One of the key messages of Katherine Gordy Levine’s Caring Response, a technique for parents dealing with issues with their teenagers, is to ally with the teenager. How do you ally with your teenager when you don’t agree with their behaviour? It is easier than it might seem. This excerpt from ‘When Good Things Do Bad Things – A Survival Guide for Parents of Teenagers‘ shows how it can be done, even with such a simple thing as making an appointment with them to resolve an issue.
When you can plan your Caring Response ahead of time, the first step in confronting is to make an appointment with your kid. This initiative, like every other aspect of the process, must be accompanied by allying. Let’s look at some examples I worked out with worried parents in my Parent Tactics group.
“Joan, you’ve missed three curfews in the past week. You told me that you feel there was a good reason each time, and you argued about punishment. I think you’re playing games and want to change your curfew time. Maybe we should consider changing your curfew, but I want to talk about it together, not just have it happen. Is now a good time, or do you want to set up a date later in the week? I feel we can come to a solution to this problem that will satisfy us both – if we talk together.”
As you recognize, this confrontational statement is suffused with alliance-building signals and behavior. Here’s a slightly angrier one that was more appropriate to the needs and feelings of another parent:
“Todd, I’ve told you not to bring friends home when I’m at work. It is my biggest no-no. Just this week you’ve had someone in almost every day. You say they just stop by for a few minutes, but that’s not the point. My rule is that no one is to be in my home except my children when I can’t be here. I’m really angry, but I’m sure we can settle this. When do you want to talk?”
Often, your child will meet your initiative by trying to prevent further discussion. If she is reasonable and promises that the offending behavior will stop, you should go no farther at this point. Let’s say that Joan claims she isn’t trying to change her curfew and promises not to be late again. Her parent should accept that in the spirit of alliance, but should also set the stage for another step in the Caring Response, in case it becomes necessary in the future, by saying something like this:
“Great. You’ll be on time from now on. If not, then we can talk about what’s happening. But for now, I’ll be happy just to hear you coming through the front door on time, as you say you will. Thanks for being reasonable.”
Or perhaps Todd tells his parent that he doesn’t want the other kids in the house either and has learned this week that letting someone in just for a minute can mean that he’ll have a hard time getting rid of them.
“Great. You can tell them I really got angry. That should help. If you need any more help from me, just holler. We can close the subject unless I find out that someone has been here again. Thanks for listening.”
These are best-case scenarios, of course. Generally speaking, you will turn to the Caring Response after several promises of reform have not been fulfilled. Let’s say that you have confronted your son three times in a row about making long-distance phone calls without permission. Begrudgingly, he’s paid you back, long after you’ve paid the bill. Each time, he’s promised not to do it again, but now a bill comes with $60 of his charges. You’re operating on a tight budget; you can’t afford to float him $50 or $60 each month until he coughs up for his calls to his long-distance friendship or romance.
It’s time to explain that you can’t accept his promises any more: “Sorry, kid. I’ve heard this too many times. You make promises, but I’m still left having to pay a humongous telephone bill every month. I can’t afford it. We have to settle this, and I know we can. Right now, I want this worked out. If now is not a good time, let’s set up a date when we can talk. That’s my bottom line. You have a choice – now, or Monday night after dinner.”
‘When Good Things Do Bad Things – A Survival Guide for Parents of Teenagers‘ is available on Amazon.com.