Research on adolescent development by Child Trends notes that teens and their behaviors frequently “cluster”: good or bad behaviors (and good or bad peers) tend to come in groups. For instance, if your teen is struggling academically, he is likely to add a group of other negative behaviors, such as smoking, taking drugs, binge drinking or risky sexual behavior; and he will likely associate with friends who struggle with those same issues. As the number of negative behaviors increases, teens will isolate themselves in groups that have similar behaviors. Clearly, this phenomenon presents enormous challenges for fathers who hope to intervene and help their adolescents.
The survey also lists some positive ways fathers can contribute to their teens’ lives and help them navigate the adolescent years without serious trauma. They can model and promote physical health through exercise and good eating habits, encourage their teens in school, attend their extracurricular activities, and help them understand the consequences of risky behaviors.
Kristin Moore, president of Child Trends, sums up the findings aptly: “These findings suggest that parents need to remain actively and positively involved in the lives of their teenagers, while also allowing adolescents to take on greater independence for their conduct, as appropriate for their ages.”
The key for fathers of adolescents is finding a balance between being supportive and caring, while still monitoring behavior and enforcing family rules. Finding middle ground is difficult for many of us fathers. If we’re too strict and inhibit our children’s independence, they are more likely to engage in risky behaviors out of rebellion. On the other hand, teens who have overly warm and permissive fathers tend to be impulsive and make many of those same poor decisions.
In the face of these challenges, we fathers would be well served to cluster, as well—to seek support from other like-minded dads and multiply our positive influence. One father named John credits another dad for helping him bridge the chasm between himself and his daughter.
When John learned that his daughter was engaging in risky sexual behaviors, he was overwhelmed with shame. First he blamed his daughter, then himself. After several weeks, another father challenged him to forgive his daughter, look to the future and seek to rebuild the relationship. John told me, “The last thing I wanted to hear was that I should forgive her. It didn’t make sense! This was her problem! It took a long time, but when I finally gave up and forgave her, our relationship turned a corner. My friend continues to ask about my daughter and encourage me in that relationship.”
- Discuss with your teen the consequences of risky behaviors. Urge her to live responsibly as a first step in becoming more independent.
- Ask your wife or the mother of your children how you could improve as a father in these areas: supporting your children, monitoring their world, caring for them, and enforcing family rules.
- Reach out to one of your child’s friends by including him in an activity you have planned with your child.
- Tell another father a specific challenge you’re facing as a father and ask for his input.
- Consider starting a fathering small group with some other dads you know.
Teach Teens to Show Gratitude
- Clarify the difference between rights and privileges. In today’s world of modern conveniences, we take many things for granted. We don’t realize that conveniences are privileges rather than our rights. For example, it’s the right of our children to be clothed, but it’s a privilege for them to wear designer jeans. It’s the right of our children to be educated, but it’s a privilege for them to have access to after-school programs and specialty classes. Our children don’t need to earn their rights but they do need to earn their privileges. Help your teens discover the blessings they have been given. This doesn’t mean lecturing– but a discussion of news stories that show people’s rights being violated or dinner conversation about stories teens who do not have many privileges will help to make this distinction more obvious.
- Be a model of gratitude. That means show it, recognize it, and appreciate it when you see it. When your teen demonstrates kind, thoughtful behavior, be sure to show gratitude. Don’t let sleeping dogs lie. Nothing feels better than being appreciated for the little things such as putting the plates in the sink without being asked or making the bed. Resist the temptation to say; “FINALLY, you did it– why don’t you do this all the time!” It will backfire. In addition, show gratitude for others, whether it’s a neighbor who brings in your mail or the store clerk that helps you with your groceries, when they help you or do something to make your life a little more convenient or worthwhile. Our own gratitude shows our teens that it’s important to be grateful even for both small and grand gestures.
- Keep a positive attitude and stop whining. It may sounds corny, but a grateful, positive outlook tends to make life, well, more positive. Every morning, find something for which to be grateful; the sun shining, the garden getting the rain it needed, the fact that your neighbor remembered to put his robe on before getting his paper. Notice something positive about your teen. Compliment him but don’t overpraise. This could be as simple as telling him how good he looks in his blue shirt or as significant as telling him how much you appreciate the hug he gives you ever morning.
- Acknowledge failure and frustration—both yours and your child’s. Owning one’s weakness is the first step to learning and improving. Adding humor to the situation when possible/appropriate will help lighten things too. Say- “Oops, I guess I messed up, sorry about that,” “I must have left my brain on my pillow this morning—I’ll go get it,” or “Everyone makes mistakes—we can be thankful that we have the ability to fix them.” Then, end the conversation with hope: “Thank goodness, there’s still tomorrow. We’ll do better next time.”
- Find the Good in the situation. Many situations which appear “bad,” often can result in something good. It may be tough, but try to be a “good-finder” and show your children how to do the same. For example, The Seemingly Bad: Your teen has to stay home on a Friday night and baby-sit her younger sibling. The Good? They find this movie on TV that was so funny that they had a blast watching it together. The Benefit? This will teach them to look for the good and not be so quick to complain.
Gratitude is a state of mind. It takes a conscious mindset and a willingness to stop and take notice of everything that makes life better, more convenient, and more fulfilling. Surround your teen with gratitude; grateful people, things to be grateful for, and models of gratitude and he’ll surely get the picture. Teens can seem like they’re not paying attention but in reality, they carry our voices and our examples everywhere they go. So go ahead. They’re watching and listening. And they want to talk to you.
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