It takes considerable firmness and courage to quit padding the walls of a teen's life but the rewards are worth it.
00:00 A mother describes her angry, rebellious, victim behavior of her 17-year-old daughter.
02:00 Mom backs off when Anita attacks and acts defensively.
03:30 Why we build roads and the rules that govern them.
05:32 Describing the responsible and loving roads isn't enough if they keep driving off the "road."
06:50 What the mother can do differently.
09:48 What to do when consequences fail to change behavior.
11:40 Examples of what this mother actually did.
12:56 Consequences may be about privacy, not things.
15:00 It is important to be cool, calm, and loving when executing consequences.
16:00 Finally, success!
A Life with No Walls = Unhappiness
One day Mom called me to describe the angry, rebellious, and victimy behavior of her daughter, Anita, nearly seventeen. After Mom learned how to feel loved by other people herself, she gained the ability to begin loving and teaching her daughter. Occasionally, loving and teaching was successful, but we always have to remember that our children carry the effects of many years of being taught the WRONG ways—the unloving ways—to survive in the world—taught by US and everyone else around them.
Despite Mom’s best attempts, Anita increasingly ignored any attempt to love and teach her. In her defense, Mom had always been empty and afraid, and so Mom had tended to back off when Anita was attacking and demanding. In short, Anita had learned to be her own parent, and to boss around everybody else in the family as well. Mom—like many, if not most, parents—had established a pattern of rescuing Anita from the consequences of her behavior.
Just a few examples:
- If Anita failed to bring her homework to school, Mom would take it to school for her (mistake).
- If Anita failed to wash the dishes after dinner—essentially her only household chore—Mom would do the dishes for her.
- If Anita had a snotty attitude—a condition that has effects far worse than most parents appreciate—Mom would just write it off to a “bad mood” and say nothing.
Doing Whatever She Wants = Driving off the Road
I asked Anita’s mom, “Why do they build roads?”
“To make it easier to get from Point A to Point B.”
“Exactly,” I said. “If we go off the road, we hit trees, boulders, people, rivers, the walls of building, all kinds of stuff. We die. Other people die. In fact, roads have proven to work so well that it’s against the law in most situations to drive off them. If you even intermittently weave around on a road, the police will pull you over and give you a ticket for your errant behavior. You could even say that roads and the laws of the road are there for our happiness, yes?”
“I suppose so.”
“So are rules, and jobs, and responsibilities, and families. If we use those ‘roads’ in life the proper way, we’re much happier.
"To your credit, you have described those responsible and loving roads to Anita over and over, but so far she’s not paying attention. She keeps driving off the road, and then you just make excuses for her, or give her another car when she wrecks hers, or whatever minimizes her pain.
"In other words, she gets away with it. You even cover all the walls of the houses and developments in town with foam padding, just in case Anita decides to drive off the road. As a result, she can do whatever she wants, and the effect on her is minimal. So has no sense of responsibility, and she runs you to death as you absorb the consequences of her choices.”
Let Her Hit the Walls
“What can I do differently?”
I said, “Take off the foam. Quit protecting her. Tell me the last time she was irresponsible or unloving or anything that disturbed the peace of the people around her.”
It didn’t take Mom long to think of something, and it had happened only hours before.
Younger brother, age 8, tried to talk to Anita while she was on phone (well past hours she had been given to be ON the phone in a day). (1)
She physicially pushed him away (2), hard enough that he tripped on a backpack that Anita—ironically—had left on the floor instead of putting away in her room (3), and he fell, hitting his head on a piece of furniture. The blow opened a small gash in his scalp, and blood went everywhere. Mom tried to talk to Anita about the mistake of her being unloving, selfish, and even violent, but Anita just vigorously defended herself (4), even saying it was her brother’s fault (5) for interrupting her
I asked, “What did you do about it?”
“I took her phone away for an hour.”
Me to Mom: Good that she experienced some consequence, and the consequence fit the offense to some degree—she was on the phone, and resented interruption so much that she pushed her brother, so then she lost her phone—but (A) the consequence was so minor that it’s unlikely that she’ll learn from it. And she was (B) already past her allotted phone time, and she argued with you that she was right, so she almost certainly still believes that. In other words, she didn’t hear a thing you were trying to teach.
“What now? “
Me: “You talk to her until SHE admits how selfish it was.” All of it.
Mom tried, but only after a very long conversation could Anita admit being wrong, and even then, she only repeated what Mom said. Like a parrot, no real remorse or learning or meaning.
Let Her Hit the Walls = Experience Consequences
“What can I do?”
“Take off the foam from everything. If she wants to run into walls, let HER bleed, instead of her brother, you, and everybody else. You keep protecting her.”
Mom: “But I do give her consequences.”
“Clearly not enough, proven by results: She’s not paying attention. She’s not learning.”
So we talked about what it meant to let Anita run into the wall, instead of Mom protecting her. Sure, it’s great that we protect our children from UNNECESSARY harm—not wearing seat belt, playing ball in the road. But not smart to protect them from the consequences of the harm THEY cause. Anita chooses to run into walls. Mom needs to let her experience the natural injury that follows.
Examples of what Mom actually did:
- Mom took phone away for all day, (continued arrogance and defiance), so then two, then she sold it.
- Anita had a driver’s license test scheduled. The test was put it off a day for every TIME of attitude or failure to do jobs. It got to 111 days.
Consequences Not Working — Dig Deeper
Me: So, these consequences aren’t working. It's a waste of time. You have to find out what matters to her.
Mom: I thought it was phone. Or license.
Me: What else?
I suggested that she was probably using somebody else’s phone in her “privacy” (in her room). Mom checked, and yes, Anita was. She took the phone, even though it belonged to a friend.
She sold the car intended for Anita’s use when she got license.
She took hinges off Anita's door. (Privacy)
Then dad took over the room and Anita had to sleep on couch.
She complained that it hurt her back, so Mom put the cushions on the floor.
“Still hurts.” Laughed. No, it doesn’t. No limp, no stiffness in walking, nothing.
Took a LOT more consequences.
Anita came to Mom and snuggled. “I give up.”
Daughter described—on her own—how stupid she’d been, and that she just wanted to control everything. (It had always worked before!) She earned her privileges back, one by one, gradually.
All because mother allowed daughter to hit the wall on her own. Mom didn’t put up a wall, just quit padding the walls, or removing them everywhere daughter went.
Sometimes you have to be pretty firm in order to love and teach. Few parents have the courage, but oh, the rewards and great.