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Q: We are parents of a 13-year-old who is extremely willful. We've tried appealing to him as an adult because he says we don't use the same standards with him -- that doesn't work. We tried punishment in the form of taking away privileges from him. It works for the short-term, but not long-term. He always says that we don't listen to him, but we do. I know it sounds typical, but we are stymied.
A: Of course your situation sounds typical, you are a POA (Parent of an Adolescent). Just because your situation has all the components of healthy parent-teen conflict doesn't mean it's not troublesome, both for you and your son. First, appealing to him as a responsible adult probably is not going to work; he's probably, in adult terms, a rather irresponsible teenager. Punishment as opposed to disciplining with natural consequences is also not going to work, as you have discovered. Your boy is now being pushed and pulled between the "comforts" of being the "little kid" he used to be and the "big kid-adult" he wants to be (but can't quite pull off). Maybe it would be wise for you and your wife to think back to when you were his age and try to remember whether you were "willful" at all or whether you and your parents didn't quite see eye to eye on many matters.
During these teen years where he is attempting to establish an identity independent from you, there will be much contrariness and many disagreements; he will be ruled more by his desire to fit into his peer group than by a desire to live by your rules. We need to still love our youngsters unconditionally during these years; we also need to "walk and talk" the values and principles that are the foundations of our family life. Our teens will be ever vigilant to point out any hypocrisy on our part (you just had alcohol and drove a car!). We can communicate that we respect them and trust them to be honest, considerate, responsible, etc., while letting them know that they, like you, are expected to live by the values that define who your family is.
Teens need to know there are natural consequences to all their actions. They need you to let them experience the natural results of their misbehavior; you need to separate the deed from the doer when giving the appropriate natural consequences. Despite their insistence that they don't need you to set up rules for their lives anymore, it is especially important during these tumultuous adolescent years that you show them the strength of your love and the strength of your values. When all else around them can appear to dramatically change in a moment's notice, you will, for the most part, remain his dependable (and, of course, often aggravating) nurturing parents.
Here are a few resources that I know will help you: You Can Say NO to Your Teenager by Jeanette Shalov et. al; How to Stop the Battle With Your Teenager: A Practical Guide to Everyday Problems by D. Fleming; The Parent's Guide: Systematic Training for Effective Parenting of Teens by Don Dinkmeyer and Gary D. McKay. I'm sure you will abide by and love and discipline your son (in the midst of constant changes in mood) as well as anyone can during these temperamental but also wondrous years.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.