Dear Dr. Wes and Katie: I have a 17-year-old son and a 14-year-old daughter. Both are good kids. No drugs, drinking, bullying, etc.
I struggle, however, with respect from them. I find myself nagging at them because I ask them once to do something and then they don’t do it, and then I get ugly with them because I have to repeat it.
Katie: My parents also have a 17-year-old (me) and a 14-year-old (my brother), and I’m sure they can sympathize. I’ll be the first to admit that I never clean my room before my mother’s fourth or fifth supplication. I can write with confidence that my brother waits until about the 10th asking.
Without endorsing teenage laziness, I will try to explain it. As teens undergo the physical, emotional and social renovations that are the sources of so many Double Take topics, it becomes difficult for them to concern themselves with others’ struggles. To their young eyes, their own problems often look like tsunamis compared with the afternoon drizzles of their friends and family.
I’m not saying that teenagers are inherently selfish. I am continually impressed by the caring and generosity I see among my peers. However, adolescence is supposed to be the transformation of self-centered, carefree children into empathetic, responsible adults.
Those mature qualities may not yet be fully developed in 14- and 17-year-olds. I doubt their behavior stems from a lack of respect for you — but that doesn’t mean they aren’t being disrespectful by neglecting to help you.
Teachers can attest to the aggravation of having to replay directions like an iPod on repeat. Many can also speak to the long-term ineffectiveness of nagging, which only leads to irritation in both the nagger and the nagged.
Just as students involve themselves more in classes they find interesting, teens are more likely to perform tasks if they can see their importance.
To convince your children that parental orders aren’t arbitrary, try phrasing them as cooperative rather than dictatorial instructions. Feeling respected can motivate teens to contribute respect and effort in return.
On that note, I’m off to tidy up my room before my parents get a chance to read today’s column. There’s nothing like Double Take to unearth my teenage guilt.
Dr. Wes: This issue is never about respect. In fact, teenagers aren’t even wired to be respectful. Some seem more so than others, but in general, Katie is right — they’re too caught up in teenager things to think about respect.
By the way, what passed for respect in earlier generations was actually a fear of violent retribution. Nobody respects anyone who hits him or her.
A while back, someone came up with a really bad word for the tried-and-true reward system that gets kids to do what you want them to do. They relabeled it as “bribing” kids. Thinking this way is ridiculous and has no basis in behavioral psychology.
As I am writing this, my son is doing an amazing job of cleaning my office — not because he feels a commitment to my business or wants to contribute to our family. He’s getting paid. My daughter has similar tasks.
Is this a “bribe?” If so, then clients must “bribe” me to see them. I “bribe” the grocery store to give me food, and I “bribe” my associate Adrian and my office manager Carrie to work for me.
I do not give my kids much. I give them lots of chances to earn money and let them buy things themselves. They do get to travel with me, we buy them food and clothes, and they each get a Christmas and birthday gift.
I do very little nagging. I simply say, “Do your job or I’ll give it to someone else.”
I encourage all my clients to go this route when it comes to kids, money and chores. Stick with this system tenaciously, and instead of having spoiled consumer kids, you’ll get teens who understand that money doesn’t flow out of an ATM at the whim of a magic plastic card.
Finally, if your kids are as well behaved as you say, I’d suggest you do a victory lap rather than get so worried about chores. There’s no correlation between how kids handle their laundry and their strength of character as adults. And in the end, that’s what really matters in parenting: character.