Teens and Parents

A teenager recently contacted me with the following comments:

“I am a 17 year old with ‘determined they are good at parenting’ parents. I tried to encourage my parents to read your book and they refused. So I brought up the fact that they ‘try to teach me with imposed consequences rather than contingencies.’ I was then ridiculed and belittled by my dad. (How’s that for “good parenting”?) He said that if I were mature enough I would not have said that statement. He said that consequences and contingencies are the same thing. I am now going to prove to him the difference between the two.”

I replied to the teen with the following:

The father is of the old school that the way to change behavior is through coercion, but that simply does not work with the youth of today.

The way to influence someone is to have them influence themselves. The key behind consequences is not the consequence itself; it’s who decides. If it is imposed, the imposer loses because the relationship is torn. On the other hand, if it is elicited, the person has ownership in the decision and relationships are not damaged. Of course, in this case, the father may not be concerned of how you feel about him.

A contingency sounds like, “You cannot leave until you finish your homework” vs. “Sure you can go, as soon as you finish your homework.” The former put the responsibility on the parent to check; the latter puts the responsibility where it belongs.

If you want to influence your parents, the key procedure is to ask questions that prompt them to reflect on their own thinking.