Making change

The first steps in making change are always the most difficult. Photo: Getty Images
The first steps in making change are always the most difficult. Photo: Getty Images

If you’re ready to take the three steps discussed last week to tackle your out-of-control teenager in order to regain your personal power, self-respect and dignity, you will need to establish some clear boundaries, writes Ian Munro.

Ian Munro.
Ian Munro.


Regaining personal power is not about gaining power over the teenager but about showing him or her that every action chosen has consequences and that they and no-one else has to face up to those consequences. In doing this, parents will be doing something very valuable for their teen, although the teen mightn’t think so.

A good starting point is to make a list of all recent incidents and decide which one, and only one, is going to be dealt with first. Then decide what you will and won’t tolerate: in other words, your bottom line.

Prepare an "I will not" statement: "I will not tolerate verbal abuse", or "I’m not going to write any more excuse notes for school when there isn’t a genuine reason for your absence", or "I will not tolerate having my money stolen".

Next comes the bottom-line "I will" statement: "I’ll leave the room when I’m abused and will not discuss that matter any further", or "I’ll only write an excuse note when there’s a genuine reason", or "I will contact the police youth aid officer when money has been stolen".

It won’t be easy and it won’t be pretty. It will require the full co-operation of all involved, possibly including school personnel. You will be seeking co-operation, not necessarily approval. The last thing needed is another adult, such as a grandparent, sabotaging the plan of action. It might be wise to arrange temporary alternative accommodation for the teen if it gets too tough to have them at home.

Once the support is established, inform the teen of the particular bottom line. When things have got this bad you don’t have to explain or justify your decision. Once you enter an argument on the matter, the skilled manipulator can destroy your new-found resolve in minutes. Or the resolve of one parent in a divide-and-rule attack.

The first steps in making change are always the most difficult. You may have to withstand and not respond to yelling, tantrums, blaming, tears, promises to be good, slammed doors, or even kicked-in doors.

You’ll also have to stand strong against your own feelings of guilt, anger, feeling sorry for the teen, blaming yourself and wanting to give up. There are many risks involved and you may need to make use of that safety net of alternative accommodation. In the end, this is still always about love and the care and safety of your teen and that of the other members of your family. 


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