Have a New Teenager by Friday: Be Purposeful

by Kevin Leman

How your teenager will respond has everything to do with respect-your kid’s respect for you, and your respect for your kid. Respect begins from the earliest of stages and builds up over your years of relationship together.

The battles between will-what I call developmental carnality-usually start when your child is about 18 months old, figures out he has a will of his own and realizes he can exert it. What happens after that point has everything to do with you, parent, because your child’s attitude and behavior were created within the space of your home.

From this early stage, it’s crucial that you parents pick your battles carefully, and that as situations come up, you don’t react but act. Reacting takes you out of the driver’s seat and flings you right onto the moment-by-moment emotional roller coaster with your child. Acting allows you to sit back, relax, say things once and hold firm, and remain calmly in control, letting the chips fall where they may.

So when your two-year-old spouted off, how did you respond?

You said, “Oh, Johnny, you shouldn’t talk that way. It’s not nice. I’m going to give you one more chance to be nice.”

You said, “Young man, you’ve just earned yourself a time-out. Get in the corner for the rest of the morning.”

You turned, walked into another room, and ignored him. Later, when he wanted to play with his favorite toy, you said, “No, you may not play with the toy today. Mommy doesn’t like the way you talked to her.” No amount of blue-eyed pleading changed your mind either.

Which scene played out over and over in your house? Your child didn’t morph overnight into this alien teenage creature. Guess whom he had help from? How you’ve acted as a parent and how you’ve run your home has everything to do with the person your teenager is now.

Take three-year-old firstborn Shannon. When she was being stubborn and disrespectful about eating her lunch, her mother put her in a time-out. She calmly picked up the high chair—with Shannon strapped in it—and moved it around the corner of the kitchen into the hallway, where Shannon couldn’t see her mother. Those five minutes seemed like an eternity to the child who didn’t like to be separated from her mother. When her mom at last appeared, Shannon said quickly, “All done, Mom, all done.”

To this day, 12-year-old Shannon remembers that life event and laughs. “I guess I figured out, ‘Hey, that didn’t work very well.’ I was a smart kid, so I never tried it again. That was the first and last time my mom ever had to put me in a time-out. I knew she meant business and that she wouldn’t back down.” Today Shannon and her mother have a very close relationship build on respect, and they have already weathered two of the early and intense hormone-group years.

Contrast that with Jarrod, who is 15 and treats his mom like she’s the slave dog of the family. “Where are my gym shorts?” he blurts out a minute before he heads out the door to school, and Mom, trying to please him, had let him get away with his tantrums, then gave him whatever he wanted.

Those two examples show clearly what I call “purposive behavior.”

How many of you have used the word purposive today? I’m looking for hands here. I see none. Okay, so how about this week? Uh, there’s a hand. How about this month? A couple more. This year? A few more.

Purposive isn’t one of those words you hear a lot, but it’s important for you as a parent to understand what purposive behavior is. Purposive behavior serves a person; it meets a need. We all engage in it.

What is the purposive behavior of a child throwing a temper tantrum in a toy store? A good guess would be that Mom or Dad has given him a small dosage of vitamin N and said no to the “I want, I need” three-year-old. The three-year-old’s way of saying, “You’ll do exactly what I tell you to do,” is throwing a temper tantrum grand enough that folks six aisles over hear it and peek around the corner to see what’s up.

So what does that parent do to shortcut the embarrassment of this child’s behavior? “Okay, okay, I’ll get you the toy this time. But this is the last time I’m going to buy you a toy….

Don’t surrender to the demand. Stop reacting and act purposefully. Your teen will thank you for it.

Excerpt from “How to Have a New Teenager by Friday” by Dr. Kevin Leman. Used by permission.

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