As parents we ask some important question. A good one is, “Where are my keys?” We also ask obvious questions like, “Who drank all the milk and put the carton back in the fridge?” One that I hear from parents is, “What’s going on with my kid?” We worry because we see changes that we can’t figure out. We want to know what’s going on inside but most of the time we get grunts and maybe an exaggerated sigh. There are signs that things aren’t going well: falling grades, concerning smells, absence of friends, withdrawal, sarcasm, avoidant behaviors, dressing differently.
We swing between being worried they are going crazy and searching for a gang to join to the next minute thinking it’s just immaturity, a phase or normal behavior for “kids nowadays.”
The risk in not answering the question, “What’s going on?” is that we either overreact of under respond. We miss times to teach and end up shaming and confusing our kids.
This episode of the podcast is all about tools and perspective for us as parents so we can understand what’s going on.
Typically, there isn’t just one thing going on. Our kids have complicated lives with multiple sources of challenge. They can have trauma, immaturity, anger issues, entitlement, laziness and just plain bad days. It’s hard to find one source for their struggle and typically there isn’t one thing that will “cure” them.
A good place to start is by running through a basic evaluation called, H.A.L.T which asks four questions (read more). These questions were developed for people that are struggling with addiction and in recovery but they are helpful questions for all types of struggles.
- Are they hungry? Not just for food but also for attention, comfort, and stimulation.
- Are they angry? Anger isn’t bad, they have reasons to be angry. Our goal is to help them understand their anger and find ways to productively process it.
- Are they lonely? This is not just the hunger for companionship but is a belief that it would be difficult if not impossible to reach out or connect.
- Are the tired? Many of our kids are sleep deprived. Many also lack white space or buffer in their day and move from one activity to another resulting in being overwhelmed and overstimulated.
I’ve recently taught on helping “Capable” but unmotivated kids. These are the students that can do the work and often are even doing some of the work and not turning it in. It seems obvious that they lack motivation but doing a bit of detective work may show that they have other needs. Often kids don’t have time, skills, tools or a personal “why”.
Your teen may think they are spending hours writing the paper but the reality is that they are interrupted by their phone a dozen to a hundred times per hour. They may not want to look at social media or have texts interrupt them but they also don’t want to miss out on anything. Here are two good tools.
- An application I personally use to reduce my interruptions online is called Freedom. It’s installed on my work computers, tablet and phone. I can start a session which will cut out whatever distraction I determine for a certain amount of time. I typically turn off all social media and Internet. They are coming out with a new feature which will only allow certain websites during the session which will be very helpful. I know I’m easily distracted and so this application helps me reduce distraction.
- Another paid service I use to increase my productivity is called “Focus at Will.” This isn’t for everyone because not everyone can work with music playing. This service provides music and sounds which have helped me concentrate. Some of the sounds are really jarring (listen to the ADHD channel) but people with ADHD report being helped.
We aren’t raising butterflies.
Some of you may be really frustrated right now by what you are reading because it may seem like I’m making excuses for kids behavior or treating them as a fragile butterfly. I understand your concern. The reason I focus on these basic things first is that we have a role as parents to teach our kids about their needs and vulnerabilities. When they are young, we meet those needs but our goal is to teach them self-awareness and accountability. As they grow in responsibility we coach and mentor them so they are able to know when they need a snack, rest, a friend to talk to or better time management.
I’m all for accountability. If you haven’t listened, to the podcast interview of John G. Miller of QBQ fame. He has some amazing resources including a revised and expanded resource for parents. Listen to the podcast, “The Power of Accountability” His new book , “Raising Accountable Kids.”
At the end of this podcast I share a basic approach to use once you have used the other tools and questions and they are still struggling or being jerks.
Share your observation using the phrase, “It seems like ________” which is a powerful way to share an observation while reducing defensiveness that could come if you make a statement or judgement.
Share your concern by simply saying, “I’m concerned.” It actually helpful if you don’t keep going and trying to justify your concern. That tends to increase defensiveness. A simple statement shares why you are talking.
Ask their permission to talk more. Don’t’ assume that your time is their best time.
This is a transition from the problem toward something that can bring motivation and action which is goals. Getting clarity on their goals and being able to affirm that really helps build teamwork and fuels good things. Typically our kids goals and our goals aren’t too far off, but the expression of those goals keeps us apart. We share that we want more independence, trust, freedom, and autonomy.
It’s also important to help us transition our kids from external motivation to internal. We can put words that show why they may want money, friends, a job, a good grade and a host of other external motivators.
Once you know their goals, it’s possible to ask some questions that help them see that there may be a gap between what they want and what they are doing. A good resource for understanding and questions is Dennis Bumgarner, e-book, “Motivating Your Intelligent But Unmotivated Teenager”
Discussing gaps in a non-shaming method helps your kids take steps toward bridging those gaps.
This is the final step in which once they know their gaps, you coach and mentor them though developing and implementing a plan. I suggest you help them establish SMART goals which are Smart, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. It takes some effort to create goals which are put on the calendar, measured and celebrated when accomplished.
I hope this podcast and these notes are helpful in your task of figuring out what is going on with your kid.
I’d love to hear from you with things that work for you, questions or comments. You can email me (Here).