If you have toddlers, you are certain (keep telling yourself) teenagerdom cannot be worse than the Terrible Twos. If you have teenagers, you have no doubt why some species eat their young. Quite frankly, only one question comes to mind: Who is driving this flying circus? Since I am acutely aware Terrible Two behavior is a predictor of teenage behavior, it comes as no surprise to me parents with Diablo as a toddler are likely candidates for rubber rooms (or solitary confinement) during their bundle of joy’s teenagerhood.
Choices, Choices, Choices
Whether you have read T3 or you are winging it, you know toddlers are exercising their independence when they make choices. Some of their most profound choices are the ones where they choose NO as the answer. What does that have to do with teenagers? Teenagers (and some of your co-workers) are large toddlers with bigger vocabularies, even if you are convinced the words are not in your native tongue, or theirs. Look at some of the toddler choices first:
- Clothing (to wear or not to wear)
- Food (taste or starve)
- Activity (join or tantrum against)
Do you remember any of these potentially epic battles? Now, think about the teenager choices:
- Clothing (to reveal or to cover)
- Food (eat at home or fast food)
- Activity (ridiculed virgin or accepted tramp)
They do not look all that different because they really are the same choices. The only difference is toddlers are bonding with you, but teens are bonding with their peers (and the people they believe will never desert them), which in theory is against you.
Even if you are convinced the pseudo-adult living in your home is the progeny of demons and your mother-in-law, the fact is this teenager is your toddler almost grown up. The choices are no different, but the extent of your control over their choices is much more limited. When your child was a toddler, you were able to circumvent really bad choices by merely exerting authority. Did you choose time out? Maybe, you chose the ever popular Because I said so. Whichever your choice, you were the parent. We are back to the original question: Who is driving this flying circus?
Get a Grip
Somewhere during the metamorphosis of puberty, you succumbed to the eventuality your child would one day make decisions without your input. Why, precisely, did you choose to allow them to do it before they moved out of your home?
Yes, yes. So, they could try out the choices before they were going to be 100% bound by their consequences. In fact, you have missed the boat. Yes, you should allow them to have some more influence in the decisions which impact them than they had when they were still in pre- and elementary school. No, you should not cede your authority to them. No, you should not shield them from all consequences of their actions. What happened to you during puberty? Not your own puberty…your child’s.
When the hormones first began to flare, you noticed the symptoms of budding angst. You may have flashed back to your own adolescence and remembered, with the clearness of hindsight, what you were thinking and plotting at that age. At the moment the decisions began to resemble adult choices, you handed the reins to your teen. This is laudable (for the most part) for such decisions as dress and food, which will give immediate social and physical (easily understandable) repercussions. Other choices are not the domain of the child, but should still be mandated by the adult. Some are mandated by the law:
- Living arrangements
- Sexual activity
All five of these are mandated by the law. The reasoning behind the laws is the teen’s still developing brain is not fully equipped to properly process the long term ramifications of such behavior.
But no does not mean no…
Cinch that belt tight because this may hurt: This is your fault. Do not beat yourself up too much because you can change this. No stopped being no when the consequences no longer were in direct proportion of the infraction. How did that happen?
You began picking different battles. When you gave the toddler the choice between peas or beets, there really was no wrong choice to make. Both vegetables were healthy choices. Your teen is coming to you with a number of questions hauntingly similar in quantity to those terrible years.
Teens need a similar amount of information as they did as toddlers, but the quality and far-reaching nature of the answers are different. As the questions continue, you subconsciously (or completely consciously) recognize the parallel and beginning choosing your battles. You let Teen win on the clothes, even if you think the clothing is completely inappropriate for a school function. What you expect in return is compliance on the (extended) 11 p.m. curfew. Why are you surprised when Teen arrives at 11:75? (Do the math. It is funny…but infuriating.)
The Real Lesson Learned
Let’s have an excerpt from T3:
You are drawing in coloring books with your child, and he dumps the crayons onto the floor. Sweeping him to the time-out chair with admonishment while you retrieve the crayons does not compute the way you think it might. What your toddler learns is: If I dump the crayons on the floor, I get to see Mom crawl on the carpet like the dog.”¹
In choosing your battle on the choice for allowing your child to leave the house dressed like a Vegas show performer, what you teen learned was you will relax the rules. “If I got away with chaps and a vest to leave the house, how could they possibly get upset if the curfew was a little stretched?”
When teen choices leave the opportunity for ridicule and abuse by their peers, you are no longer providing the safe choices you did when they were toddlers. Consistency must rule the day. This is not carte blanche to be authoritarian (because I said so). This is a perfect teaching opportunity to discuss judgment, social standing and the appropriate choice of moderation or abstinence.
1. Taming the Terrible Twos: A Parent’s Survival Guide, Ann Marie Dwyer (2009), p. 73
What is the difference between being an authoritative parent and being an authoritarian? This series will delve into the common parent-teen issues. The lessons apply equally to toddlers and just may give you insight into the behavior of your co-workers…or siblings.
(c) Red Dwyer 2012
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