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In the last section, we discussed a common teenage outburst in five levels and ways to diffuse it. These five levels of confrontation were: whining and complaining; stubborn refusal; verbal abuse; threats of violence; and acts of violence.
I have noticed, as you may have as well, that the battles between mother and daughter, father and son, originate because one person will make assumptions about the other. For instance a mother can assume that her daughter knows not to drink or come home late, or a son may assume his father won’t care if he borrows the car for one night. Although these may sound obvious to some of us, these sorts of assumptions happen quite often in a family with a disruptive teen. To help these families, I encourage them to write a Family Agreement Contract.
♦ Step #1. Streamlining the Problems
5 Questions for the Family Agreement
Once each parent had written their own list, I asked them to combine their lists. If there are any discrepancies, I asked them to come to some sort of consensus. Carol and Michael came up with the following list of problems:
1. Leaves the house without permission.
2. Hits younger brother.
3. Drinks with his friends.
As you can see, the problems that Carol discussed, "not going to bed on time" and "refusing to clean room" are not on this list. The pair has successfully streamlined their problems by eliminating those that may be arbitrary.
♦ Step #2. Creating Concrete Rules
Jim’s behavior toward his brother will be considered an act of violence if he does one of the following:
1. Pushes, shoves, hits, thumps, kicks, squeezes his brother or anyone else.
2. Threatens to hurt his brother or anyone else.
3. Any behaviors not on this list that may cause physical injury to someone else.
They next went on to say that if Jim continued to commit the above actions, he would be punished. Think of your Mike and Carol. Have they become a victim of a teenager under the influence of the "literal disease"? How could they improve the rules in the household so that their teenager could not find a loophole?
♦ Step #3. Creating a Well-Written Consequence
1. Money - giving or taking it away.
2. Telephone - cutting off social contact from your teen’s most important allies is a real attention-getter.
3. Freedom - loss of mobility in their choices will motivate your teen to try harder to avoid it.
4. Clothing - by taking away certain outfits, you ultimately take away your teen’s mode of expression.
5. Cars - make your teen take the public transportation or stay at home. This also creates a sense of humility in realizing that they still are pretty dependent on you.
6. Loosening Restrictions - When a parent modifies past rules, this communicates your willingness to treat your teenager like an adult.
7. Trust - Earning and keeping trust with you is very important to your teen. Finding ways for teens to earn back trust slowly can make all the difference.
8. Appearance - Some of my other clients have accomplished tarnishing their teen’s appearance in public by humiliating them, either through the parent’s own actions or their clothing.
9. Materialism - Try removing some of your teen’s favorite music or video games.
10. Spending Time - Many parents don’t realize that their teens do value connection with their parents. This includes your teen.
Carol and Michael tried out several of these on Jim until they found his weakness: loosening restrictions. Michael stated, "We realized that he had actually been doing quite well, and, to encourage him, we gave him a later curfew, which he holds to. He even said ‘thanks’ when we told him." I also emphasize to my clients that enforcing the consequences is even more important than writing them down. Without enforcement, teens will begin to think that they can bend the rules. Think of your Carol and Michael. Could they benefit from "Creating a Family Agreement Contract"?
In this section, we discussed the three key steps involved in writing an effective Family Agreement Contract. These steps included: streamlining the problems; creating concrete rules; and creating a well-written consequence.
In the next section, we will discuss ways to help parents like Shirley Keep Their Cool. Keeping Cool involves: discovering parental triggers; discovering teen triggers; and busting the trigger.
- (2013). How to Spot Drug and Alcohol Use in Teens: Guide for Parents. Brown University Child & Adolescent Behavior Letter, 29. 1-2.
- Sells, S. P. (2001). Parenting Your Out-of-Control Teenager: Seven Steps to Reestablish Authority and Reclaim Love. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article Reference:
Coffey, J. K., Xia, M., & Fosco, G. M. (2020). When do adolescents feel loved? A daily within-person study of parent–adolescent relations. Emotion. Advance online publication.
Kapetanovic, S., Skoog, T., Bohlin, M., & Gerdner, A. (2019). Aspects of the parent–adolescent relationship and associations with adolescent risk behaviors over time. Journal of Family Psychology, 33(1), 1–11.
McKenna, S., Hassall, A., O'Kearney, R., & Pasalich, D. (2020). Gaining a new perspective on the quality of parent–adolescent relationships from adolescent speech samples. Journal of Family Psychology. Advance online publication.
Van Petegem, S., Baudat, S., & Zimmermann, G. (Aug 2019). Forbidden to forbid? Towards a better understanding of autonomy and rules within parent-adolescent relationships. Canadian Psychology, 60(3), 194-202.
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