Am I Being Clear or Rigid?

The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 108 · Duration: 00:12:24

Am I Being Clear or Rigid?

Am I Being Clear or Rigid_

What do you do when you’re trying to get your young teenager to manage his responsibilities, but you’re being undermined and outnumbered by your wife, your mother and your sister? 

And if you have a question you’d like me to address on this podcast, come on over to my website, and enter it there today. 

And if during this month of June, your question is selected, or you leave a review of HFC on iTunes, we’ll send you a free copy of my book, Ending the Parent-Teen Control Battle. Of course, be sure to email me your address so we can get that to you.

This week we’re hearing from Johan of Maplewood, Minnesota.

Johan writes:

Our son is 14 years old and I think very immature.  He seems unable to manage responsibilities of any kind.  If we let him, he’d be playing video games and watching YouTube all the time.  He’s been diagnosed with ADHD so I understand that he can be easily distracted but honestly, everything with him is a battle.  Unless we’re on him, he won’t shower, bush his teeth, go to bed, do homework, walk the dog, pick up the dog poop.  If it were up to me, he’d have no video games or computer time at all until he accepts responsibility.

My wife, my mother and even my sister say I’m too strict and need to be more patient with him, but patience ends up just prolonging the struggle.  I think we just need to be clear, like all the parenting books say.  How can I know if I’m being clear or rigid and how can I parent with all these enabling woman undermining me?

Wow Johan, what a great question, let’s see if we can sort this out and address the distinction between clear and rigid.

Special Needs Teen Development

First, let’s talk about your wonderful young son.  Yes, he’s immature but I wouldn’t’ consider him horribly immature.  Kids grow at different rates and often ADHD kids move along more slowly on the adolescent development journey.  It sure doesn’t sound like he’s into sex and drugs, so count your blessings.  I don’t have any information about your son’s overall functioning, but if he has some nice friends, some positive activities such as playing a sport, a musical instrument, building things, etc. and is doing reasonably well although most likely inconsistently in school given his tendency to avoid homework, then I’d say things are very workable. 

Johan, how terrific it is that you have such engaged extended family in your life.  Unfortunately, that asset isn’t working exactly optimally right now.  Given the struggles and opposing approaches in your family, I’d be surprised if your son isn’t in a control battle with his parents, so if we can reduce that, things will go much better.

So for starters, how do we approach an immature 14-year-old to teach him how to be responsible?  First of all, schools, for the most part, don’t direct their expectations of students in a highly individualized way.  So if on average, 8th graders can manage their homework most of the time, then that becomes the expectation regardless of what any specific kid is ready for.  It works for kids in the middle but some kids will consider the work too easy and be able to knock it out without much effort and not be appropriately challenged, and some kids will not be able to keep track of what they’re supposed to do or be able to stay focused when doing it. 

My point is that each kid is an individual and just because they don’t fit in the average category, it shouldn’t make us think of them as immature or anything else.Click To Tweet They are themselves. And if at this stage of their development they need more structure and support than other kids, then that’s who they are and we need to accept that and let that kid know that he’s wonderful.

So clear yes, rigid will not work well with your ADHD son who isn’t ready yet to take the baton of executive function from his parents and hold it and own it on his own. 

How to Set High Standards the Right Way

Johan, you are right to be clear that doing homework, personal hygiene, walking the dog, keeping the yard picked up are in fact important functions.  And teaching them to your son is very important.  Notice I’m saying teaching them because making him do them is a setup for a control battle where you try to get him to do something and he tries to avoid, delay, resist doing it. 

How do you teach him to do those things?  Being positive, making things fun, making things routine, using celebrations and rewards, expecting that learning growing and improving will be incremental.  The main thing here is that you communicate and demonstrate belief in your son.  Having high standards, and by high standards, I mean high relative to an individual’s ability, is a good and extremely important for a person learning just how capable they really are.  And it’s terrific that you want that for your son.  But you need to support him in developing those standards.

How to Collaborate with your Family in Raising your Teen

Let’s look at the situation you’re dealing with, with your wife, mother, and sister because that is a significant barrier to moving forward in a healthy way.  Right now, it sounds like they’re on one side and you are on the other.  They think and I’m making some assumptions here, that being lenient is good and it seems to you that they are undermining high standards for your son. 

On the other hand, you want high standards yet it sounds like you’re trying to impose those standards rather than teach them.  You and they are bringing the worst out in each other. So the false narrative from the polarization between you and the chorus of women in your life is they want lenient and nice, you want strict and mean. It's not the right narrative for anyone.  How about if you drop the notion that they’re enabling him and rethink it as loving and enjoying him?  Then you don’t have to counter balance them by being harsh. Instead, you can join the positivity and bring that positivity with you as you move your son to his tasks. 

If the patterns in your family are highly entrenched, this could all be challenging but where we want to go is to get everyone moving forward with the right narrative.  The narrative that goes: our boy is himself, he is exactly who he’s supposed to be and he’s learning and growing.  We need to enjoy him and support him in doing the learning and growing he needs to do.  So instead of us being mean or nice, lenient or strict, let’s have a happy home where he learns and grows at his own pace.

The direct answer to the question of clear or rigid is as much about one’s goal and one’s tone.

Clear is about whether you understand who your son is, see him in a good light, enjoy him and expect and bring out his best and rigid would be if you impose strict expectations on a kid not yet ready to manage those expectations independently. Click To Tweet

Instead of,  "James, if I have to remind you to do your homework one more time, they’ll be no video games for a month!!"

How about, "James, if you get on your homework right now, I’ll bet we have time to play our favorite game before getting ready for bed."

Another thing Johan, do you have activities with your son that the two of you enjoy together like fishing, bike riding, building things, even gaming?  If you have these positive experiences together, you have a strong foundation for teaching your son responsibility; that way he gets that its part of a bigger picture. He matters to you and teaching him to honor high standards is part of your investment in him.

Johan, I recommend that after listening to this podcast, that you listen to it with the chorus of wonderful women in your life and see if that can move everyone in the right direction together.  If you need more help than that, get yourself and your family a therapist knowledgeable about adolescent development, the local school district and working with families.

If now through this month of June you leave a review of HFC on iTunes or your question is selected for our podcast, we’ll send you a free copy of my book, Ending the Parent-Teen Control Battle.  Be sure to email me your name and address so we can get that to you. 

And I really mean it when I say, please, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. 

Bye for now.


Have a question for Neil?

Submit it now for discussion on a future episode of The Healthy Family Connections Podcast:

Don't want to miss an episode?

Be sure to subscribe to The Healthy Family Connections Podcast on iTunes for up to date information and advice from Neil D Brown -- all for free!


Want to tell your friends about The Healthy Family Connections Podcast?

Click here to tweet your followers about The Healthy Family Connections Podcast. They will thank you!Click To Tweet

Want to start a conversation with Neil?

Drop a note in the comment section below.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Posted in The Healthy Family Connections Podcast.