MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on June 17th, 2013, 0 Comments

Draw the Boundaries But Don’t Make Them Battle Lines

At this point, curfew and chores are tied for the most votes in last week’s poll about what we battle about most. Together those two issues make up two-thirds of the tug-of-wars we have with our teens.

The curfew battles often begin with them wanting to stay out later than we want:
Them: I wanna stay out until 1:00 tonight. Everybody else gets to.
Us: What? That’s after curfew – not just ours but the city’s too. No way.
Them: But listen! Just listen to me for a minute!

The chore battles tend to begin with us wanting them to do something they’d rather not do:
Us: The kitchen trash is about to overflow. It’s your job to take it out. Please do it right now.
Them: Why am I the only one who ever has to do stuff around here? I’ll take it out as soon as I get done [whatever…]

We want one thing. They want something else. And the battle is on.

Often the curfew and chore battles are about our kids trying to push the boundaries to make sure we mean what we say. And when they are testing our limits, it’s usually best to limit ourselves to just one more line. For example:

Us: You’re to be home by 11:30. If you’re not, there will be consequences.

Us: The garbage needs to go out now. If you don’t have it done in the next few minutes, I’ll do it and you’ll have to deal with the consequences.

Nothing quells a battle more effectively than silence. Yes, it’s tempting to fire off a retort beginning with Don’t you dare…! But that eggs teens on, and they’re likely to battle back with Just watch me! – a reply they always have at the ready. So say your parting line, make eye contact, and then walk away, ignoring whatever comes next.

Our teens know what gets to us and keeps us engaged in battle. They know that their threats of disobedience (like You can’t make me! or You can’t stop me! or I don’t care!) and swearing are particularly effective at keeping us going – just in a different direction. And they want us to stay in the battle because they prefer to deal with us than with their conscience.

But this internal battle is exactly the one we want them to face. We want our teens to have to listen to and wrestle with their inner voice – that voice whispering to them to do what they know is right and that source of bad feelings when they don’t. So it’s best to silently walk away, letting them have the last word, ignoring their threats of disobedience, and dealing only with actual rule breaking. And if you feel that you have to address their back talk, do it later after things cool down. To try to deal with it in the heat of battle will only fan their fire.

While it’s often best to restate our position and then walk away, we want to make sure that our default is not permanently set at “no.” So next week we’ll take a look at how and when to say “yes” to extending curfews and renegotiating agreements about chores.

See you next Monday!

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