Tyler Jacobson offers alternatives to ‘helicopter parenting’ troubled teens.
Sometimes teens go from normal teenage angst to troubled teen in the blink of an eye leaving us parents shell shocked and wondering what to do next. In this situation one of the normal reactions is to become a ‘helicopter’ parent who has to know every small detail of their teen’s life. As normal as a reaction as it is, once a teen reaches the troubled stage it can also be the wrong reaction. Suddenly asserting yourself into your troubled teen’s affairs rarely produces a well-behaved teen.
Unfortunately ‘helicoptering’ at this stage is generally received as negative pressure by your teen. Stop. Breathe. Use a different approach. Parenting troubled teens is work. Roll up your sleeves and do your research. You’re reading this article and that’s a good start.
If Helicoptering Is A Bad Idea—Then What?
The best thing you can do is investigate the cutting edge techniques for dealing with your teen’s specific issues. Too many parents jump to sending their troubled teens to therapeutic boarding schools without first trying to learn different parenting techniques. Maybe you have raised other children successfully, so you think what you have done in the past will work with this kid. Not so. Troubled teens are different, so your parenting techniques need to adjust.
Get Creative With Your Normal Routine
Having regular meals with your family can be a great way to bond, but can backfire if you try to ‘helicopter’/force a rebellious teen to be home by 6:00 every night for dinner. Instead, try to make dinnertime interesting and interactive. Food theme nights, such as ‘French’ or ‘Thai’ might bring new flavors to the table, and you can use the new flavors as an opportunity to have a discussion about the specific cultures. Maybe you could even have your teen help look up recipes, shop for ingredients, and prepare the food. This gives you a way to connect and engage your teen without ever bringing up their issues or rebellion.
If food themes aren’t your style, maybe Saturday night becomes ‘family movie night’; or, Sunday’s are days for nature walks. Whatever you decide, build-in opportunities for you to engage your teen about the activity. Using these creative ideas will help you establish or strengthen a connection with your teen.
The truth is it is impossible for you to hover over your teenager at all times so the alternative has to be picking good times and making them count. Of course, you should ask your teen to check in regularly and be OK fluttering on the sidelines, rather than ‘helicoptering’ right over them.
Turn Your Helicoptering Into A Squadron
One of the hard truths of parenting is sometimes we are not going to be the one to reach our troubled teen. The more we chase after them or try to force the issue the more they will shut down and rebel. If this is the state of your relationship with your teen, step back. Maybe a grandparent or uncle or aunt has a strong relationship with your child, if so call them in for support. That relative might be able to reach your teen in a way you cannot. It doesn’t mean you have failed. Think back to your own relationship with your parents. Were they ever right? Not usually, right? So do not take offense here. Instead, use a squadron of support to keep tabs on your teen – teachers, clergy, school, or private counselors can be great members of your fleet. It is OK to need and ask for extra help. Remember, parenting troubled teens is an extra challenge.
Clear, Concise, Consistent
If you have to pick three words to keep you on track as you are learning how to parent your troubled teen let them be: clear, concise, and consistent.
- Be Clear – As you are setting rules, make them clear such as ‘no cell phones at the dinner table’.
- Be concise – For example, if the rule you want to set is ‘no swearing’, then don’t allow certain words and make it clear what those words are.
- Be consistent – If you make a rule such as ‘if you swear, you lose your phone for two hours’, then you must follow through. The more complex you make the rules, the fewer opportunities you are giving your troubled teen to test your limits. Troubled teens love to push boundaries, so following clear, concise, consistent rules gives them much needed structure while giving them less to rebel against.
Helicopter parenting is really perfection in disguise. It is an impossible standard to hold yourself or your teen to. Step back for just a second and ask yourself, “What is this kid going to do when I am no longer hovering over him?” If your teen has not learned how to pilot his own life he is eventually going to crash into the adult world when you are not there to help. It is OK to release control just a little bit. It is also OK to ask for help. Creative engagement and clear, concise, consistent rules and consequences set your teen up for a great solo flight, and for the life they will one day pilot solo.
photo: Flickr/Idaho Air National Guard
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