Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Smart Aleck Kids
Teenagers that roll their eyes, make snide remarks and always have to answer back to their parents are, believe it or not, looking for a strong example of a parent to look up to. They may not be balking at your firm hand of discipline as much as the fact that they feel unsure of your authority. Parents can give very conflicting messages: "I have slept around with a lot of guys, your father was a loser just like your brother's father, but don't you dare go out to that party with those boys tonight!" Or the mom who is always trying to cut corners at work, gossips constantly about her boss and her neighbors, eats like a slob and shouts at her son, "What kind of grades are these? All you do is text your friends and your homework is a mess!" If you've ignored their emotional needs, sent them off to school for others to teach and raise, had no time to invest in shaping their lives as they've grown, you've created your own monster.
Do you want your kids to respect you? You should, for everyone's sake. But if they see that you are unstable, insecure, hypocritical and inconsistent with what you say you believe in, they feel frustrated that they don't have a mom they can rely on.
If a mom has failed at teaching her children well by example, and now has to deal with teens with a bad attitude, it's not too late to change. They will always long to have a home where they can safely rest knowing that you lead with God's wisdom, order and confidence - they'll never put that into words, but all children desire that from their patents.
First of all, face up to your own hypocrisy. Talk to them about the mistakes you've made: the promiscuity, the gossip, the lying, the selfishness, the ignorance etc. And then truly change. Show that you are not that person any more and that because of your faith in God, you will never return to that old life. Don't allow them to use your hypocritical behavior as an excuse to disrespect you. If you are sincere and show them how useless a life like that was by acting completely different than you used to, they will begin to feel a measure of respect even if they don't show it right away. If you stubbornly defend yourself, you lose.
Secondly, make it clear that any talk or behavior that cuts others down is totally unacceptable. From you all the way down to the youngest, words that are spoken to each other should be pleasant and encouraging, even when you're showing that you're unhappy with what they've done. Hateful arguments between the kids where they throw out angry words has to stop. Completely. Maybe you've always treated that as their right to "express themselves" - maybe they even learned it from you - but even if no curse words are being said, curses are still flying through all the negative, destructive things that are being said in a moment of anger. Selfishness cannot exist in your home, and apologizing should be a natural occurrence, from forgetting to take out the trash to apologizing for any unkindness. If you have taken the first step of changing and are doing it with all your heart, you have the moral authority to enforce the second step, and with punishment included for those who don't obey.
Yes, they will complain, they'll try to test the boundaries and try to throw your past in your face as if you were still the same person that you once were. But stand your ground. Reinforce to your kids that you are not that old person, that you learned your lessons and have changed by God's power, which is why everything at home needs to change too. But act swiftly every time you see that attitude of selfishness and rebellion rise up in any of them, and the punishment should be appropriate for their age and what stings the most. Spanking a 14 year old may work for some, but confiscating their cell phone might hurt even worse - or grounding, or extra chores - God will inspire you to choose what's right. And then when those bad attitudes subside, even for the moment, be sure to praise them, hug them and reward them in some way that they'll be able to see that a loving home is so much better than one in conflict.
Kids with bad attitudes developed them over time and as a reaction to the confusion of your life. It will take time to undo all of that negativity, but if done with prayer, with God's leading and with a faith that He will do the supernatural as you do your best in the natural, changes will come much sooner than you may think. The older they get, the window of opportunity narrows. Once they're adults, healing in this area becomes much harder and more complex, so don't think for a moment that they'll just outgrow it someday. Make the changes now, and have a happy home for the rest of the time you have them under your roof.