02/14/2013 03:24 pm ET Updated Apr 16, 2013

Relational Trauma

Of late, I'm running into more and more parents who are giving up on helping their teens understand consequences of behavior. It's almost like we have a generation of parents who are re-living their own teenage years through their students, and there's a strange dynamic infecting the DNA of the next generation.

Students are afraid to fail.

Parents are afraid to discipline.

Students are becoming more apathetic.

Parents are trying to push them to do more.

Students are trying to find places where they can be in control.

Parents are trying to figure out the difference between their elementary child and this new
-found adult living under their roof.

In my experience, there's no silver bullet to approach raising teenagers into perfect humans. After all, we're all an amalgym of mistakes walking around trying to figure out how to live life to the fullest. So the problem begs a question, "How can I push my son or daughter to care about the things that are important in life, and when should I back off?"

Lesson #1 - Learn relational economics
We've got to know how to work with our kids living under our roof, and relational economics is key. Think about how you would approach a college savings account, or a car fund, or an HSA account. The more you invest over time, the easier it is to draw money out when you need it. As your bank account grows, it becomes less painful at the moment you need the transaction to pay for whatever it is you're saving for.

Relationships are just the same. The more time you invest in your kids, the easier it is to draw from when you need to correct them. Time =Trust. The more they know you're on their side, when it's time to say things like "please come do your homework and put the X-Box away" it's an easier transaction than watching a 15-year-old do a toddler tantrum on your living room floor.

Lesson #2 - Meet them where they are

If you're kids like to play video games, ask them to teach you how. If you're kids like to play basketball, take some time to be with them on the court. If you're kids like to play on the playground, walk with them to the park. Swing on the swings. Enjoy the moments that they enjoy.

The more you meet your students in their world, the easier it is to transition from childlike behavior to adult behavior when they begin living in yours.

We can't force our students to know how to act like adults, they're not. They're kids who are learning how to survive in a great big world, and they need parents who will be dedicated to understanding them where they are.

Lesson #3 - Don't Expect More than They Can Do
Recently, I've been working on brain function in teen development, and I've found some interesting points. Post-puberty, the human brain is on a wild course of learning how to function. Synaptical connections are firing and pruning at a rapid rate, but one thing is notable. The majority of decisions a post-pubescent teenager makes travel through a part of the brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is the emotional center of the brain, meaning those decisions are based on how a student feels.

We can't expect our 13-year-olds to think logically at every occasion. They don't have the tools in the toolbox to make those decisions. So we have to make sure our responses are in accordance with the abilities they have at their disposal.

It doesn't mean we refrain from discipline, but it does mean we need to temper our response. Sometimes, a quick, angry response will draw more relational capital out of your most prized investment. Temper your parenting to understand where you kids are on their developmental journey, and you'll begin seeing an adult emerge quicker than you might otherwise.