Monday, June 08, 2009

What do you do with a surly teenager?

Calling all parenting experts! Or just people who have management experience. How would you respond in this situation.

Some "friends" of ours have two daughters. One is 14. We'll call her "teenager". The other is 11. We'll call her "little sister". This family has fallen into a pattern of behavior that so far only results in the parents getting angry, teenager sulking and little sister ending up stuck in the middle.

Sample scenario. Parents want the whole family to do something together. It may be running errands, attending a church event or even just going for a walk in the park.

When parents bring up the topic, teenager says that she does not want any part of it and wants to know why parents are always punishing her by making her do things she does not want to do. Parents acquiesce and say that teenager does not have to go. Little sister says she will go, so parents end up going with little sister and little sister ends up with a small reward, usually a trip to the ice cream store.

Upon returning home, teenager finds out that a reward had been made and is now even angrier because, had she known that she was going to get a reward for going, she would have gladly gone along. Parents tell her it was her choice, but teenage still storms off to her room and slams the door in typical teen fashion. What follows is parents lecturing about how slamming doors is not appropriate and it will not be done, etc. etc. End result : no one is pleased with the outcome. Well, maybe little sister is, but she feels guilty for getting the reward and knows that she will pay for her actions at a later date somehow from teenager.

So, parents know that they have fallen into a pattern. Parents know they need to do something unexpected to break the pattern, but what? They are stumped. In recent cases, teenager has been forced to go along with the family and even gets the same reward, but chooses to remind the rest of the family that she does not want to be there and is merely being forced to do so.

Some options:

The "over my dead body" approach. Parents realize they can deliver one whopping, screaming speech to teenager about disrespect and backtalk and threaten and deliver the "as long as you're under my roof..." speech.

The "what goes around comes around" approach. When teenager balks at family participation, parents still acquiesce, however, the next time teenager wants something, parents act like teenager does, telling teenager that they don't want to take her to the mall or they take her to the mall but remind teenager constantly that they don't want to do it.

Keep doing the same thing. Maybe teenager will finally "get it" one day and figure out that to do things as a family when the parents want the family to be together results in rewards for everyone.

There has to be at least one other approach, doesn't there?


  1. Anonymous4:11 PM

    Carson says...
    When you figure this out ....
    Let me know.
    I can only say that I live this most days out of the year.
    I could be said mother of teenager and little sis...
    Wish I could jump in and save the day...
    but I am in there swimming around with you sistah... I mean....your "friend".

  2. A few thoughts: Whenever the family goes out minus one member, if the child that goes happens to get a special treat, be sure to buy something for the other child as well. (Obviously ice cream wouldn't last, but something fun so the other doesn't feel left out.) OR, say to the one staying behind, "I'd like you to come, but if you don't want to, that's fine. You DO understand that we might - or might not - get your sibling a treat, since we're going out, right?" If the other says, "Well, then I want to come," fine. If says, "That's not fair!" then say, "Then please come along - I'd be happy to get you something too."
    If the other child says, "Well, get me something too, then!" a harder line would be, "Fine - give me some money, and I'll be happy to get you something." If the response to this is more complaining, simply say again, "I want you to come. YOU don't want to come. YOU are choosing not to receive anything on the trip. That's YOUR choice. You get to decide what you do." All said very calmly, of course.