One of the most common themes and guidelines I share with parents is to be consistent with their parenting. This is, indeed, a challenge, given that teenagers are all over the place emotionally and behaviorally, and parents also (for the most part), happen to be human as well! Consider the following example:
Sarah had been grounded for coming home late over the weekend. “You’re not allowed to use the car until next Monday, and that is final,” her mother told her. Sarah sulked and complained, but didn’t argue as she typically did. “Over the next three days, she was a perfect angel,” her mother shared. “She did all her chores, caught up on her homework, she even paid her dad for gas she put in the car. I wanted to reward her good behavior, so I let her use the car on Saturday. Well, she came back three hours after her curfew! She had just lost her car privileges two days ago and then she did the same thing!”
Sarah’s mother forgot to be consistent with the consequence she imposed. She allowed the more recent behavior to negate the earlier poor behavior. When I pointed this out to her, she protested, “But I was trying to reward her and give her attention for doing the right thing! What was I supposed to do, not give her the car?” My answer was a resounding, “Yes, you should not have given her the car!”
Sarah’s mother showed that, with some good behavior from her daughter, she was willing to renegotiate a consequence. This led Sarah to understand that Mom’s consequences are not concrete, or certain, and can change. A better option would have been to offer another positive consequence for Sarah’s good behavior, while still following through with the consequence for not coming home on-time.
Maybe Sarah doing what is morally and developmentally appropriate is just supposed to happen. Maybe her mother being proud of her and able to trust her should be reward enough!
This notion isn’t terribly popular in this age of praising a child for every little thing he or she does. Maybe parents, and those who work with children and teenagers, need to re-evaluate what we give positive attention to, and establish what is simply the baseline of acceptable social behaviors.
Adults have our own moods, situations, and sensations that influence how we are with children. Teens need to see and experience things over and over again to understand the boundaries and expectations. They will, of course, react to these again and again, too. This is normal. YOU must be consistent, but also flexible. It is a tough balance to maintain. A particular challenge can be consistency for parents with children of different ages and for parents who are divorced. I think it is vital for divorced or separated parents to be on the same page in terms of parenting.
Your Most Important Job
Parenting your child is your most important job in this world. The choice to have a child and raise her is a major decision. Individual differences absolutely must be put aside, so parents can present a unified front to their children. I worked with a remarkable set of parents who had been divorced for about six years before sending their daughter to a therapeutic wilderness program because of her substance abuse, self-harming behaviors, and defiance of parental rules in both households. These parents went to family therapy together, were on all the parent phone calls together, attended graduation together, and would always support each other when they were parenting their children. They were such a great model for how divorced couples can still parent effectively, and their experience was inspiration for other parents.
More often than not, however, divorced parents willingly, or inadvertently, put their children in-between themselves; putting pressure on the child, and leading him or her to manipulate and try to influence the situation in their favor.
When parents practice sharing and communicating with one another, these manipulative situations can be avoided. When a teenager knows that Dad is going to tell Mom that he broke rules at Dad’s house over the weekend, he is more likely to think before doing the same at Mom’s house.
Work on being as consistent a parent as you can be, but realize that nobody is consistent all the time, and especially when it comes to dealing with teenagers. It is important for us to demonstrate consistency, to help create some of the boundaries that are important for adolescents.
Consistency Basics for Parents:
- Establish a few reasonable rules and always enforce them, no matter what.
- If a consequence is called for, follow through with it whatever you feel or think.
- Do not argue with your teen about matters involving items number 1 and 2 on this list.
- Say less than you feel compelled to say, but truly mean what you do say.
- Lead by example.
- Remain calm and confident.
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
When is it most difficult for you to be consistent?
What has it been like when you have been consistent?
Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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LOS GATOS TEEN THERAPY CAN HELP!
Would you like additional guidance in this area? Los Gatos Teen Therapy provides individual teen therapy, family therapy, group therapy, parent support counseling, and in-home teen and family coaching 7 days a week, including afternoons, evenings, and weekends. For more information, contact us at 408.389.3538.