4 Ways to Keep Your Teens Safe: Go for Connection

For any parent who fears the teen years—and who doesn’t—I can tell you how to make sure your teens will steer clear of all the horrible things you imagine. I know what you’re saying.

Obviously, I can’t guarantee anything. But if you fulfill the 4 steps below, I would put my money on it.

Studies have shown that the #1 preventive factor for all those nightmare scenarios is connection. It’s not the only factor, but it is #1. If you focus on and succeed at staying connected to your kids, your family will be in the best shape possible to weather any storm—even if something tragic happens. Connection means your child trusts you and feels safe telling you anything without fear of reprimand. It doesn’t mean you will hear everything, but it’s what goes on inside their heads that should be your concern. Connection means trusting that accountability is held for all through working problems out together.

Dr. Gordon Neufeld, founder of the Neufeld Institute and author of Hold Onto Your Kids, says that when your teen is faced with a tempting proposition by a peer, the first thing you hope he will think is, what would mom and dad say? not, what would my friends say? You may never hear about it, but the goal is for your child to weigh wisely the risks of the temptation and to be highly influenced by what he thinks you would say. So that leaves you with the daunting job of being highly influential.

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Look for the Lie’s Intention Rather than its Crime

Q. My almost 7 year old has started a habit of telling lies. We have talked about this several times. I have confronted him when he has told lies. He seems to understand. The hard part is that his Dad tells “white lies” and if he is confronted about things will find a way to put the fault on someone or something else. I have not confronted his Dad about this as he is an adult. It was not an issue when my son was small but now he knows when a lie is a lie. So what to do when he sees his Dad tell lies, and I confront my son about lying? I personally don’t lie.

A. Just because your husband is an adult is no reason not to talk about this with him. You do not have to blame or confront. Simply point out to him what you experience and tell him that you are concerned that his example may be giving your son the wrong message. I suggest starting off with something like, “I know we both want our son to be honest and upfront. Neither of us want him to lie or to be afraid to tell the truth for whatever reason. My concern is that when he hears something like…(an example of one of his white lies), he will interpret that with his 7 yr. old brain and think this is what he should do.”

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How NOT to Raise an Entitled Brat

‘Tis the season for gratitude and generosity—and for expecting it in our children especially at this time of year. The gimmies and the lengthy lists for Santa provoke fears of consumeristic, unappreciative, thoughtless kids. The daily dose of “I don’t want to…” after a simple request raises fear your kids will never show consideration or helpfulness without being brow-beaten into it. And we start to clutch.

Yes, life would be easier if your children did what you wanted when you wanted it, if they didn’t embarrass you in public, if their behavior always made you proud. But can you see that’s all about you? You really are self-centered when it comes to raising your children. When they behave like children, you freak out and yell, threaten and nag. That leaves your children feeling powerless, misunderstood, wrong, and afraid. Behavior gets worse—on both your parts. Soon you are dealing with the kids you most feared.

Aren’t we all self-absorbed, really? We all want what we want when we want it. The difference between us and children is maturity. Our prefrontal cortex tells us the consequences of being inconsiderate. If we want relationships, we need to consider what others want and make compromises so relationships can work.

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How to Deal with an Angry Child

Q. What is an appropriate response to a child who hits you or pushes you out of anger and he is 11?  When the anger escalates, and you tell him it’s not ok and he still does it? It’s a slippery slope. This same child has also been extremely violent to his brother and knocked his head against the wall. He’s improved a lot over the years, but sometimes this violent behavior still rears its head, and I don’t know what to do except to scream stop. What is an appropriate response?

A. If you are telling your son that his anger and hitting is not ok and he keeps it up, it means he needs you to address something that he has no idea how to articulate. This is what makes parenting the hardest job on the planet. At this point you are reacting to his behavior alone, the tip of the iceberg, what you see on the surface. But the emotional state that is provoking that anger is what needs addressing, and that can be a long gradual process depending on how long this has been going on and how deep his pain.

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Is it really all about me?

As much as I talk about the importance of taking care of yourself, of filling up your cup so you can fill your children’s, we put ourselves at the bottom of our to-do list—if we make it to the list at all. There’s always too much to do.

I received this email from a woman who has been there and done just that—taken care of herself—after realizing the importance of it. She said it so well that I had to share her words with all of you. Please take heed and let her words give you a kick where you need it. Start re-prioritizing now.

I recently listened to your podcast Tell Me About Your Kids. One episode struck a chord within me because I was that mother to my oldest son when he was 3-7. I had unrealistic expectations, preconceived notions about “normal behaviour”, compared him to his peers, felt ashamed and guilty that our parenting must have “caused this”, felt hopeless and yelled a lot… not knowing what to do and feeling like I was doing it all wrong.

At the same time, I began an endless pursuit of solutions which took me down a path to discovery. First, I focused on learning about childhood behaviours through materials on ADHD, strong-willed children, etc. Next, I delved into connected and conscious parenting which seemed to take the onus off the child and onto the connection with the parent. Finally, I came to the place where I realized it was about me and my connection with myself first. I had to take responsibility for the energy I brought to my home and transform my reactions to responses, including being mindful of how my husband and I communicated when upset.

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Parenting in Public

Q. I have a very strong-willed, acting out 8-year-old boy. I only recently read and started implementing your 8 principles book and watched your YouTube videos and am trying to implement your “connective parenting” approach which has already been very helpful. But I have struggled with this for so long, and I have a hard time handling friends, family, anyone in public not getting what I am doing. I get lookers, judgments, and even comments of how “bad” he is. They tell me how he needs a smack or more punishment, that he’s disrespectful, etc. I am trying to find confidence in my parenting, but this is a real brick wall. Do you smile politely and say, “My son is having a hard time”? Do you tell them to mind their own business and that you are working on it! Do you just ignore them? It makes me want to wear a t-shirt that states, “I am doing the best I can and so is my son”.

A. I love the tee-shirt idea! You’ll need several so you don’t run out. I would suggest selling them on Etsy. You could make a killing! 90% of American parents would buy them. Congratulations on your new journey to raising a happier, healthier son—and you a happier, healthier mom.

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The Blame Game

Ever worry that your kids don’t take responsibility for themselves, always get defensive when criticized and blame somebody else? How many adults do you know like that? Blaming something or someone else when we are angry, criticized, or thwarted is as natural to humans as laughing or crying. But is it inherent in our nature or is it learned behavior? What I do know is that we can raise respectful and responsible children without it.

Children learn to play the blame game at very young ages. It starts with running off, blocking ears when they know they did something wrong. Then “I didn’t do it, he did” until connection and trust gets lost somewhere along the way and your tween and teen ends up barricaded in his room on a device where he doesn’t get blamed or punished for anything.

Exhausted, stressed parents feel under attack from even their smallest resistant child. So, blame and punishment begins. We want others to suffer when we suffer. It’s called retaliation. If I’m exhausted at the end of the day, my kids might hear, “Stop it, you’re giving me a headache” or “Leave me alone” or an angry, “Stop whining.” This is blaming your child for what is your problem. We do it easily because we learned it well. To take responsibility for ourselves—our own behavior and emotions—is hard. Just a tone of voice can send blame showering over a child and fill him with tension and resistance. He has no option but to get defensive.

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10 Ways to Deal with Fear and Anger

Q. I just completed chapter 7, Don’t Take It Personally, in your Buttons book. Holy cow, that is my life right now! Things have been tough on-and-off for the last 4 years, but with being stuck at home, resistance to distance learning, working as a single mom, and feeling isolated with no break from each other, I have hit an all-time low in my parenting. My son is off the charts angry (hitting me and swearing at me non-stop), disruptive, destructive, and disrespectful. I’m exhausted and handling all of it terribly. As I listen to your book, I’m seeing how my controlling-mom agenda and my own anger issues (never allowed when I was growing up) mean I just give in to stop the anger—both causing our relationship to spiral.

A. These are hard times. The only consolation is knowing you’re not alone. Many families have more resources and a two-parent household with help from family or tutors. But many are in your boat. I can’t stress enough how important it is to give yourself and your kids a break from the old norm. It’s essential to think of this time as an isolated, unprecedented, inherently stressful time that neither you or anyone else can control.

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It’s a Strange New School World… Still

Another school year has begun. But this one is unlike any other. All the emotions that come up for you and your children at this time of year are exaggerated and exacerbated by Covid. Nothing is normal, nothing is predictable. But school is school however it is conducted so I offer some thoughts.

Whether your child is excited about school starting or dreads it—either in class or remote or both—may have a lot to do with the support system. We want our children to take responsibility for their education, but we usurp that responsibility when we tell them how it should be done—when we adults take control of their education and learning process. We fear that children don’t care about their education, so we direct instead of support. Our children need us to learn how they learn best, to set up the support system they need to do their best, and then trust that they will find their way.

It is the rare child who likes to do homework and is self-motivated enough to set up the time for it without procrastinating and grumbling at the very least. If your child is self-motivated, defer to his lead on when, where, and how much homework is done. Stay involved with what he is studying, oversee, ask questions, etc. Then count your blessings, step back, and allow him to navigate his own way.

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