We are continuing down the list of negative attributes that are often associated with teenagers. A reader asked if it was inevitable that her teens would exhibit these undesirable behaviors, and it is my belief–and experience– that it is not. We ALL have moments when we are rebellious, rude, ungrateful, inattentive, argumentative and reckless. Teenagers are not immune.
The idea that these negative behaviors are driven by the influx of hormones is just not borne out by science. Adolescence is not a stage that we just have to put up with until it is– thank God– over.
There are factors outside of our adolescents’ biology that drive some of these behaviors. And parents are one of those factors. Sometimes we unwittingly set the stage for these problems.
As for inattention, it is my observation that teenagers are extremely attentive– just not to what we want them to pay attention to.
They aren’t less attentive drivers than we are– they just don’t have the same experience to correct their mistakes (I see more adults texting while driving than teens).
In class– well, that is a whole other subject– class.
At home– let’s talk about at home.
There are two areas to which the “inattentive” label is applied with frequency: when teens are more absorbed in their online communication than they are with their own family members, and when teenagers seem to ignore or not hear what is said to them.
Does your teen drive you nuts texting or snap-chatting her friends while you are talking to her? This is simply an issue of manners. And of setting boundaries. Having a phone is a privilege. Using a phone comes with responsibilities. Mis-using a phone comes with consequences. You can’t wish for good manners. You need to model them, teach them, and enforce them.
Is your teen inattentive when you are talking to her? Take note of what you are saying over the next week. How much are you talking AT her and how much are you talking WITH her?
Are you present when your teenager is present? How attentive are you to her when she has something to say? Do you make an effort to share in her interests? (I am now a true hockey fan and can talk for hours about all sorts of hockey skills and strategies, teams and players. It makes a difference– it is not pro forma– I actually find it interesting, and so I am rewarded with lots of conversation time with my son.)
Do you ask your teenager questions about what she thinks? Do you ask for her opinions? Do you argue with her when you disagree, or do you ask more questions to understand her line of thinking (and do you then use that to “win” or do you let her opinion just stand for the moment as a free and worthy being, even if it is imperfect?)
If by “inattentive,” you mean “she doesn’t do what I tell her when I tell her,” you are dealing with rebellion, not inattention. If you really have something important to say, pick a time that is conducive to your teen having the time and energy to listen, or respectfully establish that the importance of your message trumps what she is doing at the moment– but make sure it really does, and don’t pull that one too often.
And one more thing: teenagers, like all people, are selectively “inattentive” to nagging. I know– if she just did what you told her to do the first time, you wouldn’t have to nag. The antidote to that problem– her not attending to her responsibilities–is not to repeat yourself over and over hoping for a better outcome. It is this: 1. Make sure she knows what her responsibilities are. 2. Make sure she knows how and is capable of carrying out her responsibility. 3. Make sure that you create an environment that makes it easy for her to carry out her responsibilities. 4. If she fails to carry them out, ACT. Don’t say another word. ACT. If you have said it once and she ignores you, saying it more times or louder will do no good. Respond with action.