Sixteen-year-olds look completely different from the way they looked at twelve. Even more striking is the difference in their personalities. Parental influence has declined by roughly half, due to more influences from peers, media, hormones, boyfriend/girlfriend, and the huge internal need to feel grown-up by acting different from you.

Yet parents do not adjust their expectations so much. They still expect similar compliance with similar rules compared to what worked at age 12. And these parents who expect obedience are very frustrated with their 16-year-olds, which only adds to the teens’ motivation to rebel.

So with rebellious teens, there’s a power struggle—both of you want to lead. So let them win these battles, and you win the war. You win the war by choosing the lessons to teach (honesty, courtesy, health, safety, responsibility, respect for authority, impulse control, emotional health, studying in school, etc.).

They win the battles by choosing how they learn. You choose the intended destination, and they choose which road they take to get there. Be sure your language reflects that you are following their lead, giving them exactly what their behavior has asked for.

They can learn the easy way or the hard way, now or later, from reward or punishment, from their successes or their failures, from others’ experiences or just from their own, they choose. They know how they can learn best—honestly, they do.

Try this: "If you’re ready to (go out with [person], go to [event], stay out until [time], talk on the phone with [person],etc.), you’ll show me ahead of time by the way you (communicate with me, make your curfews this week, let me get to know [person], check in with me by phone this week, etc.).

When a privilege isn’t earned, and you need to say no, don’t say, "I told you" or "I warned you", but merely "If it meant that much to you, you would have showed me you were ready." And here’s the key—believe it.

Otherwise they’ll see the worry and guilt on your face, and keep turning up the protest volume until you crack. As they wail, you calmly say, "I know you’re mad at yourself. I would be too. That’s what you learn from. Your actions this week speak louder than your words right now."

In this approach, last minute requests are a problem. In general they should be handled on how the teen’s recent behavior has showed his or her trustworthiness on the issues involved, noton the intensity of their demands, or if they could have foreseen it, on the urgency of the situation.

When they’re angry and you’re calm, the stress is where it belongs, motivating your child’s behavior change. Your job is not to calm them down, or to be liked, just to earn their respect and your own, and to give them the motivation they have chosen to pursue the goal you have chosen.

Now and then in the life of every family, parents need to call a family meeting. Some common purposes include solving a problem, making a decision, planning family outings or activities, or understanding and getting along with a rebelling family member.

Some families hold meetings once a week, but regular meetings work better once a month or every other week to keep them special. Others are held whenever the need arises. They should last no more than an hour. Here are some guidelines I have found helpful for making family meetings run smoother and get the job done:

1. Parents facilitate the meeting, to make sure the other rules get followed and the purpose is met. They don’t hog the floor or the power, but make sure everyone gets a chance to speak briefly without being interrupted.

2. Parents call the meeting, and explain the time and agenda in advance. Because often their sense of timing is better than the parents’, a child can suggest a meeting, but it shouldn’t be called until the parents have their heads together on the agenda. The agenda should be a proposal, with a list of pros and cons for the idea, to get everyone thinking.

3. Keep things positive. Divert negative energy into time-out breaks. Encourage children to talk out resistance in advance, with one or both parents, to help the parents shape the proposal before the meeting starts. Everyone who might be defensive would have time to collect and vent their thoughts in advance. Once they’ve been heard, they will be able to listen better to others.

4. Encourage everyone to express their ideas and feelings in the family meeting, briefly, in a risk-free environment. Parents need to assure children their ideas won’t be criticized or ridiculed by anybody, especially the parents. If children don’t feel safe, they won’t express themselves, and if they haven’t had much input, they won’t be much invested in the outcome.

5. Make decisions by consensus, not majority vote. This promotes harmony, not division. Parents and older children might sum up the discussion like this: "From what I’m hearing, the plan that suits most people would be. . . ." Parents listen for consensus, and declare when it’s been reached.

6. Close the meeting on a positive note. Praise each child for the best of their contributions. Say what you’ve learned to help you understand each family member. Let others follow this lead, with all these closing comments being positive.

In my next column, I’ll talk about how useful it is for more mature families to adopt a mission statement, which can be especially helpful to start a new season or year. I’ll also give families some rules or guidelines that other families have found helpful in working to fulfill their missions.


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Dr. Paul F. Schmidt