1. Lecture Rather Than Discuss
We want our teens to grow into responsible adults able to make decisions. Why then do we fall back on the old lecture when we should be using any problem area as an opportunity to teach a child the process of making a good decision? Treating them like little children rather than budding adults simply alienates teens. This is not to say they no longer need guidance, it just has to be handled in a more adult manner, with discussion, negotiation, and understanding of the conflicting needs of maturing teens. They need the safety of the home and knowledge that the parents are there, but not suffocating control of an overprotective despot.
2. Ignore the Obvious
Our teens are suddenly sleeping late, missing classes, missing curfew, not introducing new friends, and we write it off as "normal teen behavior." We often wait until the situation is urgent, burying our heads in the sand to avoid confrontation and more displays of our teen's belligerent, hostile attitude. Overreacting or underreacting...
3. Not Following Through on Rules and Consequences
"You are grounded!" "That's it; no allowance this week!" Most parents have no problem creating punishments for breaking the rules. It's what happens a few days or so later that creates the cycle of defiance: your teen drives you nuts until you back down on the consequence. If you set rules, it is important to make clear in advance the consequences for breaking that rule. If that rule is broken, if you do not enforce the consequences you set, your teen has just learned that getting away with breaking the rules is really a piece of cake.
4. Setting Unreasonable Goals
Make sure that when you set goals, they are attainable. If your child has a learning disability, yelling at them for not doing well on a math test probably will not help them do better next time. Set expectations that allow the child to succeed based on his or her abilities. If your child needs academic help, find out about local tutoring and after-schools programs. If you want your child to be a concert pianist and they simply can't get to the next level, find out if there is something else they might have a natural ability to do well in.
5. Pointing Out Only the Negative, Expecting Only the Positive
Do you just expect good behavior, good grades, and, well, utter goodness, with little encouragement or praises, yet quickly jump on every mistake or example of poor judgment like a pit bull? Some parents believe a job well done is its own reward. While this is true, there is nothing that encourages a child more than the positive feedback of a parent. This is not to say you should jump up and down with joy just because your child didn't skip class this week. If you set consequences for bad behavior, the reward is getting to do the things they normally enjoy. Think of it this way: When you show up at your job every day your boss doesn't praise you for being there; he pays you your wages as he or she normally would.
6. Leaving the Educating up to "Someone Else"
Assuming your child will learn about the dangers of drugs, alcohol, and other risky behaviors at school or elsewhere is a risky assumption at best. Studies have show kids whose parents talk to them about high-risk behaviors and who set clear guidelines about the consequences for engaging in these behaviors are less likely to smoke, drink, use drugs, or have sex.
7. Giving Up on Family Time - Too Much of a Hassle
Family time is essential. Setting time aside every day for the family to eat together and talk is one of the best defenses against negative peer influences on your teens. Make time for your children on a daily basis to keep communication open. Parents who spend time with their children will be more aware of changes in their demeanor and behavior. Parents who do not spend time with their children often take longer to notice changes in their teens that could signify behavioral or emotional issues.
8. Assume Good Grades Mean No Other Problems
A smart kid who does well in school may be able to maintain good grades even though they are drinking or using drugs. In fact, they may know that by maintaining their grades they will avoid your suspicion. Don't write off other signs of trouble just because the grades are not slipping.
9. Not Taking the Time to Know What's Up with Adolescents Today
We were all teens once. But teens are different every generation. They have different music and other cultural influences. The teen icons of the 70s and 80s were very different than the icons of today. Media influences are much stronger today as well. Not only are teens exposed to more outside influences on TV, they are also exposed to the Internet where there really are no rules of engagement. Anyone can put up a website. For example, there are websites by anorexic girls that teach other girls how to hide their disorder. It is a good idea to know the Internet and other cultural influences that may impact your child and impact their decision making. One of the best ways to keep a close eye on these influences is to put computers in common areas, making it more difficult for teens to secretly visit sites that might negatively influence their choices or even put them in danger.
10. Giving Up Too Soon: Forgetting the "Three Times" Rule
Most teens who have already figured out creative ways to get what they want will not "buckle down" after one attempt to change their behavior, especially if you have backed down on consequences consistently for a period of time. Face it: your teen is going to test your resolve. They are going to test it once, twice, and again. Some teens will look for that crack in the armor to appear and test every time they see it. Teens are smart. They know if you are tired and frustrated, and they often have an uncanny ability to test you just when you are least likely to have the energy to resist. Don't give up. Be consistent. Stay vigilant. This might sound alarmist, but as a parent, your primary job is to raise your children to be independent adults. If you relinquish this full-time responsibility, someone else will teach them the ropes, and that someone may not have their best interests in mind.