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A Tire That Fits

It was not too long ago when kids like Scout from the classic book and movie, To Kill a Mockingbird, found adventure rolling around inside an old tire. Kids today find adventure “rolling around” inside Snapchat. They are equally dizzying, though only one of them would likely cause nausea (some may disagree). Parents nowadays might cringe at the sight of their child churning down a hill, unprotected within a tire. Content on social media also makes parents cringe, especially because many parents are faced with a lack of knowledge and control. Regardless of how our children occupy their free time, it is critically important that parents and children feel connected and close, yet free to be who they are.

If a tire were too wide, the child clinging to the inside would have excess space and eventually lose their grip. Too narrow and the child would be overly confined. Parents are like tires around their children. Structurally, teen parents must find a balance between restriction and freedom. We are doomed if we restrict excessively and abuse our power, or give away our power and grant endless freedom. Parenting a teen is about finding the middle ground between restriction and freedom; a place where emotional closeness can occur. This place is found through listening, understanding, nurturing and comprise, which are exceedingly challenging actions to exhibit when a child is frustrating and hurting their parent.

We can find ourselves losing control over many aspects of our child; their attitude, behavior, dating choices, drug and alcohol use, effort at school and more. The terrible irony is when teen behavior becomes increasingly negative, they need just as much freedom, soft love, nurturing and understanding as they do negative consequences and restriction, but they usually get the opposite.

Negative consequences and restrictions dominate and tend to be spontaneous and emotional. Parents point out that their child is untrustworthy, irresponsible and unable to handle freedom which certainly makes sense, however the "crackdown" does not produce the results that most parents are looking for. Instead, an ensuing cycle of negative child behavior, negative consequences from parent and negative communication leaves the child feeling alienated and the parent feeling bitter. As the relationship hardens, teens typically turn heavily to friends for support and affection and resist their parents even more.

Five tips to be a tire that fits and disrupt negativity cycle:

  1. Spend more time listening to your child by asking varied questions and responding with as little judgment as possible. Be curious.

  2. When in a negative behavior cycle, the more you lecture and force personal values onto your kids, the more they resist. Lecture less often.

  3. The text time a negative behavior occurs, stay calm and delay the consequence. Give the consequence after an hour or even the next day.

  4. Instead of giving delivering consequences angrily, give consequences with empathy. This dilutes teen anger and helps them think about their own behavior instead of directing anger toward their parent.

  5. Ask for help! A skilled counselor can help disrupt the cycle and restore love between family members.