Parents with a rebellious teenager tell me that their house seems to be falling apart at the seams. The whole family is in a constant state of turmoil and walking on eggshells. But I tell them that their house can again become whole; in fact, with some hard work, it can become their dream home. When I talk to parents about the dreams they have for their home and family, they say what they most long for is a place of close-knit relationships; where siblings truly care for one another, and where children show their parents respect.
And what about your teen? What kind of a home does she want? It may seem like she would like a home where she is totally in control and where she can do whatever she wants, but that’s usually not the case. In spite of her disrespect or disobedience, she still wants a good relationship with you; she’s just lost sight of how to get there. Somewhere along the line she has lost a connection with you and cannot find her way back.
If your dream home has fallen into disrepair, a little remodeling will get it back to where you (and your teen) want it to be. Remember, parenting isn’t for the weak and timid; it is not a spectator sport, it is something for which you must become proactive in order to get different results. So, don your overalls and strap on your tool belt. It’s time to get to work!
Here are a few remodeling suggestions – things you can do right now to begin to make a change in your family, and work toward making your house the home of your dreams.
Give your child a responsibility or freedom they’ve never had before. Sometimes parents stir up the rebellious side of a child because they provoke them without meaning to. For example, if you believe curfew for your 16-year-old needs to be at 9 o’clock on Saturday night, and they want it to be 10:30, you may need to look at that again. Your rules need to be age-appropriate and, of course, appropriate to the maturity of your teen. Most parents need to loosen the reins just a little, but hold their teen responsible for everything that happens with their newfound freedom. If you’re worried, make it a requirement for them to check in periodically. A small change that forces your child to behave more responsibly can make a big difference. And if they make a mistake, back their curfew down to an earlier hour for a time. Giving them a little more freedom also gives you more leverage to take away that freedom as a consequence.
Ask a trustworthy friend to offer advice and let you know if you are on the right track. In business, I answer to my board of directors. I may not always agree with them, but I trust them to tell me when I might be doing something wrong. They’ve frankly helped me see the forest for the trees sometimes and have kept me from making some business mistakes. You need friends around you like that; wise and trustworthy friends who can give you the same kind of feedback. Tell them what you’d like to see happen in your family and the struggles you are having. Ask them to be completely honest with you. You might be surprised what they say. If they give wise advice, don’t ignore it.
Believe that change is possible. Sometimes the hardest thing in dealing with troubled families is for the parents to come to believe that all is not lost. They simply don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Many are like a leopard that never grows a new spot; they find it hard to believe things will ever change. People are capable of changing at any time – both you and your teenager.
Begin with your mouth and your ears. One way I tell parents to bring about dramatic difference is to simply be quiet. Don’t engage in negative battles. Get in the habit of asking questions more than offering advice or lecturing. Close your mouth and open your ears. Maybe your teen doesn’t talk to you like you hoped because you spend too much time talking or responding and too little time listing. Even if you don’t agree with what they say, you don’t always have to react. Sometimes they are just thinking out loud and don’t even believe what they are saying. But if you react harshly, they could quickly “own” that statement and square off to defend it.
Take parenting to the next step. I encourage you to evaluate your methods and expectations — again, making them age-appropriate. For example, does our child lack responsibility because you still make his lunch for him, do his laundry, run his homework to school, and fold his socks? Take the next step and force your child to care more for his own needs. By the time he moves out of your dream home, he should be well-trained and able to take care of things on his own.
Focus on relationship. There is no replacement or substitute for you taking the time to sit down with your teenager at least once a week to build your relationship. No matter how many times I say this, it still bears repeating. Take the time, and make it happen every week! Just listen. Have fun. Don’t be serious or confrontational. Don’t lecture. Relationship is built on mutual interest and joy. So find the one thing you can do together that you both enjoy, and do it every week.
Can your house again be the home of your dreams? You bet! It may need some refurbishing right now, and it may look worse until it gets better, but with a lot of hard work you can surely get there.