Parents Universal Resource Experts – Sue Scheff – Communication with your Teenager

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Parenting Teens Tip Ten – When and how to negotiate with your teen

By Sarah Newton



Agreements are the things that, without a shadow of a doubt, have transformed in big way many of my client’s relationships with their children. They take the heat out of many situations and put you as the parent in control. This does not mean that you control your teenager, only that you can control your own self in the negotiation stage of agreements.

Agreements are the backbone to everyday life we make and break agreements daily. We agree to get our children to school on time, we agree to pay the mortgage and we agree to meet a friend for lunch. These are all things that, considering the options we have decided to agree on, we can at any time pull out of, if we so choose and although there will be consequences, some will be easier to break than others. Upsetting a friend over cancelled lunch arrangements may be easier than losing our house since we have not paid the mortgage, or losing our child’s place at school because we got them their late.

Whether you like it or not, your life is a series of agreements, some not so great as others but nevertheless, all agreements. You were not forced into any of them, you weighed up the alternatives and decided to agree, knowing the consequences and the impact that the agreement has upon you.

This is why it is so important that we start to make agreements with our children as early as we can because as I have said, life is full of them.

Think of the agreements you make everyday now and how they came about -are any of them rules that we must stick to? Are any of them forced upon us? Even the law in a way is a set of acceptable behaviour agreements; we can choose not to agree with them and break the law, knowing the penalty. We have that choice.

So what is common in our agreements?

1. We are generally involved in the process
2. We have the information we need to make a choice
3. We know the consequences of breaking them
4. We choose to accept them or not accept them.

So if this is how we operate in life, then why do we so often give our children a set of rules to adhere to? Not involve them in the process, expect them to abide by them without giving them the proper information and we certainly do not make it clear what will happen if they are broken…oh and then we scold them for not making a choice.

Does that seem right?

No it doesn’t! No wonder we can never get them to do anything.
OK, so what I want to do today is give you a system that you can use

Here are two definitions from the dictionary about the word agreement.
The act of agreeing or of coming to a mutual arrangement.
An arrangement that is accepted by all parties to a transaction.

This is not a clever way for you to instill rules or get your teenager to do something, it is a way of you all agreeing what is acceptable, since you all share the same house, bathroom, wallet

Think for a moment, how you get your children involved, how the house runs and how you ensure it runs smoothly – how are they involved in this? What do you have in place at the moment?

There are three main steps in making an agreement and they are listed below – we will go through these more in class.

Step one – Get clear

Before making any agreement, be clear what it is you want. Most parents skip this step and it is crucial, do you want her to do the washing up or do you want her to take more responsibility around the house? Having a conversation that starts, “Let’s talk about you taking more responsibility around the house,” is very different than, “I want you to do the washing up”. Whatever it is you think you want, ask what it is you really want, what is the bigger why?

Step two – Make the request

You are making a request of your teenagers, you are not telling them – they have the right to say yes, no or re-negotiate and you need to be ready for this. Ask for what you want and ask for a discussion around this. What you are doing here is opening the conversation up for negotiation.

Step three – Seal the deal

After negotiation, you must both be clear what has to be and when it has to be done. Some wishy-washy, “…yes I will do the washing up…” is not good enough.

Here is also where you need to have a discussion with your teenager about what will happen if the agreement is broken and although you may not know the exact consequences yet, there needs to be some discussion here about the possibility so that your teenager can agree, knowing exactly what they are getting into.
One important note to remember here are that you must come to an agreement with love. If you are making an agreement from fear it will not work.

OK so what do we do when an agreement is broken?
First we do not panic, you stay calm and let your child know that the agreement has been broken. You need to think about it and come up with a solution. Ask them to do the same.

Now there is not one-size-fits-all here and it will depend on the agreement, how it was broken and the reasons for the breach, so to speak.

Give yourself at least 24 hours and only after a discussion with your teenager come to a conclusion.
The first thing to do is look at the broken agreement and the circumstances and ask yourself if their is a remedy you could put in place to ensure that this does not happen again. A remedy is something you will put in place to ensure the agreement is not broken again. For example, if they just forgot about the agreement what could remind them?

Go into the agreements again with the remedy in place and see if that works.

If the agreement is broken again and it is obvious that another remedy is not the answer or the breaking of the agreement in the first place was so severe or no remedy could be found, then move into a penalty.
Now, I did think long and hard before using the word penalty, so in its broadest sense it does mean punishment. However, one of its definitions is loss or other unfortunate result of one action and for me, that definition did fit. If your child breaks an agreement, just like if you did, there will be some kind of loss or unfortunate event. If we don’t turn up for work we may get fired – loss of job. If we fail to meet a friend for lunch they may not be happy with us – an unfortunate result. Often, someone else, i.e. the school, may enforce a penalty. However there will be times when you as the parent need to step in. If this is the case, then discuss options with your teenager first and come to a solution that you are both happy with.
So there is the system for making agreements. We will talk through it in greater length on the call.
Before next week I just want you to think about agreements in the context of your own home. What do you do already? Where could an agreement support you more? What has and has not worked so far?

As everything the key to this is consistency without consistency this will never work.