When I decided to sit down and write this article, I decided that I needed to come at this from a different angle. I knew that I couldn’t just write another “don’t yell at your teens” article. I knew that I needed to make it more useful and applicable. I knew that I needed to give parents a good plan in place of their normal volatile reactions. I have been finding a lot these days that parents are struggling to understand the power and value of a good relationship with their teens and sometimes when I ask parents about the importance of their relationship, they sometimes rank it surprisingly low. They would rather their teen make good decisions and get good grades than have a good relationship with their teen and what they fail to understand, apparently, is that they are far more likely to get all those good things if they have a good relationship with their teen. If I’m really honest, I’m perplexed at how school grades became more important than positive family relationships.
In keeping with a previous article about modern parenting practices that are doing far more harm than good, this again becomes a question of both priorities and realistic expectations. Parents are becoming furious that their teens aren’t living up to things that they aren’t even capable of doing. It’s as though they expect their kids to be like their brand new device when it comes out of the box. They want their kids to do exactly what they are supposed to do but kids don’t come with the firmware downloaded and installed, ready to go. Good behavior and good choices are cultivated and developed over time.
In an attempt to help parents focus on what actually works and what actually gets them the outcomes that they are seeking, I have three questions that I am asking parents to ask themselves before they fly off the handle and yell at their teen. I fully understand that for parents, yelling and flying off the handle isn’t a conscious and deliberate action. They are just reacting emotionally but that’s why these questions are important. They are intended to help parents bring more logic, reason and thinking into the processes instead of just flying off the handle. These questions engage parents into a more thoughtful process instead of an emotional one and are intended to help them take a perspective that examines what is actually good for the healthy growth and development of their teens while taking the focus off their personal emotional reactions.
Question #1: Did you do similar things or make similarly bad choices when you were that age?
Without fail, when I ask this question to parents, they answer the affirmative, yes, they did. “BUT!” They are quick to interject. I’m sorry, there is no “but.” We all made similarly bad choices when we were their ages. We didn’t do it because we were bad, we didn’t do it because we had nefarious motives and we didn’t do with an understanding of what kind of consequences would follow. We were learning and growing which is exactly what they are doing. Sometimes a bad decision is just a bad decision. There are no ‘buts.’
Even though I said I have three questions, I have more follow up questions to this question. It’s important for parents to move through the logical and thinking process. But please also ask yourself:
- Why did you make those choices?
- Why do you expect your teens to be different than you were at that age?
- Do you still make dumb decisions as an adult? If so, why do you expect your teens to make good decisions when they aren’t even an adult yet?
- Why are you allowed to make dumb decisions and they are not? Are you being fair to them?
- What did your bad decisions teach you when you were young?
- Did your bad choices as a teen teach you better than people yelling at you could?
Question #2: Will yelling and getting angry make this situation better or worse?
I really believe that anyone that is genuinely honest with themselves would admit that yelling only makes situations worse. I am a very firm believer that yelling only makes things worse. No matter how big or small a problem is, yelling at teens only makes every situation worse. When your car is low on gas, it doesn’t suddenly be full of gas if you yell at it. Similarly, your teen’s problems don’t vanish when you yell at them. Yelling isn’t just useless, it’s destructive. I have no other way to state that. What I really want parents to understand is that those bad choices are actually amazing teaching opportunities but those opportunities are lost every single time when parents resort, instead, to yelling and freaking out. If you yell at them when they make bad choices, they won’t learn from those choices and then they will make the same bad choices and be harmed by them while working harder to hide them from you. Here are some follow-up questions to question number 2:
- Did your parents yell at you when you screwed up? If so, did it motivate you to do better or did it make you feel worse?
- How do you feel when people yell at you? Do you like it?
- Have you ever improved a problem by yelling at it?
- Have you ever improved a relationship by yelling at it?
Question #3: How would you feel if someone else talked to your teen in the same way that you do?
The parents that I have worked with would be furious and horrified if they caught some other adult talking to their children in the way that they do. They’d even be upset if other people expressed the same level of anger towards their children. Most of them would feel extremely protective and might respond with anger and aggression towards the person that treated their child that way. There’s an obvious blind spot here especially when we consider that kids are hurt far worse when their parents tear into them compared to when somebody else does it. Parents will admit that they get angry and tell their children that they are stupid and that they are screw ups and then they wonder why their kids have low self-esteem. While it’s easy to justify behavior when emotions get fired up, our modern age has lost the luxury of lapses in conduct. Our current generations of teens need us now more than they ever have. Here are a few follow up questions to question 3. Even though they are direct, they are not intended to make a parent feel bad, it has just become so imperative for us to do some things differently. My hopes and desires are that people will use this as a tool for personal criticism and, if necessary, correction.
- Why do you think so many families adopt the attitude that people outside of our families get the best treatment?
- Why do we expect others to treat our kids with respect when we don’t?
- As a parent, you undoubtedly feel the need to protect your children but are there times when somebody needs to protect them from you?
A Plea, A Reprimand and a Request
First, my plea. Ladies and gentlemen, moms and dads. Our teenagers have never seen such unprecedented statistics of youth taking their own lives. Our kids are in absolute crisis. I work directly with kids who fight thoughts of suicide week in and week out. I work in public schools, I address mental health on a community level and I am absolutely terrified about where we are going to be in five years if things continue on the path we have been on for the last few years. If you’re not scared, you absolutely should be. I work extremely hard to fight teen suicide and most of the time I feel like I am trying to hold back a tsunami using a bucket. I am trying to save the lives of our kids but I absolutely cannot do it alone. I need your help. I need you to do your part. Please, I need you and our kids need you.
Now for a reprimand. If you have been the type of parent that immediately resorts to anger, put downs and criticism, you need to find a better way. Parents are resorting to being angry, mean and harsh more than anything else and then we wonder why our kids hate their lives and want to die. You do not have the luxury of being undisciplined as a parent anymore. Using anger and put-downs to motivate teens to engage in good behavior is no longer acceptable. It’s lazy parenting and it has to stop if we want teen suicide to decline.
And finally, my final request. Please learn better ways to deal with issues and problems. Please learn to control your anger. Read a book, take a parenting class, take an anger management class, meditate, learn new skills, do something! If you don’t know what to do different, then get out there and educate yourself. Write these three questions down and post them where you can see them. Before you go and talk to your kid about something that you’re upset about, ask these questions to yourself and come up with a better way to deal with it. If you don’t know how else to deal with it, buy a book, watch videos online. There is more free and cheap information available to you now than there has ever been. You have no excuses. I’m not saying don’t get upset. I’m not saying don’t feel angry. I am saying you can control your behavior. You have a choice to do it or not and I hope that everyone will make a good choice. Our kids need it. Badly.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article, I hope it was helpful. If you thought it was valuable then please take a moment to share it.