Teenagers do stupid things. It is part of the process of becoming an adult. Making decisions and experiencing consequences is how teens learn more about themselves. Based on these experiences, they start to determine what type of people they are going to be in the world. Some of their decisions will be good and some will be, well…stupid. Their actions will seem stupid from an adult point of view because adults are better at connecting actions and consequences before making decisions. Teenagers are still developing that skill, so it is expected that they will make mistakes.
Some teenagers do small stupid things. They forget they have a test. They hide food in their rooms, until a trail of ants sells them out. They post something slightly inappropriate on social medial. Some teens do big stupid things. They cut classes. They sneak out of the house. They experiment with drugs or alcohol. Parents can react to these decisions by jumping to negative conclusions about their teens’ future. That is understandable as teen behavior can inject fear into a parent’s heart. The more fearful a parent becomes, the more catastrophic their pronouncements will be regarding their child’s future. For example, if a teen’s school behavior starts to fall, parents can become convinced that she will never get into college. Or if parents catch their child drinking, they envision him being on skid row.
One of the gaps between parents and their teen children is that the world where adults live is more consistent. The way people act as adults is reflective of they are as people. The world where teenagers live, however, is constantly changing. The kid who was the jock one year, can be skater kid the next. They fight with their friends one week, and ask if those same friends can spend the night the following week. They are impulsive and don’t necessarily see that their actions have consequences. They also don’t pay a lot of attention to the pattern of teen behavior that may be developing as a result of their actions.
Of course you can’t completely ignore stupid behavior and just assume that it will automatically correct itself, but as you deal with it, be sure that you are putting the bad behavior in context.
Try not to change the opinion you have of your child solely based on some of the poor choices that your child makes.
Instead, view these times as opportunities for growth for you and your child.
Here are some strategies that can help make the teen years go a bit more smoothly, despite stupid teen decisions:
Remember your Own Teen Years: Don’t assume the teen in your house will be the adult of the future. Look back at some of your own teenage pictures and remember some of the decisions you made. Are you the same person? What did you need during those years? Keeping yourself grounded by remembering your own background, can help you maintain perspective.
Look for patterns: Teenagers are going to have lapses in judgement. Teenagers are going to act impulsively. Episodic stupid behavior should be dealt with using logical consequences to the behavior (e.g. if they skip school one day, you might have to walk them to class the following day). If the stupid behavior is becoming a regular pattern of teen behavior, you need to help your teen see the pattern. This discussion needs to take place when things are calm between the two of you and their brains are working logically. Once the patterns are identified, you and your teen can work on learning new patterns of behavior.
Use Counseling as a Resource: If the behavior is destructive (e.g. drugs and alcohol) you will need to get professional help. But even if the issues don’t rise to that level of concern, counseling can be helpful during the teen years. A neutral party can help parents and teens communicate more effectively. Counseling can also provide a safe haven for teens to express their emotions and learn positive coping skills.
Create limits and boundaries: Sometimes a teen’s poor decisions stem from the teen trying to test the limits (e.g. staying out past curfew). They are feeling a greater sense of independence and they want to flex that independent muscle. Setting appropriate limits and explaining the consequences (both positive and negative) of their behavior can:
- help teens feel safe.
- allow you to express your expectations that they will do well by outlining positive outcomes.
- get you out of the role of –the-spot disciplinarian because consequences are outlined before any offense is committed.
Create an Environment that Supports the Capacity to Change: Because they can be highly emotional, teens can do their own catastrophic thinking and convince themselves that the smallest event will result in horrible consequences. They can be overwhelmed with shame by their actions and not see a way out. Parents can help their teens understand that they can move forward and learn from their experiences. Parents can guide them back to the path of moving forward and highlight the strength that comes from overcoming adversity.
Teen parenting is not for the faint of heart. There may be moments when you wonder if you will make it through intact. By expecting your teen to do some stupid things and using the suggestions above, you can help both of you successfully work through the challenges of the adolescent years.
CAR THOUGHT: (something to ponder as you shuttle your kids about) How do you typically respond when your teen does something stupid? What is your internal reaction? How does your teen see you behave?