Tim Elmore, an expert on growing leadership in today’s youth, recently wrote, “…students who are emotionally fragile often struggle with addictive behavior…[a]ddictions [that] often begin as coping mechanisms. In fact, most of us would admit to a small addiction to help us get through our day: coffee, chocolate, television, Coke Zero, alcohol, cigarettes…” [From Addictions: One Reason Not to Take the Easy Road.] Dr. Elmore is not speaking primarily about drugs or alcohol addiction. He is speaking of addictive behavior. His concern is that we are not teaching our youth how to cope with life’s stressors in healthy ways, so they take actions that quickly relieve the stress. We are allowing them to rely on unhealthy habits or on parents to rescue them. Parents respond so that their children never have to suffer even the slightest discomfort or embarrassment.
Recently, I learned of a student who in the middle of class sent a text message to her mother. Shortly after, someone from the office brought her the textbook she had left in her locker. Her mother had called the school office to ask someone to go get the book and take it to her. I think this is wrong on several levels: First, the student broke the rules by text messaging during class. Second, her mother rescued her by calling the school. Third, the office personnel allowed it to happen. The student learned she does not have to be responsible for bringing her book to class, because her mother will rescue her from suffering the consequences of her actions. Mom has become her coping mechanism—her “addiction.”
Here are three important strategies for developing stronger adolescents who can handle daily struggles in healthy ways.
- You should expect your child to do a fair share of the chores at home. At the very least, he should keep his own room clean and help with cleaning the shared family spaces. There are other chores he can do, and he should have firm responsibilities at home that he does without fail.
- Your child should resolve her own conflicts with her friends. Most of the time, teens can do this if they are encouraged to talk with one another. If parents intervene in every squabble, children will never learn to resolve their own differences.
- Allow your child to suffer the natural consequences of his actions. If he forgets to do his homework, he should be honest with his teacher and admit that he forgot. He can ask for another chance (if it hasn’t happened too many times before), and maybe the teacher will allow him to turn it in late. If the teacher does not, you should not try to rescue him.
When you require your children to do chores at home, resolve their own conflicts, and suffer the consequences of their own actions, you are teaching responsibility. Your children learn healthy coping mechanisms rather than blaming others when things go wrong (“Mom didn’t make coffee this morning.” or “Dad wouldn’t bring it to me.”). They become healthy and emotionally strong—ready to take on life’s daily struggles.