Confronting Your Teen’s Mistakes
“The difference between the exact right words and the almost right words is like the difference between lightning bugs and lightning bolts.” — Mark Twain
Avoiding toxic words and wrong motivations helps maintain a solid relationship while effectively confronting your teen’s mistakes.
I haven’t met a teen yet who doesn’t want to know they will continue to be loved when they’ve made mistakes. Loving someone seems easy when everything is going well. It’s a quite different matter when your teen breaks your rules, and their life spins out of control. In those times, the best way to demonstrate your continual love for them is to take care in the way you confront their misbehavior, avoiding toxic words and wrong motivations.
The first step is to let your teen know why you are confronting their misbehavior. It is that you love them and want to help them avoid bigger problems later in life. Demonstrate your respect for them by your demeanor, assuring them that you will move toward them in times of difficulty and struggle, not away from them. Tell them that you can’t possibly love them any more than you do, and you’ll never love them any less, not even when they are at their worst.
Be mindful that your teen knows what they have done, and it’s already uncomfortable for them without adding verbal or emotional fireworks. Focus on fixing the behavior, not the person. Remember, behaviors can be changed, but people rarely do.
Keep the word “you” to a minimum when talking to your teen, other than when praising them or saying positive things about their character. For instance, instead of “You broke curfew,” say, “Curfew was broken.” It seems like a little thing, but as soon as you use the word “you,” the teen feels as though they are being attacked personally.
Also avoid using definitive words like “never,” and “always,” in such discussions. Statements like “You never listen to me,” or, “You always come home late,” attack their character, not the behavior. The more you attack their character, the more likely they’ll feel the need to defend themselves and their actions in return. They may even begin identifying with the behavior and work hard to live up to it, thinking “I’m just the black sheep of the family.” So make it lear that they have it within them to do better; that they are a better person than their behavior is demonstrating.
Getting what you want from a discussion with your teen has nothing to do with how right you are and how wrong they are. It has everything to do with your motivation and approach. Ask yourself, “Will my approach move this discussion to a positive resolution, or away from it?” “Could my words increase our mutual respect for one another, or decrease it?” And finally, “Will my words encourage my teen to improve, or encourage them to just hide their behavior from me in the future?”
So, be sure to also check your attitude and hurt feelings at the door before approaching your teen about an issue that needs to be addressed. Focus on what you are trying to accomplish, not on how you feel about the situation. Inappropriate motivations can all too easily sneak into your conversation, which will interfere with bringing about positive results.
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