When Your Teenager Has Made a Serious Mistake
7 Key Ways to Be an Enlightened Parent
We all make mistakes, and at some point or another, our children are going to make many of their own. When they make a serious mistake—perhaps abusing drugs or alcohol, having sex way too early, seriously bullying others, lying and stealing, attempting suicide or taking risks with their body—we may find ourselves in shock, fear and anger. How can we deal with the situation in an enlightened way?
1. Bring compassion. Who hasn’t made some very serious blunders or dangerous mistakes? We probably made some as a kid. Life happens. It’s all trial and error.
2. Continue to love the child. Take out the anger and judgment. We are naturally going to feel shock, helplessness and fear for the child or ourselves. Unfortunately, we make the mistake of turning our fear into anger and judgment toward our child. We feel we need to punish our child and show our displeasure. In effect, we’re threatening our child with withholding our love as a way to manipulate them. To help remedy the situation, give them love and support in this difficult time. Expressing anger and judgment is a big mistake.
Also understand that many unacceptable behaviors are based in emotional pain that the person is attempting to avoid feeling. A child doesn’t need judgment in these situations. They need help with their emotional world.
3. Listen. Once we are not in an angry or judgmental place toward our teen, we must suspend our parental mode of talking to and giving advice and directives. Start with listening. Listen to understand. Listen with compassion. Give them time to express what’s happening in their inner world. This step is crucial and is usually absent. Most people will benefit from utilizing a good counselor-type to facilitate good communication.
4. Employ “natural consequences”. What can we do instead of expressing anger and rejection? How does the child get the message that their actions are not okay? Answer: Employ natural consequence for the actions without adding anger and dislike.
If our actions require going to the police, taking away privileges and freedoms, then employ them matter-of-factly in a calm tone. This is not punishment. Tell the child, “You’ve made a mistake. I will love you no matter what you do. What can we do to help? What consequences do you think would be appropriate for your actions?” Take away privileges and freedoms with the message that they can earn them back.
5. Get family counseling, versus sending just the child to counseling. We don’t want to make the child the “identified problem” in the family, as this only adds to the child’s lowered self-worth. Instead, take an attitude of “we’re in this together.” It is useful to think of our child’s actions as a possible reflection of family dynamics. Often these dynamics are unseen. Counseling can bring to light underlying relating styles or attitudes that are not empowering, nor are they nurturing to the family.
On another note, there is the need for the teen to have private sessions with a therapist that they feel good with. Some things can’t easily be said with the parent there.
6. Set a standard for relating with kindness and respect. We tend to think we are all about kindness and respect, but often we give ourselves permission to be unkind or disrespectful—
especially when we are upset. Unkindness does not produce good results, ever. Make a commitment to be kind and respectful at all times—to everyone.
When we have established this standard of kindness and respect, whenever the child gets off base, we can simply ask them, “Are you being kind or respectful right now?” If the child has done something unkind, remind them that kindness is a value that is important and that works to make their life feel good.
7. Ask Spirit for help and guidance. If spirituality is a part of our lives, we can admit we are powerless over a situation and turn to Spirit for help. This life trial we’re in may deepen our relationship with the spiritual world. Consider that maybe there’s a divine plan for even the difficult experiences.
Remember during this trying time, there are gifts that come out of all life challenges. Maybe the gift is learning how to love one another better. Maybe it’s about learning to communicate on an emotional level. Maybe the experience the child is having is part of a career path that he or she will take. Who knows what gifts may come? Be open to these gifts presenting themselves.
Bill White is a relationship and communication specialist in Tucson. Connect at 520-319-9132 or TheHealthyCouple.com.