“Keep Caring” is one of the main messages of my book ‘When Good Kids To Bad Things‘. A reader raised this question: Why should care be the focus of a parent-teenager relationship rather than rules and boundaries?
Love is the tie that binds and it has to be extremely elastic to withstand the strain of living with a Good Kid Doing Bad Things. Sever the tie and all efforts to bring a kid back from bad behavior is lost.
My belief is that no matter what, you have to keep caring.
As a baby it starts with wanting to be fed and tended for tenderly. Soon baby knows to smile and light up when you and bottle or breast appear. Then once the effort to master the universe sets in, toddler wants attention and approval.
Watch this video of a toddler performing angrily when Mom is watching and telling her “I’m over here” when she walks away from him. He wants his way, but he wants Mom’s attention, proof she cares.
Bring on the teen years and life gets much more complicated. Good enough kids, with good enough parents know the caring is there and the need for approval and respect shifts from parents to the outside world. Moreover, peer respect ranks higher than any respect from any adults, let alone a parent.
Sir Michael Rutter, MD. the leading child psychiatrist of the his time, in his seminal book ‘Depression in Young Children’ noted that the caring of a teacher, a coach, even a security guard or a secretary they see for a time while they wait to see a shrink, makes a difference.
Caring is magic.
What Is a Parent To Do? Caring does not mean allowing rule violation or boundary infringement. In some circumstances a caring parent might even have a teen arrested or hosptialized or sent away. Some parents may be so ashamed that their kid is in jail, or has psychiatric problems, he or she severs all contact with the kid. Sadder are the parents who just get tired and fed up and dump their kid. All of the above behaviors are like cutting a scubba diver’s life line. These mught be good parents doing bad things or they might be bad parents. Just as a few kids have been so damanged by life, they warrent the label bad kid, the same holds true for some parents.
But if you are reading this you still care. So make it clear that you do. Make it also clear you will not support a law breaker, you will not live with someone who won’t abide by your rules. The most extreme example are kids who are placed away from home. Then you show you care by writing, by telephoning, by small gifts, by visits.
Now some kids will continue with blaming you for all their problems and trying to get you to act like a bad guy. These are Gotcha Warriors. Go to this Wikihow for a quick introduction to what that means and how to win a Gotcha War. You are entitled to hang up on a kid who starts cursing you. Try to use a line I leaned from my Gotcha Warriors. “I care, but not for abuse. Will talk to you later.” Then call again and no matter how often you have to hang up keep calling and writing and doing anything else that says you care and keeps the boundaries clear.