Human beings need the attention of others. We need to interact with one another and to feel accepted and loved. When teens misbehave, they often do so to get the attention of their peers or the adults in their lives. Years ago, an acquaintance talked for 20 minutes about how awful her daughter was without ever saying anything good about her. I asked her, “Do you ever just put your arms around her and tell her you love her?” She said that she didn’t do that because her daughter didn’t deserve it. To me, it partially explained her daughter's behavior. She needed to feel loved by her mother and to have her mother’s unconditional love. Since she couldn’t get that, she at least got her attention by misbehaving. There are times when parents must discipline their children, but children must know that their parents love them despite their poor behavior. How can parents let their kids know how much they love them even when they need to change their behavior?
First of all, parents and teens need to talk to one another often. Ask your son his opinion about important decisions you need to make or what is going on in his life. Ask him probing questions that require more than a one-word answer. Tell him how important he is to you and how much you care about him. If talking to each other like this is normal, then talking about his misbehavior won’t be so stressful. He will already know you love him, because you have told him so many times before.
Second, be aware that your daughter hears what you say about her to your friends. If you need to discipline her about something, do what you need to do and move forward without continuing to talk about it. Tell others about the positive things she is doing and how proud you are of her. When she gets positive attention from you and hears you telling your friends about the good things she does, she will know that you forgave her and that you still love her. This will encourage her to behave well because she gets lots of attention for it.
Finally, learn about ways to manage your son’s behavior effectively. There are many excellent books about how to change behavior without using humiliation or other extreme measures. My favorite is Joanne Nordling’s Taking Charge: Caring Discipline That Works at Home and at School. Nordling outlines a behavior management system based on consequences tied to the behavior you need to change. She also recommends that you carefully choose which behaviors get attention and which do not. Very deliberately, you effectively shape your son’s behavior in positive ways.
Teens need the attention of their parents. If they don’t get enough, they might do something wrong to get negative attention; negative attention is better than no attention. To change this dynamic and strengthen your relationship with your child, talk often, use effective disciplinary techniques, and choose your words carefully when discussing family business with others. Most important of all—make sure she knows how much you love her.