There is so much talk in our culture about “values” that it is beholden to every one of us to pause and think about what we value and what it means to value something. Of course, it’s obvious that we value our families and education or else we wouldn’t have met! But let’s look at what that really means.
Valuing family to me means that of all the people in the whole world, the ones most important to me are they. My actions and interactions for and with them take precedence. And I give serious thought to those decisions and actions, especially the ones for my children who are not able to make the choices I do for their behalf. I’m the one who decides where they will live, which room in the house is theirs, where I will shop and what I will buy for them, what kinds of food I’ll feed them, where and when they can go places, …the list goes on and on. And as I’m thinking about it and writing it, I am reminded of how much power we have over our children when they are little. I wonder how they like that power equation? Is that one reason they misbehave? Are they trying to tell us to give them more freedom? And there, parents, is the seat of our dilemma as parents. How can we CAUSE our children to behave, study, work, and get along at school or out in public without using so much power over them that they rebel against us and our actions.
Many psychologists have written about the “will.” We all have within us a will that causes us to act or not to act. It is very powerful in all of us and in our children regardless of their ages. It is the reason people say, “You can take a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” When children are small, we can fairly easily over power them. We have lots of tricks and we use them well. But as our children grow older, our power equation changes from us having all the power to them having the power! Now not only can they embarrass us and refuse to do what we ask them, or not hear what we ask them, or do it badly, but as adolescents they can harm themselves in order to get back at us, in order to manipulate us, in order to control us, in order to keep the power for themselves.
How can we avoid this or how can we deal with it? Simply stated, make your child’s will your ally. Value cooperation, practice it within your household. Practice mutual respect. If you expect your child to respect you just because you’re an adult or the parent, then show respect to your child as a human being just because she is that. Mutual respect creates a kind of decency that we all need in this world. Be clear; state your boundaries. State what you are willing and what you are unwilling to do. Example, “I am willing to take you to the movies when your homework is finished. By finished, I mean every problem completed, showing the calculations on the paper, and legible so I can read it.” Give no second chances. Hold to your boundaries with kindness and firmness. Say “no” in a nice voice with a smile on your face instead of a stern look. Don’t say things like, “because I said so, that’s why.” That doesn’t imbue respect. Instead that’s an invitation to fight, and adolescents take dares easily.
Remember that while your adolescent is a valued person, she is not an adult. You are the parent and the difference between you and her is that you have been on the planet longer than she has. And in that time you have developed something called “judgment”, and maybe even you’ve grown something called “wisdom,” neither of which your adolescent has had time to acquire. Remember, some decisions are for adults because the consequences are difficult for adolescents to foresee. For those kinds of decisions just state your boundary and what you’re willing to do and not to do. “I’m willing to pay for private piano lessons as long as you’re willing to practice for 20 minutes on all the weekdays.”
Don’t butt heads with your child; avoid those situations as best you can. Instead, work on balancing the power through cooperation.
Director/Elementary 1 Teacher