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Ten Cheeky Commandments for Parents of Teens 

October 09, 2015  |  Falmouth Enterprise

Dr. Michael Bihari

In doing some online research for information about the joys and frustrations (sometimes!) of parenting a teen, I came across this set of “commandments” on the website of a nonprofit substance abuse program in Ohio. Needless to say, I can only smile when applying this to my son and his soon-to-be adolescent daughters!

Although it’s a bit irreverent and you may not agree with all the author’s sentiments, there are some amusing tidbits and several nuggets of good advice. 

I: Thou shalt be as the dispassionate cop unto thine own adolescent

Many teenagers are nuts to some extent, so don’t take their craziness personally. Like the dispassionate cop who politely gives you tickets, stay calm during crises so that your teen thinks more about her behavior than your anger. Show your kid love and strength that she can’t tear down even with provocation.

II: Thou shalt listen even as thine own child shouts

Adolescents often say too little and shout too much, but the shouting may be another form of communication. Become tough enough to withstand the yelling and wait it out without interrupting and screaming back. If you can hang on, your kid may finally become calmer and say what really has him upset.

III: Thou shalt not shout; speak thou wisely

You know how crazy and out-of-control your kid looks when she’s screaming? You, as the parent may look a lot worse. Losing emotional control could mean losing respect in the eyes of your teen, something you can’t afford. Speak calmly and quietly in short, non-repetitious sentences, or don’t talk until you’ve regained control. Your yelling back is destructive and only creates a costly diversion from the real issues. Screaming at a screaming adolescent is like putting out small fires with gasoline.

IV: Thou shalt add 15 minutes to every interaction involving thy teen

Your job is not to control your kid, but to teach your kid how to control himself. Locking yourself into rigid schedules whenever your teen is involved is asking for trouble. Much of what he does could become complex, maddening and schedule defying. Provide bumpers or reaction/thinking time for yourself so that your responses are more controlled. Always look to hand off power to your teen.

V: Thou shalt vanquish thy foolish pride

If you ever play to an audience when handling a teen crisis, you’re in trouble. The neighbors, mall shoppers, or fellow diners must all evaporate from your mind in the face of an adolescent parenting situation. Handling a kid crisis is tough enough without trying to look a certain way to observers. If an out-of-control teen learns that you can’t stand to be embarrassed, you’ll soon be negotiating with a terrorist.

VI: Thou shalt not kill (thou mayest entertain thoughts of killing, but…)

No hitting. Ever. Hitting teens to make them behave not only teaches them that might makes right, it makes you look weak to them and costs dearly in respect currency. Besides, smacking an adolescent is very much like whacking at an old stick of dynamite. Sometimes it doesn’t explode. But when it does it will demolish everything nearby. Getting physical with an adolescent is playing in their stadium—you’re giving them the “home field advantage.” Don’t go there.

VII: Thou shalt apologize at every opportunity

To teens, adult apology is strength, not weakness. It is a marvelous tool for teaching humility, self-control, responsibility, compassion, respect, and self-acceptance. It does all these things like a Trojan horse that disables your kid’s built-in lecture deflector. If you preach at your adolescent, he closes down. But he’ll sit and listen carefully to messages hidden in the robes of your own admissions of failure. You’ll never look bigger to your teen than when you make yourself smaller.

VIII: Thou shalt honor thy child’s identity (even though it maketh you ill)

Green hair, metallic tongues, and pants with crotches so low that they need skid plates are all windows into that wonderful, horrible, laughable, and frightening adolescent struggle called identity exploration. She’s just trying to figure out who the heck she is. As a rule of thumb, the less you fight these things, the shorter they last. Pick your battles wisely and save your ammo for the life-threatening explorations (like drugs and alcohol). Try and remember how weird you looked to your parents, and what your weirdness meant to you.

IX: To thine own self be true

Your kid has enough problems. The last thing he needs is a “cool” parent. He needs you to be unchangingly corny, unhip, and an out-of-date dinosaur who holds fast to a strong set of values and ethics in a morally free-falling society. Be like the constant beacon of the lighthouse that stands unchanged above the dangerous seas of the adolescent world to guide your child home to safe waters. Be a parent first, not a friend. He’s got friends. He needs parents. Hold onto your values, calmly but firmly. Tell him that you love him too much to allow things that could kill him.

X: Know thou, this too shall pass

At times, parenting an adolescent is diapers, it’s a root canal, and it’s getting drafted. It can really get messy, it can be quite painful, and it can be very scary. But these things all end, and like with raising teens, mostly everyone survives just fine. Your kid won’t even remember how scary this time was. But you’ll have your paybacks. In not too many years she’ll have kids of her own. Then one day you’ll have to sit her down, make her a cup of strong tea and quietly say, “Honey, I don’t want you to get upset, but there’s something you should know about Johnny now that he’s turning 11…”

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