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Techniques to Develop Trust and Responsible Behaviors in Teens

Maintain a Businesslike Approach
Some people will do things for you because of a relationship that has been formed or because you have been nice to them. Other people would see this willingness as a weakness that can be exploited and used. Suppose you have done ten favors for me in the past. One morning you ask me to drive you to pick up your car, which has been repaired. I am busy and do not want to take you, but ten flags pop up in my head and remind me of the favors that you have done for me and the fact that you have been very nice to me. Therefore, I say, "Come on, I'll take you. Where do we have to go?" Another personality type might think that he has "put something over" on the person ten times and say, "No, I can't take you. I am busy." Some people you can pay in advance to paint your house, and you know the work will be completed. Others you would never pay until the job is finished; otherwise, it might never be completed. Most business contracts have rules that must be followed in order for the contract to be fulfilled. Never tell the teenager, "I am going to get you a new fishing rod, and because I've gotten it for you, I want you to improve in school." It is better to say "We can get your new fishing rod as soon as you improve in school." The child needs rules or expectations and consequences spelled out ahead of time, and consequences should occur after she fulfills the expectation, not before. "You promised to cut the grass this afternoon. You will get your allowance after the grass is cut, not before."

Avoid Harsh, Lengthy, or Major Consequences
Some teenagers learn responsibility by repetition of consequences. For them, rather than have one big thing happen, it would be better if they experience twenty small consequences. Rather than taking away the phone for a month at a time, it might be better to take it away twenty times for one day. Severe, harsh, or lengthy punishments usually will work with the "attitude kid." For example, if you took away her phone privileges for a month, the attitude kid would go to her room every afternoon and think, "What a stupid thing I did. I can't talk to my friends. It's boring not to be able to talk on the phone." In other words, you would get her thinking about what she had done and the consequences she is experiencing. Using this approach with "attitude kids" can help to change their thinking pattern or to develop a new attitude. On the other hand, the "behavior kid" would miss the phone for the first day or two, then adapt to the situation and not talk on the phone or go down to the corner convenience store and use that phone.

Major, lengthy, or harsh consequences do not affect some teenagers. So failing a grade or having to go to summer school may not significantly change a behavior. Although a child may have to go to summer school, he nevertheless escapes doing homework dozens of times, and the major consequence of failing or going to summer school will not change his attitude about homework. It's better for this personality type to have the parent check with the teacher every Friday, and if the boy has completed all of his homework and class work, positive consequences follow. If he has not completed the work, a different consequence occurs. Using this approach a number of times a year is more effective than imposing one large consequence.

A "behavior kid" learns responsibility by repeated consequences. The more we can get him to do something, and something happens that he either likes or dislikes, the faster the behavior will change and an attitude will develop.

Big incentives or rewards that occur after a long period of time also do not work as well with the "behavior kid." At the beginning of the fall term, we may tell the teenager who has been slacking off his schoolwork, "If you have a B average by Christmas, we'll take you to Disney World for the holidays." Or, "If you do not get detention again for the rest of the term, we'll help you buy the mountain bike you want." If you offer this type of long-term incentive to some teenagers, they will work like crazy for three days after you spell out the expectation and consequence, but will rapidly slide back into the old behavior. Or they will not show any behavioral change until three days before the report card, and then they will study 24 hours a day. For this particular personality type, it might be better to use a short-term goal such as weekend privileges, based on a report of his performance in school for the week. If you decide to use a long-term goal, you could also get a weekly report from school and he could earn points toward that goal on a weekly basis. In other words, the teenager having difficulty in school would receive points each week for completing homework and classwork, for paying attention in class, or for good behavior to avoid detention. If he has a certain amount of points at the end of the specified period, he can get his trip to Disney, his mountain bike, or another desired reward.

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From Keys to Parenting Your Teenager by Don Fontenelle, Ph.D. Copyright 2000 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with Barron's Educational Series, Inc.

Buy the book at Barron's.


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