Romeo and Juliet, a Broader View, and More Experience
In the last lesson, we saw that your teen will be more accepting of your message if you can frame it in terms of a core value that they already see as important. But obviously, if your teen has been participating in this problem behavior, then they must currently feel that the behavior is in line with their core value. So, you need to show your teen that this behavior actually conflicts with it.
The way to do this is to adopt a broader view than your teen. Because, honestly, your teenager is probably right. The behavior in question probably is very likely to help them achieve this goal during the coming weeks.
Studies show that teens are very good at pursuing short-term rewards. But life is much longer than a few weeks. And the teenage brain is not very good at thinking in the long term. You can use this to your advantage.
Don’t Challenge the Values
Your goal here should be to speak in terms of your teen’s core values, not to try and change their values to something else. Getting people to shift their values is very difficult and generally takes a lot of time.
In fact, studies show that when parents challenge a teen’s values, it usually makes the teen strengthen the values even further. For example, in one study, researchers examined parental interference in teenage romantic relationships. They found that the more parents meddled and tried to break a relationship up, the more the teens doubled down on their love for each other. This effect was so strong, the authors nicknamed it the “Romeo and Juliet Effect.”
If you try to change a teen’s values, you’ll be met with major resistance. In fact, you’ll probably end up strengthening the very values you wanted to change. So, no, your goal should not be to change your teen’s values, but rather to shift their focus from the short-term manifestation of these values to a more long-term manifestation.
Shift Your Teen’s Focus
Start by communicating that you completely get why your teen is participating in the behavior. Make it clear you understand that it seems like the behavior is going to help your teen achieve their goals. But actually, in the long run, it’s going to create a setback.
Then say that, as a parent, your job is to help your teen make decisions that will be best in the long run, not just the short term. Say something like:
• I know [value] is important to you.
• It makes sense that [behavior] seems like it will help you get [value].
• And in the short term, this is 100% true.
• But my job as a parent is to protect your long-term interests.
• And [behavior] is not going to help you get [value] in the long run.
How to Handle Resistance
We’ll spend an entire lesson (#10) covering how to handle combativeness and resistance. But it’s worth taking a moment here to examine how you can specifically respond if your teen doesn’t accept this longer-term view.
Your teen might think they are smarter, more cultured, cooler, or more spiritually awakened than you. But there is one thing your teen simply can’t argue with: You have more years of life experience.
There is no way your teen can possibly refute this. So if you get resistance, say something like, “I know this might seem crazy to you. I totally get it. If I were in your shoes, I’d feel exactly the same way.”
Then play your trump card:
“But when you’ve lived as long as I have, you’ll gain a certain type of perspective. You’ll start to understand how things affect your life in the long term. And until you are a bit older, it is my job as a parent to enforce this long-range perspective, even if you can’t see it yourself.” Then simply hold firm.
Now, it is finally time to tell your teen what the new rule is going to be. But there is a very special way to do this. We’ll cover it tomorrow!
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