It’s easy to be the boss when your child is five. It’s harder to have that same influence when they’re 15.
If you were lucky enough to have been at the Expo in Newcastle last month, I wonder if you were as impressed by the talk by positive psychologist, Dr Justin Coulson as I was?
Justin has a great way of taking very complex and often engrained ideas and challenging them in a way that makes sense to everyday families.
As I mentioned in my previous blog, Struggling with Bad Behaviour, Justin suggests both parents and teachers need to find a way for children and teens to make good decisions without us hovering around forcing them to do so.
On a phone call to Justin recently he talked me through a scenario. Imagine you’ve discovered your teenager has been going out with friends and you know (because you weren’t born yesterday) that they have started drinking alcohol.
What do you do? You could get really angry and demand them to stop. Justin reminded me of that old phrase “don’t ever let me catch you doing that again.” And don’t worry, your teenager won’t – but that doesn’t mean they’ll stop drinking.
Whether we’re talking about alcohol, drugs or sex, the reality is it’s a healthy sense of self and self esteem that is more likely to keep our young people safe, not our rules and regulations.
So, I ask Justin again, what do we do? He says “we need to sit down and talk to our children about it.” Justin suggests a few tips:
Wait until your child is NOT in the middle of it – a bit of time gives great perspective so wait until they are slightly removed from the situation (and don’t forget the HALTS system).
Don’t try and trip your child up, instead give them an opportunity to tell the truth – if you know they’ve been drinking say that, don’t ask them if they have. This allows the conversation to cut to the truth quickly.
Get them to explain the family rules to you – you might say something like “In our family we have a strict rule that no one is to drink before they’re 18, can you tell me why?” This will allow you to see how they understand the rule and quickly identify any gaps in their reasoning. It also helps young people to internalize the rules rather than just listening (or not) to you telling them again and again and again.
Hear it from your child’s perspective – Ask them, “how do you feel about that rule?” It may not mean that us, as parents, will change our mind about the rule but it helps for greater understanding on both sides. Justin says it’s important to acknowledge how they feel. They might say ‘but all my friends were drinking and we only had one beer. I know my limits and you should trust me. It’s unfair.’ Acknowledge that it feels unfair to them but the rules are there for the reasons you’ve already talked about.
Problem solve – you have two points of view, can you come to an agreement? (This might be easier with something like social media or homework than drinking.) Justin is quick to say this does not mean you back down and allow a teenager to drink alcohol – some rules are clear cut (and remember it’s actually illegal). You might end up explaining or looking up things together on the developing brain to give everyone a clearer insight into what teenage drinking actually does.
Remember you can’t make your child not drink but if they internalize the reasons why you don’t want them to, you have a higher chance of success. Children can then see the limits as much more relevant and not getting in the way of their adolescent autonomy.
Have patience – Of course it may not be an overnight success, but it’s a step on the way!