Keep Small Behaviors in Teens From Becoming Big Problems
As children grow into adolescence some negative attitudes and behaviors may appear. Gradual changes can lead to lowered expectations, so pay attention
Have you ever heard the Parable of the Boiled Frog?
A boiled frog? Sounds revolting, doesn’t it? Be patient, because there is an important message in this story. The first time I heard the Parable of the Boiled Frog was at a parent weekend at Hyde School in Woodstock, CT. (Our family was involved for two years with the Hyde process of family-based character education.) This is how it goes…
If you take a frog and put it in a pot of boiling water, it will jump as hard and high as it can in order to save itself from being boiled to death. Now put the same frog into a pot of room temperature water and he will happily enjoy his time in the water. Gradually increase the heat and the frog will stay in the water, until it eventually boils to death. How is this possible? The frog is incapable of responding to gradual changes in temperature. It becomes accustomed to the slowly increasing heat until it is too late.
What is the significance of this story for parents? As children grow into adolescence, some negative behaviors and attitudes may show up: tone of voice, language, pushing limits, disrespectful behavior, or withdrawal. This is usually a slow process as they test the waters. And as long as nothing outrageously bad is happening, parents may accept these behaviors as just another stage in their child’s development. Yes, change is constant, but it is not constantly noticed.
Pay attention, though, to these behavior change markers. In some families, these subtle changes as to what is acceptable lead to a new definition of “normal” behavior. Little by little, expectations are lowered and stress increases. One day a family may find itself in a crisis situation, where these behaviors can no longer be ignored and outside help is sought.
And what about a family that is not necessarily heading toward disaster, but is not happy about these changes? Perhaps your children are rolling their eyes, being sarcastic, or seeming to challenge you on everything. Where do you draw the line? When is it acceptable, and when is it not? Only you can make that call. Here are some thoughts about what to do when you are ready to take action:
- Trust your instinct. There is no User Guide for parenting teens, but you know when your head, heart and body are telling you that something doesn’t feel right.
- Identify the behavior. Be specific and avoid a laundry list of all the things that aggravate you.
- Identify why this behavior bothers you. Use an “I statement” and relate it to a value or principle. (e.g. “When you break curfew I am scared because I worry about your safety” OR “It makes me sad to think I can’t trust that you will stick to our agreement.”)
- Listen, really listen, to your child. You don’t have to agree with what he has done or how he feels – but he has feelings and does need to be heard. Once the feelings are out, he may be better able to hear you and to be part of a solution.
- Give yourself time to determine the consequences. Don’t feel that you need to have an answer immediately. When it feels right, involve your child in deciding what comes next.
Yes, change is inevitable, but it doesn’t always have to happen to you. It is in your power to be the initiator of positive change! Keep yourself out of ’"boiling water" by being aware and proactive.
© Fern Weis 2009