When I get frustrated, or feel that someone didn’t do something the way I’d hoped, I sometimes yell. But over the years, I’ve learned that yelling about things is a pretty ineffective way to get what I want done. And yelling at your teen is probably the least effective bring about change I their life too.
It’s sort of like trying to train a horse by screaming at him. Imagine standing at the edge of the fence and hollering out directions while expecting the horse to understand, and move one way or the other in response. Or yelling at him more when he doesn’t get it, and getting louder when the horse fails to respond, and you feel unheard. The trouble is, horses aren’t led by yelling at them. Horses respond by being led. They need someone to attach a lead-rope to their halter, and apply some pressure in order to train them in exactly what you want them to do. Without a lead – a horse will never do what you want him to do. And without leadership, your teen will never be trained, or respond the way you want him to.
My point is, yelling at your teen doesn’t help him understand what you want him to do. But leadership does.
The dynamic I often see with troubled families is a gross imbalance in family leadership. One parent may go overboard and over-respond, while the other lands too softly, and under-respond, and may even avoid the conflict altogether. The net response to ineffective and imbalanced family leadership is often seen in ongoing fits of anger, and screaming that includes everyone in the family.
One recent example of a gross imbalance in family leadership is that of a dad whose wife constantly over-reacted to their son’s verbal disrespect. Instead of dealing with his son’s disrespect by setting boundaries and applying strong consequences, he would simply tell his wife to stop being so sensitive. After a while, she couldn’t tolerate even the slightest bit of sarcasm or verbal energy coming from their son, and the encounters between the two of them got so heated that dad finally decided to move out. He rented an apartment down the road from their house and lived with his verbally abusive and out of control teen – just so he could stay married to his wife. She was beyond her ability to control her reactions, and he was beyond his ability to step-up and put limits on his son’s behavior while in the home. Hers was an over-reaction, his was an under-reaction, and neither response helped their son with his own behavior.
Single moms face huge concerns with family leadership, and operate at an even deeper level of need than most – because one of the two parents required for a balanced family leadership is gone or missing in action. By the time a boy is 12 or 13, he can often out-yell, out-swing, and out-weigh a mom. One single mom dealt with the lack of ability to effectively lead her physically aggressive son by locking herself into her bedroom with her dinner every night, ignoring things as her son kicked the door in, broke windows, smashed furniture, and made a mess of their life.
If your home lacks leadership, rest assured that the way to assert more control is not through screaming, and not through ignoring. Instead of lashing out or laying low– lead.
Lead with strength. Set strong boundaries, apply strong but appropriate consequences. Balance your strength with love and wisdom and good listening. And if you need to, get some help.
Every time your child understands that a parent is over the edge (usually recognized through ongoing screaming or yelling) he knows you cannot be trusted to lead him well. Every time rage becomes the way to control your child, it sets off a hopeless cycle of despair in your child’s heart. Every time your child uses his rage to control things in the home, he is trying to ask you for help to lead him out of a troubling dilemma. Yelling is a sign that on some level – you are just as out of control as he is – and unable to lead either one of you out of the mess you are in.
Family leadership is a tricky balance of strength and softness. When the leadership scales get tipped too far toward strength, the result is over-control. When the leadership scales get tipped to far toward softness, the result is avoidance and under-control. And both imbalanced approaches usually result in a whole lot of yelling, and offer no help for your troubled teen.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and 4 grandkids. He lives in Longview, Texas with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, 2 llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy. His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with over 2,700 teens, has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents.
You can find out more about Heartlight at www.HeartlightMinistries.org. You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.
For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our Parenting Today’s Teens website at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org. It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent. Here you will also find a station near you where you can listen to the Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast, or download the podcast of the most recent programs.