Raising kids is not for wusses. It’s hard work.
In today’s complex social climate of media and information overload, it seems like our kids are growing up faster than ever and pushing more boundaries.
It’s normal, even important, for teenagers to push boundaries, but every kid is different. Some teenagers push back harder than others.
At Arivaca Boys Ranch we work with boys from diverse backgrounds who exhibit exceptionally challenging behavior; and we’ve seen it all!
The healing journey of our boys is not one they can do alone. Family support is vital and we have facilitated the rebuilding of parent-teenager relationships in hundreds of families. It is our priority to get struggling kids back on a path where they can lead a fulfilling, meaningful, and socially responsible life.
Our program is among the most thorough equine therapy programs for teenagers in the world, and we complement this by combining principles of Arbinger and traditional therapies. We have found that our program structure which By emphasizing these modalities, we found that our program works amazingly for struggling teenage boys.
Here are a few tips we have learned through our own research and practice of assisting boys and their families to get back to a place of trust again:
1. Be introspective; work on yourself first
Arbinger is a relationship philosophy that encourages introspection and humility. It suggests that before we can influence anyone around us in a positive way, we have to first change ourselves.
When working with a teenager who exhibits challenging behavior, our impulse may be to correct or teach them. Arbinger says that neither of these should be our first approach. We need to first look inward and assess our own “way of being”.
Being introspective in this way can be very challenging, and can sometimes make us feel guilty about ways we’ve fallen short. Rest assured, you’re in great company; we all fall short every day. But it's essential to stop and take an inventory of what’s going on inside us if we really want to be a positive influence on someone else.
Ask yourself questions like:
Why do I want my child to behave “well”? Do I want them to be “good” because it’s what’s best for them, or it’s what’s best for me?
What role have I played in creating a “difficult” child? What might I have done to contribute to these trust issues?
What kind of example has my child witnessed me set in my relationships?
How does my child see me when I correct them or approach them about something I don’t approve of?
Am I present when I am with my child, or is my mind somewhere else?
2. Spend time with your teenager
We’ve asked some of our boys at Arivaca what parents can do to help kids who struggle with oppositional behavior. Many give with a simple but poignant answer; “parents need to spend more time with their kids”.
It can be hard to spend time with a teenager. Many just want autonomy or a bit of privacy but even finding time to eat a meal with them or sit down with them while they play video games or watch TV can make a huge difference. Make yourself aware and available. Be present. When you do have time with them, try not to bring up their behavior. Try to put away any agendas and don’t ask loaded questions. Just have casual chats about casual things. Teenagers tend to be much more responsive to an informal invitation to chat, rather than an interrogation. As well, children are more likely to be open when they are allowed to speak freely.
Your priority should always be to strengthen your relationship, just for the sake of having a good relationship with your child. It can be difficult with a rebellious or defiant child, but it will greatly benefit you both, not only in the present but in the future as well.
3. Let them know you value their opinion and that you trust them
If they bring up their feelings or experiences, don’t judge, just listen. Don’t offer an opinion or advice unless they ask for it; give them space to be themselves.
Many parents can have a natural reaction to try and solve their kids' problems or to downplay a disappointment by trying to be positive. These ways of communicating come from a place of genuine love, but they don’t do much in the way of helping kids feel confident or that their parents trust them.
When they do mention a problem or issue, validate them. You can do so by saying things such as, “that sounds like a tough situation” and/or “that sounds like it was disappointing”. Affirm that you believe in their ability to work through difficult things for themselves, but remind them that you are always there for them if they need help.
4. They’re going to breach your trust, and when they do…
It’s okay. We all have a little rebellion in us; most people do not like to be told what to do. Teenagers will breach your trust and that’s part of the journey. But your relationship with them has to stay the number one priority. When they mess up, try to work with them instead of punishing them or telling them what they did wrong.
Systems of punishment and rewards are deeply embedded in our society as the cornerstone of behavior modification. It's the way many of us were raised and is our default parenting method in dealing with rebellion.
But, many studies indicate it is not an effective way of cultivating lasting, positive change. Furthermore, many teenagers resort to apathy after extended exposure. They often stop caring when we take things away or ground them. Autonomy is its own reward. If we resist, they will resist back.
At Arivaca we don’t use a system of discipline and rewards. Rather, we try to emphasize the natural consequences and rewards of certain behaviors and work to facilitate an environment where struggling adolescents can discover for themselves the kind of behavior that will grant them the life they want for themselves.
You and your child are a team. Work together and communicate how you can through the hard times, together. Try to help your teenager discover that irresponsible choices can make life more difficult and less rewarding in the long run and responsible choices often make life easier and more fulfilling.
For further reading and research on nurturing healthy relationships of trust with kids you can refer to:
Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn
The Anatomy of Peace by The Arbinger Institute