By Dr. Billy Jones, psychologist with Mercy Health
A few weeks ago, this website asked a question in an online quiz that went like this: “Which of the following behaviors would bother you most if you noticed it in your child?” The possible answers were “bad grades, bad hygiene, bad friends, or bad manners.” The winner was “bad friends” by a pretty wide margin, which confirms that most parents worry about their kid falling in with the “wrong crowd.”
I believe that, in order for us to understand people, we must enter their world. We need to be able to think like them, though not necessarily act like them. We’ve already acted like them, so let’s not do that again! We’ve got to think about hanging out with the wrong crowd from a teenager’s point of view.
Teenagers (and really all children) will misbehave for 4 primary reasons:
I remember this by the acronym P.A.I.R. For now, let’s talk about “Attention.” Everybody wants it, and some are willing to go to great lengths to get it. If teenagers don’t get the attention they need, then they WILL misbehave in order to get it. After all, negative attention is better than no attention at all. (Yes, I know you have heard this before, but it IS true).
The teenage years are awkward for everyone — puberty, pimples, dating, and wanting freedom from your parents but deep inside being scared to death of it. We’re also trying to find out who we are and social interaction is how we begin this process. We do this by comparing ourselves to others. This is why teenagers can be so superficial and want the most expensive thing they see, especially clothing. We want to get attention from others, and clothing is the first thing people see.
As parents, we’ve got to teach our children how to get attention without going through such superficial measures. But, not all parents are up to the job. (Not all of them bother to read articles like this designed to help them understand teenagers.) So if teenagers can’t get positive attention from their parents, they turn to their friends. If they can’t get it from friends, they turn to whoever is left over. This is how many gangs are formed.
Teenagers have somehow learned how to use “the Force” or some sort of “Old Jedi Mind Trick” (Star Wars analogy in case you’re wondering) to find someone who will give them the attention they feel can meet their needs. And there you have it…the “wrong crowd” shows up, and usually it’s at the worst time.
So, what can we do? First and foremost, we’ve got to talk to our teenagers. Research shows that lack of communication is one of the top reasons teenagers display defiant types of behaviors. Talking to them about their day, and listening, — not lecturing — is the first thing to do. Treating them with respect regardless of whether you agree with them is essential. Remember, it doesn’t matter how you think things should be, it only matters what your teenager believes. They will act on their perception of reality, not yours.
So, LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN to what they’re telling you, both verbally and nonverbally. If you do this consistently, they’ll begin to understand how much you love them and how much you’re willing to give them your time AND attention.
Got a question or a tween/teen issue you’d like to get Dr. Jones’ thoughts on? Send it to mamas@nwaMotherlode.com and we may feature it in an upcoming installment of Tweens & Teens. The post published above is part of our “Summer Remix” series made up of posts previously published on nwaMotherlode and designated as a “reader favorite.” If you missed the original publication date, we hope you enjoyed this encore performance. Happy summer!