Parents usually have the best of intentions, especially when setting guidelines and boundaries for their children. However, when they are stretched by the stressors caused by work, finances, relationships, and the behaviors of their children, consistency in parenting can be difficult to maintain. Although it can be challenging at times, creating and maintaining consistent expectations for your adolescent actually helps them to feel more in control of their lives.
Pushing Boundaries vs. Pushing Back
For children to push boundaries is completely normal. In fact, if your adolescent is pushing boundaries, that means that they are becoming more independent and preparing to be an adult. However, the adolescent brain doesn’t fully develop until the age of 25, and the last functions to develop are rational thinking, decision making, and awareness of consequences, so they obviously still need boundaries to keep them safe.
One of the consequences of inconsistent parenting is that after being pushed so long, a parent will push back with sudden, harsh consequences. Particularly when these behaviors have not had the same consequences before, it leaves the adolescent confused and can cause resentment. This, in turn, can lead to more behaviors and acting out. While parents may think that being strict in certain situations is helpful, it is more important to be consistent.
What Is the Difference Between Being Strict vs. Being Consistent?
Your child may tell everyone that you are a strict parent, no matter what you do. However, “strict” parents typically have a lot of rules, exercise more control and intervention within their child’s lives, and impose more consequences as well. Even with the best of intentions, this approach can backfire, as your child will feel as though they have no control over their life.
Creating consistent expectations does not have a set amount of rules, as some children need more boundaries than others. A consistent parent sets clear boundaries and consequences with their child and then maintains them. Consistency can be considered to be like making and keeping a promise to your child. Even if the “promise” is a consequence for behaviors, you are doing what you said you would do, and that actually builds trust and confidence in you as a parent.
Too often, parenting becomes reactive. A child exhibits a behavior, and the parent reacts with a consequence that was not anticipated by the child. While not all behaviors can be anticipated, there is much that parents can do to prevent these situations. Some of the best ways to parent preventatively include:
- Creating Schedules – sitting down with your child and creating a schedule with them is not only an important life skill, but helps them to have a plan and understand what is coming next. When a child has nothing to do, they are more likely to find trouble.
- Clear Expectations – when parents set boundaries, it is important that they are very clear and that the child understands them. A curfew, for example, sets a clear expectation of when they are expected to be home. As with anything else, these expectations need to be consistent and maintained.
- Choose Your Battles – behaviors with serious risks or consequences are worth standing your ground on. Adolescents still need some autonomy, though, or they will never learn to make their own decisions, so choosing your battles is very important.
The Value of Creating a United Front
The concept of one parent saying no and the child going to the other parent to try to get what they want is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Children know when they can manipulate their parents, so creating a united front is crucial to consistent parenting. Getting everyone on the same page can be very difficult, particularly in families where there is separation or divorce, but being able to provide that consistency allows your child to understand the consequences of their actions before the behaviors occur.
Consistency Puts Adolescents in Control
When your child understands that “if I do this, then that will happen,” internally they understand that the choices they make are their own. When parents impose consequences consistently, no matter how hard children push the boundaries, they learn the value of making good choices.
Although it may feel like a constant battle for parents, creating consistent expectations is kind of like a security blanket. Your child knows that you will always treat them fairly based on their choices, and that increases feelings of trust and love. They may still push the boundaries constantly, but knowing that you will consistently offer the same consequences allows them to learn accountability for their own choices. Creating consistent expectations puts adolescents in control.
Creating consistent expectations as a parent can be very difficult to maintain; however, adolescents feel more in control when they understand the consequences of their behaviors. No matter how hard your child pushes the boundaries, staying consistent gives them the opportunity to make their own choices and become accountable for their actions. Creating structure and consistency is the foundation of the Sustain program. We offer extended residential treatment for adolescents so that we can help your child learn consistency. Our approach is to help them learn accountability and understand why they are making choices. Our Orange County, California, program offers multiple levels of care for substance abuse and co-occurring mental health diagnoses. We also help connect them with others during and after treatment and have alumni involvement as well to help them with long-term success. Call us today at (949) 407-9052 to find out if our program is right for your child.