If your teen is challenging your authority, rebelling against the classroom teacher, pushing the limits of your curfew, or talking back, s/he may be craving structure.
Huh? Come again?
While it may seem counterintuitive, teens who work against the structure of their world (and most do) — the rules at home, the policies at school, the status quo – are actually longing for structure. We’ve seen enough examples of teens who have little structure and the chaos that ensues that we can say this with some authority, as crazy as it may sound.
Chaos – the opposite of structure
Many parents are tempted to use force or loosen the limits when they have struggles with their teen. They may raise their voice or raise their hand. Or they may cut out curfew, dis the dinner hour, or give up on grades as requirements for teen behavior.
Neither of these approaches is effective. We have talked before about giving teens more responsibility as they earn it. Neither clamping down nor dropping expectations works in the long run. In fact these responses often result in more resistance, acting out, and general difficulty.
Teens will normally rebel. It’s in their nature. The existence of a clear structure allows them to do this in a safe and secure way.
How to establish structure
Teens live in a world of structure. It is essential for smooth operations. Their school, sports team, club, etc., all have rules they must obey. What makes the home situation special is that you can develop some of the structure with them and they can have a say when they feel something needs to be changed.
Structure consists of expectations that are fairly developed, clearly communicated, and consistently applied. This is not done by force. Rather it is accomplished in a calm manner so that teens know what the expectations are, why they have been developed, and what consequences will befall them if they don’t comply. A key ingredient in developing successful structure is to be clear in explaining expectations and reasonable in responding to questions or concerns raised by your teen.
As we said, teens will rebel against structure. It is part of the growing process. We need to give them something to rebel against. At the same time teens need to have the opportunity to make their case. If the request to change an expectation seems reasonable, we need to be responsive to that request. In this way your teen can see that a reasonable argument, delivered in a calm manner, will receive a considered review and that, in this way, your teen can affect the structure by which s/he is judged.
Teens are learning how to operate in the adult world. Creating a reasonable structure for them, one that moderates as they mature and one that is responsive to their needs & requests, helps them to move into successful adulthood.