Screaming for Structure! (What our kids really want, but won't tell you)

Posted by Eric McCaslin on 5/22/2017 10:40:00 AM

Screaming for Structure! (What our kids really want, but won't tell you)

I saw a bumper sticker on a car this past weekend that said "If you follow all the rules, you miss out on all the fun".  This seems light and whimsical, but it saddened me a little.  The sad truth is that rules, structure, order actually provide a framework for fun and more importantly "healthy happiness".

Anyone who has dealt with (or been) a teenager that is constantly involved in drama understands how scary, sad, frustrating, angering this can be.  It really feels like we are living in a world of chaos (a whirlwind) when we are experiencing this type of situation.  What we don't realize a lot of the time is that secretly people do not want to be miserable, angry, full of self-doubt or fear, even though they may assure you that they want to live their lives the way they are living them. 

A lot of the time a person in the above situation is lost, and they are screaming for help getting control of the chaos.  Unfortunately, the person in the middle of the chaos often doesn't see it for themselves.  We all have a drive to feel like we are in control of our lives, and that we are "choosing" to make the choices we are making voluntarily, because "it's my life and I will do what I want".  We don't like to show vulnerability and admit that we don't have control and that we are afraid of so many things.

Here is the biggest challenge for a parent:  "How do I reign-in out of control behavior by providing structure ... without making my child hate me?"  It is a difficult situation, especially if their has been a lack of structure or discipline for an extended period of time.  A lot of times we as parents feel as if we shouldn't be too hard on our kids (often because it is uncomfortable for both them and us).  Also, we love our children, so we don't want to punish them.  We would much rather have fun and laugh with them.  However, without structure, quite frequently we will actually lose the fun moments all together as decisions can become unchecked and behavior can slide further and further down the wrong path.  A distance is created between child and parent that becomes harder and harder to bridge.

What all parents need to know is the following:

- When you want the best for your child and you tell them NO because you don't want bad things to happen to them, they know you care about them.

- When you make them go to bed on time, they know you care about them.

- When you tell them to dress appropriately and with pride, they know you care about them.

- When you limit their time on social media, they know you care about them.

- When you monitor their communications on social media, texting and otherwise, they know you care about them.

- When you demand to know their friends and anyone they hang out with, they know you care about them.

- When you demand to know where they are going and what they are doing and when they will be home, they know you care about them.


I could go on and on with the things you can do to provide structure in your child's life that show you care about them.  The simple fact is when we let our children do everything they want without questions, supervision or rules, we send the message that maybe we don't care about them. 

Teenage years are a search for validation.  There are too many outside influences that tell our teens that they are not good enough, or encourage them to seek out drama in their lives.  If we let these influences shape their lives, we cannot control what is going to happen.  The more time you spend with your children and the more you attempt to influence their lives the better.  Shouldn't we all want to be the #1 influence in our child's life!

We all make mistakes, and even when we do things the right way our kids will still make some mistakes as well.  Just remember that even though things don't always go the way you want them to, that doesn't mean you weren't doing the right thing.  Remember these tips in dealing with a struggling teen:

1. Stay Calm!

2. Be clear about your expectations and what the consequences of bad choices will be.

3. Always start with a warning before punishment if possible.  Especially if it is the first time.

4. Make your punishments reasonable (grounding your kids for life, or a year, or months is not usually very effective ... also, what is grounding?  No TV, no activities, no computer use, no phone.  Make sure you define your punishments)

5. Always keep loving your child!!!  Never tell them that you can't stand them, you hate them, your gonna disown them, get rid of them.  Do tell them if needed that your scared for them or their actions are hurting you and because you love them you need them to make better choices.

I know that I was crying out for discipline when I was a teen.  My parents were divorcing and I was the baby of 3 boys.  I internalized all that was going on and struggled to feel any acceptance from others and like my life was a cloud of depression.  Most of my internal issues were of my own making.  My life was pretty good overall, but once the spiral began I just kept sinking and my parents didn't know what to do.  I think they felt bad about the chaos in our lives due to the divorce and the multiple households and the fighting, and so they didn't want to be too strict.  I know they loved me (and do still love), but at that time I needed to be reigned in for my own good.

Luckily for me, there was something/someone watching over me to help me get through to begin the long process of healing.  Still working on it, but I am headed in the right direction.

As you know, parenting is not easy ... teenage years can be difficult ... and there is no instruction guide that comes with guarantees ... but we are lucky to have the opportunity to love and be loved.  Remember that without the negative (bad events, challenging struggles, times of chaos and confusion) we cannot appreciate the positive (great events, accomplishments, times of joy and fun).

Good luck and know that you have support!