Bruce Fountain - Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist  

Bruce A. Fountain
101 Redlands Blvd
Suite 200
Redlands, CA 92373
(909) 792-9797

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Bite Your Tongue When Parenting Teens


I have treated adolescents long enough to see some return with their spouse and children. Many just visit, while others come in for a tune-up. No matter how bad their behavior seemed as a teenager, with a few exceptions they all grew into functioning adults. I think it is important to remember this when confronted with an agitated teen in the midst of a tense moment.

Parenting teenagers is full of challenges. Staying cool when you are getting your buttons pushed is one of the toughest. “You're grounded forever” is a problem partly because it is more painful for the parent than the child. It is also impossible to enforce. Yet reactive statements like that fly out of parents' mouths often and usually out of anger.

Teenagers are adults in training according to Foster Kline and Jim Fay. Their book, “Parenting Teens with Love and Logic”, is about setting up home life to reflect the expectations of the real world as closely as possible. This means having realistic expectations of personal responsibility and earning privileges. It also means making consequences for irresponsible behavior fit the crime so to speak. The idea being that if they learn to practice personal responsibility early in life, adulthood won't be such a shock.

Holding teens accountable to standards that will serve them well in the adult world takes self-control on the part of the parent. Physical, emotional and hormonal changes that characterize adolescence can create a vortex of mood swings and impulsive behavior that often suck parents in. I have heard that teens are inside out emotionally, meaning that their emotions aren't too far from the surface. This makes it difficult to be around them at times because moods are contagious. If they are irritable or angry you will be too, without the right vaccination.

Following a few rules may help parents resist emotional infection and be more effective. The first rule states that if it isn't an emergency it can be dealt with later. If no one is in immediate danger, wait until you have thought through the situation and you have come up with a reasonable response. Only then should you try to respond or implement discipline strategies.

Discuss it with another adult and get some perspective. Some things only seem awful because they are happening in your home. They may in fact be more common than you think and hearing that another parent has dealt with it too may make you feel better.

Bite your tongue when you are angry, is another useful rule to follow. Once you say something it can't be taken back. Long lasting damage and messes that are hard to clean up are the result of discipline done in anger. Some teenagers are very good at turning the focus back on their parent's. It is a tactic that is unsettling to parents, partly because the indictment may be true or embarrassing. It takes practice, but learning how to let the insults and blame bounce off will help keep the focus on your child's behavior. It can be very effective to agree then redirect when attacked. In essence, do not defend yourself. Absorb the attack and redirect it to the issue that caused the problem. Lower your voice as your stress level rises.

Another important thing to remember is that you do not have to get a complete agreement from your child before the incident is over. The chances that they will accept responsibility and express remorse in a calm respectful manner are slim. It may come later but it is perfectly acceptable to end the discussion unresolved and without an eloquent apology from your child.

Modeling in control behavior is critical. It will not go unnoticed. Children learn what they see and it is seeping into there developing brain more than you know. Parenting is a long-distance race. Pace yourself.

Bruce A. Fountain, MS is a licensed marriage and family therapist. He has a practice in Redlands, CA and can be reached at (909) 792-9797 or via e-mail at © 2006-2010