The strong-willed adolescent

Only last week 2500 teens "crashed" a party given in my neighborhood, strewing beer cans and broken glass up and down the block. When the Chief of Police was asked why he didn't break up the disturbance, he replied, (to my recollection):

"What were we to do? There were twenty-four policemen against 2500 kids. We made a few arrests, but each student seized had to be escorted to the station by two men. It was just not feasible to control the entire mob. Furthermore, it is not illegal to stand in a crowd of young people. Before taking any action, we had to witness a specific offense being committed there in the dark, and then catch the particular person responsible. The rest of the crowd considered policemen to be enemies, of course, and interfered with the apprehensions. All in all, it was an impossible assignment."

If policemen are unable to control teens today, then parents are in an even more delicate position.

Unless their sons and daughters have an inner tug toward cooperation and responsibility, the situation can get bloody very quickly. But where does that voice of restraint originate? It has been my contention that the early years of childhood are vital to the establishment of respect between generations. This . . . in effect, is devoted to helping parents of strong-willed children create a relationship of love and control during the preteen years that will contribute toward adolescent sanity. Without that foundation -- without a touch of awe in the child's perception of his parent -- then the balance of power and control is definitely shifted toward the younger combatant. I would be doing a disservice to my readers if I implied otherwise.

On the other hand, we must do the best job we can during the teen years, even if that foundation has not been laid.

Our avowed purpose in that situation is to prevent the emerging adult from making costly errors with lifetime implications, including drug addictions, disastrous early marriage, pregnancy, school failure, alcoholism, etc. There may be occasions when these serious threats require a radical response by mothers and fathers.

My parents were once in that position. When I was sixteen years old, I began to play some "games" which they viewed with alarm. I had not yet crossed the line into all-out rebellion, but I was definitely leaning in that direction. My father was a minister who was traveling consistently during that time, and when my mother informed him of my sudden defiance, he reacted decisively.

He cancelled his three-year speaking schedule and accepted a pastoral assignment which permitted him to be home with me for my last two years in high school. He sold our home and moved the family seven hundred miles south to give me a fresh environment, new friends, and the opportunity to hunt and fish. I didn't know that I had motivated this relocation, but now I understand my parents' reasoning and appreciate their caring enough to sacrifice their home, job, friends, and personal desires, just for my welfare. This was one way they revealed their love for me at a critical stage of my development.

The story does not end there, of course. It was difficult making new friends in a strange high school at the beginning of my junior year. . . . My mother sensed this feeling of friendlessness and in her characteristic way, was "hurting" with me. One day after we had been in the new community for about two weeks, she took my hand and pressed a piece of paper into the palm. She looked in my eyes and said, "This is for you. . . . Just take it and use it for anything you want . . . ."

I unfolded the "paper," which turned out to be a twenty-dollar bill. It was money that my mother and father didn't have, considering the cost of the move and the small salary my dad was to be paid. But no matter. I stood at the top of their list of priorities during those stormy days. We all know that money won't buy friends and twenty dollars (even then) did not change my life significantly. Nevertheless, my mother used that method of saying to me, "I feel what you feel; I know it's difficult right now, but I'm your friend and I want to help." Every troubled teen should be so fortunate as to have parents who are still pulling for him and praying for him and feeling for him, even when he has become most unlovable.

In summary, . . . parents should be willing to take whatever corrective action is required, but to avoid nagging, moaning, groaning, and growling when possible.

Anger does not motivate teenagers! How foolish it is, for example, for the vice principal of Kamakaze High School to stand screaming in the parking lot as students roar past in their cars. He can solve the speeding problem once and for all by placing a bump in the road which will tear the wheels off their love-buggies if they ignore its sinister presence. In Russia, by the way, students who are convicted of taking drugs are placed at the end of a waiting list to obtain cars. This policy has had a remarkable impact on the unpopularity of narcotics there, I'm told. These two illustrations contain the key to adolescent discipline, if in fact one exists. It involves the manipulation of circumstances, whatever they may be, to influence the behavior of youngsters, combined with an appeal to love and reason and cooperation and compromise. It ain't much, as they say, but it's all we've got.

Taken from The Strong-Willed Child, by Dr. James Dobson, © Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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