When Parenting Teens, Simplify the Game.

10/17/2016 02:46 pm ET Updated Oct 17, 2016
Successful parents establish systems for their teens so they learn to manage, embrace and navigate safely through the high sc
Successful parents establish systems for their teens so they learn to manage, embrace and navigate safely through the high school journey.

Know When to Hold'em.

Parents engage in two types of games when managing their teens: Texas Hold’em and Go Fish. The methods, like the games themselves, are vastly different and produce significantly opposite results. Before you determine which you employ (assuming you don’t already know) let’s review the basics of each.

In Texas Hold’em, there is a dealer - the dealer is life (and everything it throws at you). The players are you and your teen. Life deals you each a set of cards, and thus, the game begins. Neither of you reveal your cards, at least not at first, and the success in the game hinges on the art of bluffing, deception and showing little true emotion. In essence, it is adversarial.

Go Fish is a cooperation-based game premised on self-awareness, acknowledgement of others and forced teamwork. In order to gain pairs, you must articulate your needs, while being aware of what cards the other holds, and the other must agree to grant your requests. Each player is accruing cards commensurate with their needs, and the game is straightforward and cannot continue without honesty, awareness and communication.

The Texas Holdem Approach To Parenting.

The Texas Hold’em Approach is a rabbit hole parents should avoid at all costs. Admittedly, it’s an easy trap to fall into as both parents and teens hold cards desired by the other. Rather than utilizing transparency, families all too often embrace the antagonistic elements of holding cards from each other. Teens withhold desired behaviors and outcomes like good grades, making curfew or eating with the family until they get what they want. Teens bluff their parents in order to acquire keys to the car, an allowance or permission to stay home from school in lieu of taking an exam. Similarly, parents inherently hold cards like money, access and permission from their teens. Parents hide and shield these cards until they can get what they want from their teen. This approach is emotionally taxing, functions only within short-term thinking and is difficult to sustain. The ambiguity of The Texas Hold’em Approach is detrimental: it heightens anxiety, elevates dishonesty and reinforces tension between parent and child.

The Go Fish Approach To Parenting.

Managing teens is more successful within The Go Fish Approach. So...what is it? That question is easiest answered by addressing what it is not. This approach is not checking grades online. It is not issuing (idle) threats while promptly emailing teachers. It is not scheduling an appointment with a tutor. These are logistics. These are temporary fixes. These are reactions. They have their place within the framework of the approach - but they are not the approach. The primary premise of The Go Fish Approach is: complete this behavior, get that reward, and vice versa. Teens thrive when they feel heard, know their expectations and have concrete boundaries.

Benefits of The Go Fish Approach.

The Go Fish Approach begins at the kitchen table with consistent and casual conversations. It hinges on getting to know your teen, which makes the inevitable difficult conversations more accessible. This approach is an investment of your time and a test of your patience. Remember: invest in the process, not the product. Facetime is not just a thing on your iPad, it is an integral part of raising a teen. The approach invests in time over money, experiences over things and sweat equity in the form of consistent, face-to-face, discussions. The approach helps your teen self-identify purpose, refine morals, and reintroduces them to your family’s expectations. Each of you will show your cards utilizing transparency and self-advocacy. This foundation will only develop by talking with your teen and not at your teen. It integrates the establishment of specific goals, action plans within the framework of their self-identified purpose, while incorporating consistent and reasonable accountability measures. Both the parent and the child have a shared understanding of the others’ needs and expectations.

Maintaining Accountability.

So how do you hold your teen accountable? Short answer: not grades. The Go Fish Approach doesn’t focus on the end product, it emphasizes the process. When teens work consciously and morally through the process, the product will succeed. Accountability tracks the process. Is your child living up to their self-identified purpose through their actions? Are they being moral in their actions? Are they respecting your family’s expectations? There is no mystery in this format. It is clear that if they expect something, it must be earned through actions. The approach alleviates surprises; it is unemotional in the sense that emotions are not suppressed; they have already been communicated, sorted out, debated, agreed upon or at the very least, articulated by all parties. Accountability is measured by process; consequences can be issued through the process if needed. A notable caution: implement reasonable consequences, compatible with the error in process. Over the top consequences interfere with process completion. It is a process game where teens work for rewards. This clarity eliminates ambiguity and loopholes.

Keep it Simple.

Successful parents establish systems for their teens so they learn to manage, embrace and navigate safely through the high school journey. Teens who come from successful parenting environments can be quickly identified by their personification of purpose, moral compass and actions. Recognition should be given to teens based on their efforts within the process and not just the product. Our collective goal is to help teens understand who they are, who they wish to become, and that life is a journey, not a destination.

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