Our world is a confusing place for kids. Nearly every day, our sons and daughters are confronted by some form of bullying, disrespect and a complete disregard for authority. These conflicting elements create an environment that makes it tough for teens to be kind. It’s hard to be gentle and meek when you’re constantly fighting against cultural trends and peer pressure.
If you’re like me, you can still remember bad stuff that happened from your teen years. I was bullied by a group of guys, and whenever the projector of my memory rolls the film on those ugly encounters, I still get emotionally wrapped up with anger.
As a parent, you might be the only authority in your child’s life to model how to engage in kindness.
Good parenting requires weaning our kids away from their childish dependence on us. It’s a long process of gradually taking away the creature comforts we once provided in order to force our teen to begin operating independently from us. Whether it’s drawing boundaries for them or coming to their rescue when something goes wrong, as they grow older, we need to employ an intentional plan for creating autonomy.
But when it comes to bullying, we need to take an active role of both protecting our teens and helping them understand the power of kindness and respect.
People in today’s society respond differently to failure than people have in previous generations. One reason is because we have greater access to information now than ever before. Technological advancement can be a good thing, but in this regard, it tends to be used for bad things. When someone fails, whether that’s a friend, a politician, an actor, or someone else, failure is instantaneously broadcasted over the World Wide Web. Any misstep, miscue, or hiccup can go viral in just a matter of seconds. Facebook alone allows for one negative comment to be shared with pretty much everyone in your social circle. This can be devastating for teens, and can cause them to lash out in a similar manner.
The benefit of these methods of communication, though, is that the same can happen with positive comments. As parents, we have the power to teach our teens how to show kindness in all of their interactions – both online and in person. The best place to start with this is in our home. Mom, dad, are you treating one another with love and respect? How are you showing kindness to the neighbors and others in your community? How are you treating your kids when they come home from school?
When your teen comes home from school and lashes out at you, it’s generally not disrespect. It’s spillover from their awful day because our kids don’t have a coping mechanism for what they experience on campus. When they show frustration, the best way to respond is with respect. Instead of shooting them down and correcting their actions, ask them to put words to their feelings. The biggest mistake we can make as a parent is to somehow telegraph to our teen some form of shame for the way they feel. We cannot change their feelings. Feelings are feelings.
If your teen rolls his eyes at you, ask him if you did something that caused frustration. Start a dialogue. Find out what motivated your child to do something disrespectful, and in doing so, you will accomplish two things. First, you will identify the root of the frustration, and second, you will model how to deal with conflict and frustration.
This doesn’t mean you are okay with your child showing you disrespect. I’m not saying you need to become a doormat for your child’s vitriol. I’m suggesting that you take a deep breath and try to drill down to the root of the problem without letting your own emotions escalate to a point where you cannot have a meaningful exchange with your child.
By showing genuine interest in the cause of their angst, you are surprising your teen with kindness and modeling how to have an adult conversation. Teens won’t expect you to move closer to them when they act disrespectful to you. They will expect your relationship to weaken. But when you engage them in relationship by talking calmly with them, you continue the opportunities to teach them kindness by showing them kindness.
Be prepared. When your teen finally opens up to you in a safe place, it won’t be easy to hear. Parenting teens is rarely a tidy process and usually a messy one.
If they blew up and showed disrespect to you, all that pent up emotion came from somewhere. When you successfully open up the lines of communication, your teen will take advantage of that open door in the future and they will begin to put words to their frustration. Once they get these emotions off their chest, you can objectively talk about the root cause of their disrespect, and this gives you an occasion to describe appropriate ways to show their feelings to you.
Remember, raising a child who is gentle and kind doesn’t mean we are creating a generation of wimps. Real men show respect. Real women are kind. And a mature teen should never be the recipient, nor the perpetrator, of bullying.
Our teens are heavily influenced by the culture that surrounds them every day. As parents, we have the golden opportunity to build a culture of kindness and respect in our home that will serve our teens for years to come.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids. He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.
His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.org. You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.
Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.