This might sound shocking, amid all the media attention given to the negative impact of the country's growing rate of rigorous high school curriculum, homework and extracurricular demands on our overachieving young teenagers. But I will actually be addressing the plethora of emails coming into me from parents seeking help with their underachieving teens. Yep, underachieving.
To be clear, the letters I'm receiving are not stating concern for possible drug use, depression or anything significantly harmful to their teens' lives; other than a general slacking, laziness, lack of connection to the family and an inordinate amount of sloppy irresponsible habits.
I'm talking about the kids who might, at one point or another, have been more than decent students, who cared about a result, who used to love and talk to their parents. Who showed promise of wanting to go out into the world one day and tackle whatever it was their hearts desired. The parents of these slowly morphing teens are freaking out, and completely out of answers for what to do about it.
The very first piece of support I would offer all parents, even slightly familiar with this sort of teenager, is to remind you of the old but wise phrase ... "Patience is a virtue." Remember when they were little and you thought they would never stop using the pacifier, or go to the bathroom, or learn to wave? Most of the kids eventually made their way to where you thought they should be.
As parents, we were supposed to learn that kids are on their own time clock and, sometimes, no matter how much we push for something, it's going to happen when it happens. The best we could do was be patient and help facilitate.
In the case of teenagers, it is surprising to know how parents can imagine that because a child is nearing 18, they will suddenly become responsible, reasonable, appreciative people. No, not so easy. Our teenagers are wildly busy not knowing that they are figuring out who they want to be, who they don't want to be and what the heck they are going to do when they aren't kids anymore. It's a trying, difficult time for many.
I subscribe to the idea that the key to effective parenting in teens is in the communication. If there is none, there are sure to be problems. Whatever we're doing when communication is not happening, we need to stop doing it. Change your reactions to your son or daughter and the view to which you have become so accustomed, and find a new one.
If you often end up fighting and yelling with your teen, stop it. Use a different tact. Force yourself, even if you have to stay silent, but stop the bad pattern. If you're always quiet and ignore, stop it. Find a different tact.
Make it your mission to change what you're doing that isn't working. A cardinal rule to effective teen parenting is in the timing. Pay attention to when you say what you have to say.
Just like your marriage or in your relationships, it's much more productive to have a conversation when no one is upset, angry or otherwise emotionally occupied. Save it, as hard as it is to do sometimes. Wait for the time when your child can hear you. And speak to them in a way you normally do not.
Every idea for a new tact is not going to be met with immediate success. We are all creatures of habit. Your child thinks they know you so well that you don't even have to say anything. They think they know exactly what's going to come out of your mouth, in every possible situation in their life.
Challenge yourself and don't say what they think you will say. Have a different response, one you can live with and will land on your teen entirely different than anything else they have heard you say. This might have to happen a few times before they believe you, but stay on it.
The bottom line is to have an effect on your child, to get them to hear your words enough to want to make the changes you'd like them to make. In here somewhere you might learn a few things you didn't know.
This is not the time to throw the towel in and imagine they are all grown up and these are the choices they are making. This is the time to step in, in a way you never have and help them. Help them to see that you are the ally they want and need.
As far as consequences, and attitude, people who have a no-tolerance rule for disrespect in the home, who have implemented it since toddler-hood, are at a huge advantage. For those of you who have not had as much success for demanding respect in the home, put your seatbelt on and demand it. Demand it with confidence and authority.
And remember, kids who are this age are old enough to understand what respect is. If you treat them with none, you will receive none; that's the common dance here that backfires. So show your child respect and see what you get back. You might surprise yourself and your teen.
Most importantly, this time in your life with your teenager is likely another phase of sorts. This is not the stamp for the imprint of who your child will be in the world. Keep that in mind while you change your tact, and make this relationship the mission in your life right now.
Hang tough, keep the faith and look forward to their 20s.