A while back, I interviewed Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller who wrote the book, Good and Angry: Exchanging Frustration for Character in You and Your Kids. They talked to me about how parents can use anger as a tool rather than a weapon with their children. Here’s part 2 of the conversation:
You encourage parents to have a toolbox full of consequences. Why is this important, and what are some effective tools?
Scott: Many parents have a poor repertoire of discipline strategies, and they are then left with what comes naturally – which is harshness and negative reactions that aren’t productive. We’ve encouraged parents to start developing a toolbox full of consequences that have a host of things in it – things like missing a privilege, adding a responsibility, giving some extra work, or simple confrontations. Sometimes we should ignore some things, sometimes we should be discreet, and sometimes we should confront directly. All of those are part of the tools, but the primary tool that parents should use with teens is the privilege/responsibility strategy.
Joanne: What we want to do is to take a look at all the privileges our young people have. It’s amazing! There are so many things that they have, but they kind of think that these things are rights that they have. They say, “I have a right to having a phone and an e-mail address, etc.” Parents need to communicate to them that things like this are privileges. Anything right down to having a door to your bedroom is a privilege, and we want to see some responsibility if they’re going to have these privileges. The child who is not able to be honest maybe doesn’t have the privilege of the door to his room because we’re not sure what’s going to go on in that bedroom. We need to be looking at the things our teenagers have and see them as privileges and very closely tie them into responsibility.
Scott: Teens should be held responsible for things like being able to live by family values even when nobody’s watching, being able to follow through on a task that they’ve been given without having to be reminded, being honest, or doing the right thing when nobody else is around.
When you give a child the privilege of an e-mail address or Internet access without the responsibility, then you’re asking for trouble. With teenagers, a lot of what we do is tie privilege and responsibility together. It really comes from the Bible story where Jesus gives the parable of the land owner and the stewards. At the end, he came back and said to the stewards, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Because you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things.” Now…we don’t call our kids “servants,” but the idea is that if they can be faithful with a little, we’ll give them more. Privilege and responsibility go together.
Joanne: They need to see that with some of the privileges we give them (we drive them to their friend’s house, we drive them from this activity to that activity), there’s give and take. Before we drive them somewhere, we might want them to vacuum out the car first. That’s the way the real-world works. If you want the privilege, you’re going to have to work for it.
One of the things we need to remind parents is that they need to communicate the responsibilities and consequences to the kids before the kids break the rules, don’t we?
Scott: That’s so important. It’s like changing the rules of the game in the middle of the game. Kids are used to certain kinds of behavior and activities from parents, and when parents change (as they need to do), they need to tell their kids what they’re doing. We encourage parents to have a parent/child evaluation meeting. They sit down with their kids and tell them two or three things that they really appreciate about their kids, and then maybe they point out one thing that they need to do something about and they give their child a suggestion on how to work on it. Their child then needs to know that if something doesn’t change as a result of this meeting, then the parent is going to need to add consequences, because it is not acceptable for them to do this over and over again.
Talk to us about what happens to a child who grows up in a home where the parents don’t communicate well and just explode when they’re angry.
Scott: It’s unfortunate that many parents have a difficult time with anger, and many of us realize that we have more selfishness than we ever thought possible when we have children. We have a lot of growing in our own hearts to do, and there is some real work that the Lord needs to do in our own lives.
One of the important things to realize is that if we don’t deal with our anger, there is a real significant consequence in our kids because anger confuses the discipline process. Instead of having consequences that communicate to children what happens when they break the rules, now they have anger in the process, so they grow up saying, “Wow, I need to be careful or I’m going to upset Dad.”
What are they learning? They’re learning how to please people in life and avoid explosive situations. That’s not what we want our kids to learn; we don’t want them to be people pleasers. We want them to learn how to have convictions and to do something because it’s right not just because someone might get angry with them in the process.
In your book, you make the comment, “You can never get really rid of attitudes…you can only change them.” Talk to parents about this, and give them hope that the bad attitude they’re identifying in their teen can be dealt with and can be changed.
Joanne: Bad attitudes are a common problem, especially with teenagers. It seems to come along with the territory for some reason. I think part of it has to do with the change in emotions of a young person. Their emotions come on really intense and there’s just a change going on in their brains that causes this. But, as parents we do struggle with the bad attitudes in our young people. The reasons we say that we can’t get rid of attitudes is because we all have attitudes. We have good attitudes and bad attitudes. Even when we look at advertising on TV or billboards, advertisers are trying to affect our attitudes about certain things. Attitudes affect how we respond to life.
What we want to do with our young people is help them to change the bad attitudes into more positive attitudes. We have found that attitudes really have three components, and we can address these attitudes from these different angles. 1) There’s a behavior component – things like the rolling eyes and the huffy voice. 2) There’s an emotion component – maybe there’s anger, disappointment, frustration, or some other emotional component behind the attitude. 3) And sometimes, there’s a thinking error that’s creating an attitude as well.
Scott: Thinking errors are common in teenagers. A teen might say, “I don’t understand why you’re making me clean my room. It doesn’t bother you. I’m the only one who lives in that room. It doesn’t affect anybody else. I’d just like to keep the door shut, because I don’t mind living in a messy room. I don’t see why you’re telling me to clean up my room.”
This thinking error could be addressed this way: “I’m a dad, and you’re a son. As a dad, I have the responsibility to teach you character and pass on some values to you. One of those character qualities that I think is important is neatness. One of the ways we’re going to do that is by cleaning your room once a week. That’s why I’m asking you to go in there and finish cleaning it up.” There might be some heated words there, but we’re reeducating our young people. We’re giving them a perspective about work, confrontation, correction, and conflict.