I fear that too many parents have indulged and enabled their children to such an extent that they have helped create irresponsible and even narcissistic ones. When we have weak, inconsistent discipline and poor boundaries, kids just aren’t willing to grow up. I don’t mean that kids shouldn’t be nurtured and affirmed. Every child needs parents who can be irrationally positive toward them. But they also need us to express expectations, set high standards, and hold them accountable. In other words, our kids need us to lead.
What does leadership mean? I have spoken to and studied leaders in all fields of life. One thing they have in common is a consistent message. They model what they expect, and they keep on task. With an excellent leader, there is seldom a doubt about who is in charge, and parents are the leaders in their home. But the question in many homes of rebellious teenagers is, “Who is really in charge?” This question must be settled, and the only healthy answer is that the parents must take the lead. Inconsistency or poor modeling will place your kids in the leadership position–that isn’t healthy for anyone. So parents must eliminate any power struggle from the relationship and. resolve authority issues. I tell people at our seminars, “Don’t argue, and don’t fight with your kids.” It is much more difficult to mentor and lead if you and your children are always fighting and arguing all the time.
Cathy and I have a daughter who could win most of the arguments in our home. She is dynamic, articulate, and can argue either side of an issue. When she was a teenager, she liked to argue for the sake of arguing, and she stretched the boundaries whenever possible. There were times she was just exhausting. Then one day, a therapist friend gave us two words of advice: “Quit arguing.” If you think about it, people seldom argue with their leaders. We had to hold our ground.
Holding your ground can be wearisome, but it is always worth it (although you probably already know this from your own life experience). To help communicate with our kids about discipline-related issues, Cathy and I came up with “Confident Parenting Talking Points.” I wrote about them in greater detail in my book, Confident Parenting.
Learning to resist arguing with a teen who is pushing your buttons isn’t easy, but there are three phrases I’ve found to be extremely helpful to diffuse potential arguments with teens:
- “I feel your pain.” If your teen knows your expectations and they break them, or if they suffer consequences from poor decisions, let them know you care and that you feel their pain. You have empowered your teenager to make healthy decisions, but when she doesn’t do that, you can show her empathy while holding her accountable. In a HomeWord parent podcast, John Rosemond shared what he told his own kids: “If I was your age, I’d feel the same way. The answer is still no, but you are doing a great job expressing yourself.”
- “Nevertheless.” This might be the most important word in the English language to show who really is the leader in your home. Yes, we do feel their pain, and we are listening; nevertheless, the consequences are going to stay. Adapting John’s words to his kids, a parent might say, “I can understand how you feel, and I might have felt the same way when I was your age. Nevertheless . . .”
- “Life isn’t fair.” The sooner your teen understands that life isn’t fair and that whining and complaining won’t get him what he wants, he will quit trying to play the “make-it-fair” game. Whenever you can, let reality be the teacher for your kids. If whining and manipulating works for a teen even some of the time, it is the parent who has to live with the consequences. Here are more wise words from John Rosemond “Parents should not agonize over what a child fails to do or does if the child is perfectly capable of agonizing over it himself.”5 Whatever your teen’s age, it’s about time he learns the truth that life isn’t always fair, but it sure can be good.
Excerpted from Understanding Your Teen: Shaping Their Character, Facing Their Realities by Jim Burns.