“A monster. You and your friends, all of you. Pretty monsters. It’s a stage all girls go through. If you’re lucky you get through it without doing any permanent damage to yourself or anyone else.”
“Adolescents are not monsters. They are just people trying to learn how to make it among the adults in the world, who are probably not so sure themselves.”~Virginia Satir
My Dear Readers,
The above quotes represent two different mental approaches when it comes to parenting adolescents. Adolescence is the stage in which the child no longer views him or herself as a child. In their still-developing minds, the wisdom of the parent is now meaningless in comparison with their friends.
Adolescence may be a time for teenagerst o to separate from their parents and find their individual selves, but for the parent, it may be a time of trauma and drama. For parents, this is the recognition that a stranger, in the form of their child, has come into their household.
To all parents regarding all of the above: This too shall pass. You will survive.
Below is such a story……..
Dear Dr. Kane:
I am a single African-American woman with two children, one 8 years old, and my 15-year old daughter. Simply put, the 15-year old is lazy. I simply can’t get her to do anything.
We’ve just moved into a new house. Before the move, we lived in a small apartment for 18 months, and she had to sleep in a space the size of a closet. Now she has a huge spacious room with her own bathroom. You would think that she would be grateful for that to at least move her own stuff into it, but here we are, my boyfriend and I, huffing, puffing and sweating while we move boxes, and what is she doing? Sitting comfortably on the couch talking to her girlfriends on her cellphone!
What the hell is wrong with young people today? She sees us working hard, so why do I have to tell her to help us move her stuff? I don’t have to inform her when it is time to get her hair done every two weeks, or to remind her that it’s time for soccer practice. So, when these things happen, I become the female version of the Hulk, yelling, screaming etc. Oh yeah, I got her attention. And she has the #@#*@ nerve to have an attitude?
So, as punishment I tell her that she has to catch the bus this year, and that there will be no school shopping for clothes. The tears began to flow, she starts pleading and promising to be more attentive. I eventually gave in, took her to soccer practice, and afterwards, we went school shopping.
My boyfriend and my friends get on me for either always letting her off the hook or changing on the punishment. I know I shouldn’t do that, but I feel so guilty. I want her to have the life that my mother, who was also a single parent, was unable to provide for me.
My daughter does well in school and outside of being lazy and selfish, she is a good girl. However, I am worried about helping my daughter to become an independent, capable, self-secure, and functioning black woman and a contributing member of society. I feel guilty that her father is not involved. To make up for this loss, I have attempted to become friends with my daughter and give her breaks. Have I created a spoiled brat? I know that my strategy is not working. Do you have any advice for me?
Frazzled in Seattle
My Dear Woman,
First I want to congratulate you on your journey. It is clear that you have worked hard to create a good life for your family. I see the conflict that you are dealing with.
Believe it or not, the conflict I see has nothing to do with the interaction between you and your daughter. I am referring to the internal conflict that lies within you as a person, not you as a parent.
Psychologically speaking, conflict can be defined as a condition where a person experiences a clash of opposing wishes or needs. It is clear that the wishes you may have regarding making sure that your daughter has the lifestyle you didn’t is in direct opposition with your need to prepare your daughter to enter the world as a capable, functioning black woman, and that is what is leaving you “frazzled.”
To assist you in this endeavor, I would suggest a model I have created for influencing adolescent development on the way to early adulthood. The model, R.A.C.E. (responsibility, accountability, consequences and empowerment) are responses to the various “jump off points” from adolescence to adulthood.
The breakdown of the model is as follows:
- Responsibility– to obtain reasonable steps of freedom and independence, the adolescent must want to accept the burden of being responsible for one’s behaviors and actions.
- Accountability-the adolescent, and no one else, will be held to account for their behaviors and actions.
- Consequences are responses to, not punishments for, the actions/behaviors taken or in other situations, not taken.
- Empowerment-comes from within the individual. It is up to the individual to set one’s direction and work towards reaching their goals.
However, this model and these strategies are meaningless if the parental figure is not willing to show their adolescent the commitment, consistency, communications and community necessary to prepare them for adulthood and becoming a contributing member of society. Specifically, the parental figure must show:
- Commitment to the identified strategies
- Consistency during times of parental duress
- Communications as to the openness in words and actions taken
- Community of fellowship as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals.
It is a reality that parents want their adolescents to consciously show positive behavior. However, it is also a reality that adolescents consciously and unconsciously model the behaviors of their parental figures. Are you, as a parent, willing to accept the fact that your own actions and behaviors are a factor in your daughter’s unacceptable behaviors?
- What is your daughter learning when you don’t follow through with appropriate discipline?
- Response-She learns she can manipulate through whining and complaining.
- What does your daughter learn when you don’t follow through with agreements you have made?
- Response-She learns that keeping her word and commitments mean nothing. Furthermore, she will stop trusting you and terminate honest communication, which is an important part of staying involved in your adolescent’s life.
- What does your daughter learn when she is rewarded fancy clothes, social activities and financial resources when she has not contributed to the well-being of herself or of her family?
- Response-She learns to become a dependent, incapable, nonfunctioning, insecure black woman who is unable to become a contributing member of society.
My Dear Woman,
I want to conclude with responding to your question, i.e. “Have I created a spoiled brat?” A brat is usually defined as a humorous term for a child, typically a badly behaved one.
Given this definition, no, you have not created a spoiled brat. Your daughter is past the developmental stage of child where such behavior is either laughed at or tolerated. As parents, it is not our role to becomes friends with our adolescents. It is our responsibility to set standards, provide structure; guidance and a foundation from which they can be catapulted into adulthood. The parental role is similar to that of a therapist in that we seek to create a safe place for others to explore, find themselves and achieve self-discovery. We can be friendly, and yet, we must not be friends.
Once parents and therapists cross that boundary line, they lose perspective on the objective, which is to assist our children in becoming functioning members of the society and world that they are about to inherit. Our young people need the opportunity to make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes. This is the essence of adolescence.
It is unfortunate that her father has decided to not be a part of your daughter’s life. There is a saying in the African-American community,
“It is what it is and it ain’t what it ain’t.”
What this means is you “is” her mother and you “ain’t” her father. Understanding this, you cannot replace him, nor can you ease the pain she feels. As her parent, however (and not her friend), you can be supportive by honestly answering her questions about her father to the best of your ability and in being there to assist her to process the pain she will no doubt have.
In approximately 4-5 years, your daughter will leave home, hopefully attend college, and in doing so, enter the adult world. You are now on the clock and time waits for no one. Please take the opportunity to consider the questions and utilize the model that has been provided. You can achieve your objective of assisting your daughter to be to an independent, capable, functioning secured black woman and a contributing member of society. However, the time to parent is now.
“A wise person learns from his/her mistakes, makes corrections and finds the right path; the foolish one will continue without direction, never finding the road even when it is in front of his/her face.”
– Ten Flashes of Light on the Journey of Life
I wish you well.
Dr. Kane… The Visible Man