#6 Rule of Excellence

March 31, 2008 at 9:49 pm | Posted in Rules of Engagement | 2 Comments
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Don’t settle for second best. Don’t get sucked into complacent mediocrity. Save your mediocrity for something that doesn’t count- bake a mediocre cake, get a mediocre score on Solitaire but please where relationships are involved go for the best, the tip top, won’t ever stop mentality.

In any relationship but particulary with teens and kids, you will only get out what you put in. So if you are expecting an excellent result with your teens but are not putting in the time or the effort and are not really stretching yourself to do the best you can then I am afraid you are going to be disappointed.

If you have got to a point with your teenager where things are not looking great, then ask yourself- have I been giving them all I can? Have I been giving them what they need? A common mistake is to shower kids with the wrong thing- for example spoiling them with gifts when all they want is to spend some quality time with you. To learn how to shower the right thing you wouldn’t go far wrong reading Dr Gary Chapman’s, Five Love Languages of Children and his latest Five Love Languages of Teenagers

Excellence means committing to try and find the solutions to your problems, thinking about what you are doing and what you need to do, exploring different strategies for relating to them and trying them out. This could mean taking the time to read up on how best to relate to your teen, attending a seminar, talking about the issues with your friends and family. In essence it means setting aside time to put them before yourself. Particularly for professionals it means using the best resources you can with the young person (a particular bug bear of mine is badly presented worksheets that have been photocopied / xeroxed within an inch of their life to the point where it is like looking at a photograph of a ghost that has been through the washing machine twenty times), and engaging them in work / discussions that have a clear logic that you have actually thought about rather than just ‘winging it’.  Do not forget that for a lot of teens, the quality of the things you present them with, physically or verbally will be their measure of the quality of your care for them.

Being a beacon of excellence WILL be hard work (if it is not then there is room to try harder) but it WILL pay dividends. Not only will your relationship improve massively but as each new improvement comes along you will be spurred on and motivated to continue. It is a gift that keeps on giving – to you and to them.


#5 Rule of Scouting- be prepared!

March 26, 2008 at 9:42 pm | Posted in Rules of Engagement | Leave a comment
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If there is one group of people that have possibly the greatest power to push adults to the brink of insanity, it is teens. They are persistent, they are stubborn and they can seem so cock sure of themselves. They know how to press your buttons- they know how to make you scream, they know how to make you crumple in defeat. They can play you better than Roger Federer plays tennis, and they won’t be as mild mannered about it either! Teenagers are experts on how to bring the worst out of their parents or professionals, particularly when it serves their ends.

So when you are trying to change some aspect of their behaviour do not go in there expecting it to be a breeze. Do that and you will get a rude surprise when you discover yourself in the middle of a hurricane. Instead you need to take the time to think about what you want to achieve and how you are going to achieve it. You need to go in there with a strategy, a plan of campaign. You need to have thought of every possible response you are going to get from your teen and have a counter-strategy.

For example, if your teen is staying out way too late and you want to get them to come in earlier you need to follow this formula, which applies to all issues:

  1. Define your goal– what time do you want them in by at the latest? If you are woolly with your teen then you can be sure that they will stretch the wool until there is enough to make a sweater. Be clear.
  2. Know what the consequences of non-compliance will be. You will need to have a range- the one that you think will work, may not ultimately. Obviously as a first stop on trying to sort this out you may not need to make threats and consequences, it may only need a conversation. However the next level is when you are having to dig your heels in, and this is when a consequence that is going to bother them needs to kick in. If they get allowance / pocket money, then dock that if they don’t come home on time. However if they are not money-motivated then this will not work. You know your child, you know what is going to hit them where it hurts.
  3. Be consistent. If you make a threat about what the consequences will be if they do not comply then you MUST MUST MUST be true to your word. If not then you might as well throw out your doormat and lay yourself down in the hall so that they can wipe their feet all over you. They will not take you seriously if you do not follow through.
  4. Be persistent. They may well come home late for the rest of the week, but they are just testing whether you mean what you say regarding consequences. If they realise you mean business then they are not going to persist. The base line principle is that you have to be more persistent than they are. This is tiring, it can send you nearly loopy but it will work.
  5. Adapt. If you are being persistent and consistent but are not getting anywhere, then consider whether you have got the consequence right. If they don’t care for the consequence then the incentive to do what you want them to is limited. Think of it this way, if you knew that every single time you ate chocolate that your skin turned green and stayed that way for a week, then you wouldn’t do it. However if every single time you got a small little green spot on your left buttock then you’d probably keep eating! It’s all about impact. What is the impact of your consequence going to be on your child? It may be that you need to up the ante. Have a back up plan in case your original one does not work out.
  6. Stay calm. When enforcing your consequences, do not blow your top- they won’t listen. Be calm but firm. If your teen sees that you adopting this technique is paining you, then they are going to be thinking that the longer they test you for, the more likely you are to crack and give in and they will keep on testing you! So you need to go into this all with a plan as to how you are going to keep yourself calm. This might mean not addressing the fact that they waltzed in at the dead of night until the following morning when you are in a better frame of mind. It might mean that instead of sitting there stewing while waiting for them to come in, that you do something that relaxes you, like having a good read in the bath. Fair enough, you might not be as relaxed as you would usually be after such an activity, but at least you will be more relaxed than you would otherwise have been.
  7. Think through what buttons they will try and press and have strategies to resist! For example, does your teen play the guilt card (“you just don’t understand. If you realised how stressed I am then you’d let me spend more time with my friends”), or the mega tantrum card (“If I go around your living room and smash your favourite vase then you’ll know that I not going to give in and will do what the hell I want”) . Again, you know your kid, think through what their likely responses are and have a counter-strategy
  8. Don’t let your guard down too soon! Their is a particular breed of teenager that will play the compliant one, but only for a limited time before reverting to previous behaviour. They might be compliant from the beginning and wait until you are not really paying any attention, and start doing the same thing again, often behind your back. On the other hand you might have had to go through the process above, finally think you have cracked the problem, let your guard down and then they revert. In which case you need to be clear, consistent and persistent with your consequences at once, or again they will think you are a walkover. Usually the return to old behaviour will happen fairly soon after you think you have cracked it, so keep your radar on for the first few weeks at least. This is fair enough and is all about establishing trust over this particular issue. However if they have earned your trust and you are still prowling around months later, then they may come to resent you and will rebel.

Teens test you for a number of reasons. First, to see if by being difficult you will give up so they can carry on as before and second, to see if you care. Very difficult teens who have had very difficult experiences in life will often test parents, carers and professionals to the absolute limits because they don’t actually believe that anybody really cares about them. They are expecting you to give up on them so they test you to see how much you care. If you follow the steps above however, then that young person will know that you care, else why would you bother? Why would you persist? It may take a long time for the most difficult teens but if you follow the formula it does work.

It will be tough and it does take effort. If we enforce these boundaries / changes in behaviour it shows that we want the best for our teens and they will eventually see that. It is when there are no boundaries that a young person will feel unloved. No greater love was there than this, that a parent / carer/ professional went through a challenging process to do the best for a child. If you ‘adminster’ the process well by being prepared then the more quickly and easily the benefits of the change in behaviour will be seen by all. The rough doesn’t just go with the smooth, it makes the smooth.

#3 Rule of mutual learning

March 12, 2008 at 7:32 pm | Posted in Rules of Engagement | Leave a comment
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This may come as a shock, but you don’t know everything. It will undoubtedly come as a shock to most teens that they don’t know everything too. How many times have we heard the old rhetorical when speaking to teens about something that they don’t want to talk about, “What do you know?”.

Yes as an adult you generally have the trump card on knowledge through life experience by virtue of your years but the amount of candles on your birthday cake does not mean you are the authority on every aspect of life ( even if you may be the authority on how to put out a small fire). So when engaging in a conversation with a teenager enter it in the expectation that you might learn something from them. This is the breeding ground of genuine respect- it shows you value their input and they are more likely to value yours. This is worth its weight in gold when you are trying to change someone’s behaviour for the better.

#2 Rule of Self-Preservation

March 11, 2008 at 8:58 pm | Posted in Rules of Engagement | Leave a comment
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You can’t look after the needs of others without looking after your own; you can’t give what you do not have.

If you are trying to effect change in any young person’s life or just to merely connect with them, then you need to be going into that relationship with your own tank as full as it can be. That way you can give them more energy and you will be more motivated, which translates into a feeling in the young person that you care. (For the importance of this see Rule of Neutrality).

It also means that you have the energy to deal with any challenging behaviour or general difficulties in a more “Can do”, calm and measured manner. You have to be able to deal with life’s stresses in a way that we would like our teens to. There is no point encouraging a young person to have a more ‘can do’ positive attitude if every time things don’t go to plan we descend into negativity and become a doom-and-gloom merchant. You are a role model- what you do says so much more than what you say. You have to practise what you preach.

The reality of being a parent, or working with teens (or even both!), and also having to deal with everything else in life is that often we will feel like we are running on empty. And perversely it is when we are feeling like this, that we will actually try and avoid doing the things that will make us feel more full, coming out with the reasons such as “I don’t have enough time for me”, “If I don’t do x, y and z for Tom, Dick and Stanley then the world will surely end”.

But this is plain and simply a false economy. Yes you might be doing x, y and z but if you are running on empty you won’t be doing the best job you can, you will be taking longer and will be inefficient, and when time is often our biggest enemy, inefficiency is something we cannot afford. Even worse, you are more likely to behave in front of teens in a way that damages rather than improves relationships – snap at them when they ask you something, or not take the time to really listen to them.

Going back to being a role model- don’t we want the best for our kids or the kids that we work with? Well then what better gift could we give them than teaching them to be their own petrol / gas station.

So how do you practically make sure that your tank is as full as it can be? It’s called quality ‘me’ time. For different people that means different things. For some it is going for walk in the country, for others it is lying in bed with a good book, for some engaging in some form of creative activity, or just regular exercise. It is time when we can be ourselves without the external (sometimes gale) forces of life being at the front of our minds. It is moments of escapism.

It is also about getting re-motivated, getting back to the roots of why you do what you do. So often we can get blown off-course and distracted by the minutiae of life and work and miss the bigger picture. In a parenting relationship this can mean taking time to think about why you care about how your child behaves- you want them to be the best they can be, you unconditionally love them etc. In a working context this means going on conferences and attending training, which sometimes in itself can be a fight with management. Argue for it along the lines of ‘personal development is professional development’, bringing up all the points in this post.

Look after yourself, others depend on it.

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