Are You Sending Mixed Messages to Your Child or Teen?

We all want to raise responsible children, but many parents often send mixed messages to their child or teen. This creates confusion about what the expected behaviors and actions really are. The misunderstanding occurs because what the parent says to do and what the parent actually does are quite different.

One of the keys to effective parenting is to know the difference between implicit and explicit modeling and how you do both each day. The fact is that parents are the first teachers. Parents are always modeling how to behave. What are you modeling and are you sending mixed messages?

Examples of Mixed Messages

The following examples from the book Parenting Without Stress demonstrate the difference between explicit and implicit modeling.

  1. Tickets for a movie theater are more expensive for a thirteen-year-old than for a twelve-year-old. The parent wants to save money, so the parent tells the thirteen-year-old daughter to state her age as twelve. The EXPLICIT message is that saving money is desirable; however, the IMPLICIT message is that being dishonest is acceptable.
  2. A parent has told their teen child that it’s okay to tell them anything. So the teenager tells the parent, “I’m going out tonight; I may be late and I may drink at the party.” The parent says, “You’re grounded! I’m not going to let you go if you do that.” The EXPLICIT message to the teen was very clear; yet, so was the reaction to the message: “I’m not going to tell my parents anything anymore. Being candid and open doesn’t work.”
  3. Here is another instance of the parent sending one message, but the interpretation or implicit message is quite different than what the parent intended: The eighteen-year-old calls her parent and says that she drank a little too much at the party and that she wants to be picked up. This is the responsible thing to do. However, the parent becomes angry with the daughter. On the drive home the parent relentlessly chastises her daughter whose self-talk quickly becomes, “I’m not going to tell my mother next time.”

Stop the Confusion

Here is the point of all these examples: Effective parenting involves reflecting on the implicit message the statement prompts. When your words and actions don’t align, you are sending mixed messages that only serve to confuse the child at best and totally shut down communication at worst.

Tip: Remember the old saying, “Practice what you preach.” Your explicit and implicit messages must match. That’s the only way to truly model responsible behavior.