupting.  It makes us think good thoughts about them – and about you!

 

They Don’t Think Like We Do

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Last week we went on a field trip.  One student arrived at school late and was literally the last one to board the bus.  About 15 minutes down the road, my phone rang and a confused parent on the other end asked, “Did you forget me?”  Oops – it was the mother of my late student, and I had, indeed, forgotten her.  When I questioned her daughter about why she hadn’t asked me to wait for her mom, she said, “Because you told us that you wouldn’t wait for anybody who was late!”

Later that same day, I stood outside in a huddle of 8th graders who were trying to stay warm in 45-degree weather.  I reminded them that I had encouraged them to dress warmly, and one of them replied, “I did! I’m wearing my sweatshirt!”

The next day I stopped a 7th grader and asked him why he was walking down the hall like a penguin.  “It’s my new shoes,” he explained.  “If I bend my feet, they’re going to get creases above my toes!”

I see and hear this kind of thing every day.  Despite what they think, teens don’t yet have the world figured out.  They lack life experience, and they haven’t developed much of what we adults call “common sense” – but what is really wisdom gained from living and learning.

Sometimes they make us laugh, sometimes they make us stop and question ourselves, but if you listen carefully – they’ll always give you a glimpse into how their unfolding brains work!

They never cease to surprise me.

Speaking in Teen Code

gmi_87_09Politicians and diplomats could take a lesson from teenagers when it comes to being noncommittal.  Translating the hidden meaning behind the words teens speak is like an art form.   Here’s what parents need to know:

Question:  “Are you doing (homework) (chores) (the weeding)?” Answer: “I was just about to start!”

Translation: No.

Question:  “Are you finished with (homework) (chores) (the weeding)?” Answer:  “Almost!”

Translation: No.

Question:  “Did you kick your brother?” Answer: “He spit at me!”

Translation:  Yes.

Question: “Did you wear that to church?” Answer:  “Dad didn’t say anything about it.”

Translation:  Yes.

Question: “Who broke this glass?” Answer: “It was an accident!”

Translation:  I-did-but-please-don’t-be-mad-at-me.

Question: “Do you love me?”  Answer: <shrug> “I guess.”

Translation:  Yes-of-course-I-do-but-I-just-can’t-say-it-back-to-you-right-now.

Question:  “Will you do this job for me just because you love me?”  Answer:  “You’re the best mom ever!”

Translation:  No

When I get responses like these in my classroom, I always respond the same way, calling out, “I know that means ‘No’!”  The speaker laughs, admitting nothing but amused that I get the joke.

Translation:  “Thanks for understanding me!”

Are Your Chores Done Yet?

“My mom figured out how to get me to do dishes,” announced my teen-aged friend.  “She pays me!”

Whether  parents connect an allowance to chores or believe they should  be done as a member of the household, most parents struggle with getting their kids to do them.  “Nag, nag, nag, that’s all I do,” complained one mom.  “And half the time I wind up doing them myself because I’m tired of fighting.”

Here are a few ideas parents have used to get chores done with less nagging:

  • Popsicle Sticks:  Instead of a chore chart, one parent writes them on popsicle sticks and lets her kids choose them.  This eliminates bickering over whose turn it is to do what, or complaints of “I always have to do that!”  (Trading is allowed.)
  • Password Hostage:  The same mom changes the wi-fi password daily and only reveals it when chores are finished. (Phones, controllers, and power cords can also be held as hostages.)
  • Earning Opportunities:  In our house, extra money could be earned by doing chores that were harder than the weekly ones.  Washing windows, cleaning  the fridge, and weeding were paid chores.  However, regular chores had to be done before any money-earning chores could be started.
  • Stick the Parents:  I  used to make a list of 8 chores that needed to be done.  Our 3 sons would sign up for 2 chores each, leaving the last 2 for Mom.  They enjoyed sticking me with cleaning toilets and mopping floors – but they also realized we all had to do our part!
  • Love and Logic®:  Instead of threatening – “If you don’t do it, you’re in trouble!” – Love and Logic teaches saying it differently – “When you’re finished, feel free to play!”

Doing chores will help your teen be a better citizen, student, and adult.  Don’t give up!

Whose Room Is It Anyway?

msroomMy friend was embarrassed as we passed the door to her son’s messy bedroom: “See that pile of clothes on the chair?  Those are his clean clothes that he won’t put them away!  Drives me crazy!”

It’s a common complaint from parents, followed by the common reaction from teens, “It’s my bedroom; why can’t I keep it the way I want it?”  My response to my sons was that their rooms were part of our house, so they had to keep them the way we wanted them.  However, I was realistic enough to know they wouldn’t always be tidy, so every so often I would warn them that it was a “Room Cleaning Weekend.”  Taking a page from Love and Logic, I would tell them, “As soon as your room is clean, feel free to play your video games.”

Some teens actually enjoy the time spent cleaning their rooms,  moving their stuff around while blasting music.  Others are overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin.  One of my sons would sit on his bed in despair, so I’d sit with him, tablet in hand, and ask him to look around the room.  Together we’d make a list of what needed to be done:  pick up clothes, put away toys, sort through papers, etc.  Once he had a checklist in hand, he could get to work.

Keeping bedrooms clean is a battle that won’t go away, but there are things you can do to increase your chances of winning: avoid threatening, give fair warning, help when needed – and say thank you when it’s done!

A New Year of Parenting Resolutions

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Christmas – with all its stresses and joys – has come and gone yet again.  If it feels like it passed quickly, take heart – so too will your years of parenting an adolescent.  It’s an important transition time, one to enjoy and explore rather than merely to endure.  That could be your first parenting resolution!   Here are three more to consider:

Respect your kids.  No matter how much you tell them to respect you, they’re not going to learn how unless you’re modeling it.  Parents show respect when they make requests with “please” (and follow up with “thank you”), when they don’t interrupt,when they speak in calm voices, and when they make eye contact.  Look back over that list – aren’t those all behaviors you want from your children?

Listen with empathy.  When I tell my husband about my bad day, I want him to say, “Wow,” or “That sounds awful.”  I do not want him to tell me that I shouldn’t be so upset, or that his day was worse.  Nobody feels the need to be understood more than an emotional, moody teen.  If parents won’t listen, there’s always somebody else who will.

Praise your kids more.  And in public, even if it makes them squirm.  But be low-key about it:  “Hey, I noticed you picked up your dirty clothes” will be more appreciated than, “Wow, you picked up your clothes?  Good for you!  Thank you so much!”  (And by all means, don’t sneak criticism into your praise, as in “Maybe there’s hope for you yet.”)

Enjoy, respect, listen, praise.  And have a happy New Year!