This week’s question stemmed from a frustrated parent of teenagers. This parent, like so many, was struggling to get the kids to “do anything.” The kids won’t help around the house, won’t do their homework (and are consequently doing poorly in school), are disrespectful, and seem to only want to be on media (mostly phones) all the time. Does this sound familiar? If it does, take heart, you’re not alone (I have had to reassess and adjust my own approach many times on the road of parenthood). My advice is simple, take back control.
Start with an honest inventory of your actions. What is your culpability in the situation? Here’s a sampling of 3 questions to ask yourself:
- Do I follow through with threats (e.g., if I threaten to ground my kid or take away the phone, do I?)
- In regards to chores, jobs, helping, contributing, do you find that it is easier to “just do it myself” to avoid the fight?
- Have you articulated the phrase, “I give up” because you’re tired of asking or reminding your child to do something like homework?
If the answer is yes and you are wondering how to get control, look no further. You probably already have the upper hand, but just don’t know it.
- Does your child have a cell phone? Who pays for it?
- Does your child have a car? Who pays for it? Who pays for gas? Who pays for insurance?
- Is your child clothed? Who bought the clothes?
- Is there a TV in the house? Who bought it? Who pays for the cable?
- Is your child involved in extracurricular activities (e.g., baseball, basketball, dance)? Who pays for it?
Are you getting the idea? Your child NEEDS YOU for everything. Consequently you control it all. Now I’m not suggesting you become some crazy tyrant. Sit down with your kids and outline the ground rules. This is not an emotional fight. It is a calm, resetting of the rules. Do not remind, prod, coax, and ask your child to do something a hundred times. Remind them of consequences once and when they fail to do whatever is outlined, follow through. Now, I understand everyone’s family is different, so you’ll need to tailor the rules to your family’s needs. Here are a few examples:
- Expectation: Do outlined chores/jobs
- Consequence: No media until daily jobs are done
- Expectation: Do homework
- Consequence: No media until homework is done
- Expectation: Get “good” grades
- Consequence: Removal from extracurricular activity
- Expectation: Don’t text and drive
- Consequence: Loss of phone
- Expectation: Have a good driving record/no tickets
- Consequence: Kid pays for increase in insurance rates
- Expectation: Don’t leave your stuff out
- Consequence: Throw the item away (or make them pay/earn it back)
When you begin to lay down the law, you will get a lot of pushback. Be willing to hold your ground. Do not yell (even though your kid may throw a fit). Be matter of fact. Give simple explanations. For example, when you child throws a fit from you taking away the tablet or turning off the TV, the explanation is simply, “When you have contributed to this house by doing your jobs, I will let you have the privilege of watching my TV. I love you; it is my job to teach you.” Let your child know you will be doing periodic spot checks on grades with teachers. If your child is doing poorly (assuming the problem is lack of trying, not inability), explain that you will have to take them out of their beloved extracurricular activities because “clearly, you need more time to focus on school work.” Begin and end the explanation with, “I love you; it is my job to teach you.” When the grades improve, they can resume basketball, etc.
Be consistent. Follow through. You are teaching your child life lessons and the concept of consequences. Finally, make sure you always teach with love. It may take a very long time (maybe even until they are the parents themselves), but the effort is worth it and one day, they will thank you.