“This teenager is old enough to know better.” “My teen should be able to do x, y, z, and they should be able to do it right the first time!”
You’re right. They probably are.
You know your kids.
But there are a few things you might not know. In a previous blog I discuss brain pruning. During the second dozen years of life (age 12-24) the brain is going through a full re-model (think of remodeling your house, but switch it out for a brain). The teen brain is literally killing brain cells that the brain thinks might not be very necessary for the future in order to make room for new learning. You’ll have a teenager who is given an instruction to do a certain chore – a chore they’ve done a hundred times before, and suddenly they don’t know how. They only get half the steps right, and leave the other half incomplete. When asked why they didn’t do the chore up to snuff, they shrug and say they forgot.
They really did forget. They aren’t putting you on or blowing you off.
It’s infuriating! You know they know how to do it. Grrrrrrr… But they don’t. Their brain pruned it.
You’ll need to role model patience and compassion, and show them the steps to the task again. Give your teenager the option of trying the task again and doing it the way you just showed them, or they can choose to experience a logical consequence. They might give you a little lip about not wanting to do the chore over, but you were polite and compassionate, and you even gave them the option not to finish… while experiencing a consequence. The principle here is they get to make that choice, and once the choice is made you can feel good about the outcome.
Sometimes as parents we get confused. We have expectations that can be so variable. We expect teens to behave responsibly and act like mini-adults. Then we expect them to obey us unwaveringly like they are children. We expect them to voice their opinion, but we also expect them to go along with our directions.
We expect them to spend quality time with the family.
We expect them to attend to their studies.
We expect them to get part time jobs.
We expect them to join sports.
We expect them to engage in youth group at church.
We expect them to have healthy social lives.
We expect them to help with chores around the hose.
We expect them to be personable and pleasant to be around.
We expect them to love us like they did when they were little.
We expect them to have adult conversations with us about their life, feelings, friends, etc.
We expect them to drop everything and do what we need them to get done, when we need it done.
Then, their teachers have a set of expectations. Their friends have a set of expectations. Their bosses & coworkers have a set of expectations. Their coaches have a set of expectations.
So on, and so forth.
Oh goodness, I’m exhausted! No wonder teenagers rebel! Who can live under all those expectations! Who can live up to that? Plus they have new emotions and goals that weren’t there before, and they have to balance these with everyone else’s expectation of what they should do and who they should be.
Have you read the blog about Gaining Respect from your Teen through Relationship Building? This is where that strategy comes in so importantly. When you have built that relationship and you have that foundation, you both have more compassion and empathy for one another. Your teen is invested in rising to the level to meet some of these expectations, and you can see that some of these expectations are just too lofty and need to be lowered.
It would be wonderful if you could think of your expectations for your teen. Make your list, then try to add five more expectations. You likely have hidden expectations that you don’t even realize are there. Add five to your list. You can do it, I believe in you!
Pick out the top few expectations that are non-negotiable. Then look at a few that you could maybe lower. When you show someone a bit of flexibility, they feel heard, understood, and valued.
Have a discussion with your teen about the exercise you just did. Ask them if this is an accurate reflection, or if they have any more expectations they feel they are living up to – and then talk about it. How can you help them sculpt their day and week to live up to the non-negotiables while also satisfying everything else they have on their plate and providing some relaxation time to decompress.
I surely hope this posting has given you a bit of insight for your teen. I know that you love him/her. You wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t an amazing parent who just wants to do right by your child and have a happy home life. So much of this is happening under the surface and we have been operating the best we know how; but now, you have a few more tools in your tool belt.
You can find this, and other articles by Jessica Wilkerson at www.jessicawilkerson.com/blog
If you would like to schedule an appointment with Jessica, you can contact her via email at email@example.com or by calling (530) 921-5122.
Jessica works for Chico Creek Counseling as a Marriage & Family Therapist Registered Intern #IMF69783 under the supervision of Joe R. Taylor, LMFT #MFC46406.