Over the years I have received many phone calls from the distraught parent of a teen who was in some sort of trouble. In most cases, the matter was one that, over time, had gotten out of control. Usually I recommended that we (me and the parents) meet.
Believe it or not, here is where it got complicated.
Most parents, who call me, are under the delusion that I have a special ability to speak to their child and their child will come to his senses. What they don’t realize is that parenting is complex, fluid and premeditated. It is complex because it doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It occurs in the middle of life with many personalities and a myriad of cultural influences.
It is fluid because their teenage child is changing and changing rapidly. The parents are changing too, but not at the same speed. Life around us is also changing, but its impact on family life can be lessened by the morals and values of the home.
Finally, parenting must be premeditated because, to be effective, a parent must carefully plan and select the lessons and life skills they want to teach their children.
If I do meet with the parents, I get to know their personalities and see firsthand what sort of people their teenage child is trying to manipulate. From that beginning, a very possible solution to their problem is something called “the family meeting”.
Years ago, when I first started mentoring teens, I concluded that the best group of people to help a teen solve his problems (whether he realizes he has a problem or not) was, and continues to be, his family. This is why the family meeting is the most logical solution– and easiest to implement.
Here is where we run into another point of contention– what is the definition of ‘family’?
Well, when I say family, I do not necessarily mean a blood relative. The definition I prefer to use is this one, “Family is comprised of individuals, who on a cold and rainy night, will leave their comfortable homes to assist you because you matter to them.” That is your family.
Carefully select this group of people. It doesn’t have to be any particular size. If someone cares about your child, put them on the list. Exclude anyone from your list, no matter how much they claim to love you, if they gossip.
So, what is so difficult about this process?
When a teen gets into some sort of trouble, the community and, in many cases, the extended family will begin to circulate rumors. This will drive a wedge between the family and those who should be part of their support system. As I like to say, “Your first impulse will be to run and hide in a cave and isolate yourself from the world.” However, this is not going to help solve the issue. Quite the contrary, if you could solve it alone, then why are you in this predicament to begin with?
At the family meeting, tell it like it is. It isn’t a confessional where you need to admit all the wrong things you have done as a parent and human being. Be specific. Tell everyone as simply as possible what the problem is and how they can help. Avoid general statements. If you include all the people who truly love your child in this meeting then it should make a lot of sense why this group is going to be your primary support through these difficult days.
One way or another the difficult days will eventually come to end and the parents and the choices their teen makes will govern how and when the problem will be resolved.