HANDLING YOUNG CHILDREN IN WAYS THAT HELP AVOID ADOLESCENT AGGRESSION
Teenage Rebellion is Not a Developmental Stage
Jerome A. Price, MA
When teens rebel and become oppositional and defiant this is a stage of development that is expected, right? No, this isn't necessarily the case. It is quite possible to raise children to be respectful, cooperative and kind right through the teenage years. As they grow older they certainly will assert their opinions more often and they may even challenge parents in ways that don't thrill the parents. Asserting one's ideas and alternative views of things is not rebellion. It's growing maturity. The belief that opposition and aggression in young children is a sign of their strength, though, is a dangerous belief.
So, how do we raise children from the beginning in ways that foster this sort of maturity rather than fostering rebellion? The crucial concept for parents to teach their children is the difference between children expressing their points of view however they wish and them expressing their points of view in appropriate and effective ways.
We parents often respond to requests and demands from our children despite the manner of the child's presentation. A child may whine, scream, demand, accuse or demonstrate negative nonverbal expressions such as rolling their eyes or using a tone that makes it clear that parents are stupid.
When we respond to the content of a communication that is inappropriate or disrespectful in its manner we support that this is an acceptable method for the child to use in getting what he or she wants. When a parent consistently responds to a child's unacceptable manner as if he or she never heard the request, the parent teaches non-rebellious ways the child can and must use for getting what he or she wants. For example, a parent might say, "Excuse me, but I don't hear you when you talk to me that way. If you continue you'll have to go to time-out." This approach must be used even if the child's idea is brilliant. Such a statement can be repeated like a broken record (for those of you who remember record albums). Rather than lecturing on what to say instead, a parent should block the inappropriate communication and then let the child's mind work on what he or she needs to do in order to be heard.
Children are like puppies. When they're little we have a great deal of power to modify their behavior, thoughts and feelings. Once they reach ten or twelve years old that power becomes harder to wield. My friend has a dog that, as a puppy, was difficult and he had to train him to follow commands. It turned out that it was lucky he trained him well. The dog unexpectedly turned out to be one hundred and twenty five pounds at full growth. Even though he is the size of a small horse, he still feels like a puppy in relationship to his owner. Therefore the owner's healthy control of the situation continues.
What about parents who have teens and pre-teens who are demonstrating oppositional and defiant behavior? Is the technique I described above just closing the barn door after the horses have escaped? Actually, it's not. Parents will have to refuse to respond to the content for many more days or weeks before a teenager will relinquish control and change his or her manner. They do, however, change their manner unless they are so disturbed that they will resort to extreme actions to get what they want. In the case of more extreme actions by teens, therapy or use of the authorities may be necessary. Believe it or not, many teens whose parents think will do extreme things learn to modify their manner. When faced with no response to the content of their demands over a long period of time it's surprising how often things change for the better.