Double Take: Teens not wired to be respectful

Dear Dr. Wes and Katie: I have a 17-year-old son and a 14-year-old daughter. Both are good kids. No drugs, drinking, bullying, etc.

I struggle, however, with respect from them. I find myself nagging at them because I ask them once to do something and then they don’t do it, and then I get ugly with them because I have to repeat it.

Katie: My parents also have a 17-year-old (me) and a 14-year-old (my brother), and I’m sure they can sympathize. I’ll be the first to admit that I never clean my room before my mother’s fourth or fifth supplication. I can write with confidence that my brother waits until about the 10th asking.

Without endorsing teenage laziness, I will try to explain it. As teens undergo the physical, emotional and social renovations that are the sources of so many Double Take topics, it becomes difficult for them to concern themselves with others’ struggles. To their young eyes, their own problems often look like tsunamis compared with the afternoon drizzles of their friends and family.

I’m not saying that teenagers are inherently selfish. I am continually impressed by the caring and generosity I see among my peers. However, adolescence is supposed to be the transformation of self-centered, carefree children into empathetic, responsible adults.

Those mature qualities may not yet be fully developed in 14- and 17-year-olds. I doubt their behavior stems from a lack of respect for you — but that doesn’t mean they aren’t being disrespectful by neglecting to help you.

Teachers can attest to the aggravation of having to replay directions like an iPod on repeat. Many can also speak to the long-term ineffectiveness of nagging, which only leads to irritation in both the nagger and the nagged.

Just as students involve themselves more in classes they find interesting, teens are more likely to perform tasks if they can see their importance.

To convince your children that parental orders aren’t arbitrary, try phrasing them as cooperative rather than dictatorial instructions. Feeling respected can motivate teens to contribute respect and effort in return.

On that note, I’m off to tidy up my room before my parents get a chance to read today’s column. There’s nothing like Double Take to unearth my teenage guilt.

Dr. Wes: This issue is never about respect. In fact, teenagers aren’t even wired to be respectful. Some seem more so than others, but in general, Katie is right — they’re too caught up in teenager things to think about respect.

By the way, what passed for respect in earlier generations was actually a fear of violent retribution. Nobody respects anyone who hits him or her.

A while back, someone came up with a really bad word for the tried-and-true reward system that gets kids to do what you want them to do. They relabeled it as “bribing” kids. Thinking this way is ridiculous and has no basis in behavioral psychology.

As I am writing this, my son is doing an amazing job of cleaning my office — not because he feels a commitment to my business or wants to contribute to our family. He’s getting paid. My daughter has similar tasks.

Is this a “bribe?” If so, then clients must “bribe” me to see them. I “bribe” the grocery store to give me food, and I “bribe” my associate Adrian and my office manager Carrie to work for me.

I do not give my kids much. I give them lots of chances to earn money and let them buy things themselves. They do get to travel with me, we buy them food and clothes, and they each get a Christmas and birthday gift.

I do very little nagging. I simply say, “Do your job or I’ll give it to someone else.”

I encourage all my clients to go this route when it comes to kids, money and chores. Stick with this system tenaciously, and instead of having spoiled consumer kids, you’ll get teens who understand that money doesn’t flow out of an ATM at the whim of a magic plastic card.

Finally, if your kids are as well behaved as you say, I’d suggest you do a victory lap rather than get so worried about chores. There’s no correlation between how kids handle their laundry and their strength of character as adults. And in the end, that’s what really matters in parenting: character.


friendlyjhawk 5 years, 3 months ago

What is wrong with parents that haven't taken the time with their children when they were younger to teach them the skills needed to live in a family? Trash needs to go out, rooms need to be reasonably clean, dishes can be washed or put in the dishwasher, laundry can be done, their own sandwiches can be fixed...........the list is endless. Little kids like to learn new things and these skills are much more valuable then ensuring they have a deeper play experience or rushing into solving every problem for them. Making your environment nice means starting at home. But the lazy parent wouldn't have the joy of whining that " Both are good kids. No drugs, drinking, bullying, etc.

I struggle, however, with respect from them. I find myself nagging at them because I ask them once to do something and then they don’t do it, and then I get ugly with them because I have to repeat it." And the idea that you must pay/bride kids to chores wouldn't be such a weak one.

Don't think I am an old fuddy duddy either. Just a young mother invested in being a good model/mom and not afraid to teach my kids how to be good family members.

amac 5 years, 3 months ago

please be careful with your comments unless you are raising or have raised teenagers...they are not the same animals as those cute little ones eager to help with chores. As a parent of teens i totally get the part about "good drugs, drinking, bullying, etc." That (and good academics), to me, is so much more important than laundy and trash. Always strive for balance and pick your battles wisely!

mom_of_three 5 years, 3 months ago

Exactly, amac. To friendlyjhawk - What your kids may do when they are younger, like cleaning their room, changes when they become teenagers. Think of yourself as a teenager... I dont remember cleaning my room very often without being asked or told repeatedly. My version (and a teenager's version) of clean was very different than my mothers. I have great kids, but there are the moments that they just delay doing the inevitable, because they don't want to do it.
Teenagers are just a totally different beasts/people than their little selves. They have friends, independence, HORMONES, and their own lives that they didn't have as little kids... And I don't think the letter writing mom is a lazy parent. She has typical teenagers...something you have yet to enjoy.

bballwizard 5 years, 3 months ago

I have a 13 year old and 16 year old. They do what I say and there really is no discussion. Just becasue they are teenagers does not mean they can be lazy and not be a productive member of the family. Sounds like your teenagers are running the house instead of you.

Deb Engstrom 5 years, 3 months ago

My kids usually do what I say once they realize the value in what I'm asking them to do -- not just "because I said so". I also never pay attention to what they might be saying to me or about me while they're doing it.

patkindle 5 years, 3 months ago

I remember all of the conflicts growing up, and the hormones of a teenager. But my parents took the time to make sure I understood my chores were my responsibility I fully understood what I needed to do to keep my place at the table, and did not have to Be reminded very often, I don’t want anyone to think I was an ideal child growing up , but I knew what was expected of me, and there were not any other options. I agree with the other poster,it is just a copy out, and I think the kids are running the place.

friendlyjhawk 5 years, 3 months ago

My 4 teenagers aren't perfect but basic living skills needed to live together in my home were taught and instilled when they were young. I can't do that because I am a teenager is not an option. My house is not a terror camp either. We love and respect each other, sometimes more, sometimes less. As Deb said, when they realize of the value of what is expected on them, things get done. Done well, not always but done. Are there conflicts of course! But because they live up to what is expected of them they are better people and so am I because I have taken the responsiblity of helping to teach (and show) them how to be stronger, self sufficient people. What is a parent's job anyway but to guide their children toward a healthy adulthood?

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