Teen Talk: Using A Reset Button...
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There are no do-overs in real life...
Actually not quite true, ask a golfer about mulligans.
Previously I wrote about the frustrations that can arise when Teen and Parent clash. It can be over practical or emotional things, and it is exceedingly hard to keep reason in the vicinity of these “discussions”. My premise was that we could learn from the Teens themselves, and utilize a reset button.
Words or actions by the changeling can seriously undermine any trust earned with the adults in their life. Time to use the reset button. I use that term rather than forgive and forget, because both parties should not forget, there are too many lessons to be learned, and forgiveness is another reinforcer of the (adult/child) power imbalance. I know that mutual understanding would affect a better resolution than simple forgiveness. I am an advocate for discipline smarter, not harder, which ends up benefiting everyone. If you have ever felt punished yourself when following through with a sanction you imposed, you know exactly what I mean.
I got this concept from the adolescents themselves. It is remarkable how often, and how easily, they press the reset button after incidents between them. For some boys it is almost a right of passage. The number of boys who became fast friends only after a physical altercation is astounding. Girls do have more of a tendency to let incidents fester and linger, but usually this happens where there is already a determination that they don’t/won’t like each other. If it is a friend they can reset almost immediately.
I’ve witnessed teens argue passionately about something, the argument escalating, with both parties digging further into the past for evidence of how terrible and wrong the other is. A point is reached where the only options are physical blows, or total capitulation. Often, they recognize the impasse at the same time, realize there is no way forward – and then press the reset button, simultaneously burying the altercation and moving on. An example:
“I hate you.”
“I never liked you to start with.”
“We are so done.”
“Oh, I mean it.”
“So do I.”
“Don’t ever call me again.”
“Done. You’d better not text me either.”
“So what did you think of Amy’s shoes…”
Translating this into a practical approach for adults, especially if the adult is upset, or angry, is the challenge. I think it can be done and I keep looking for new ways to do it. I’ll use my cell phone ‘policy’ as an example. In my middle school the rule was that cell phones must be off and kept in the students locker during class time. Most of the students have phones, and the most common use is to check with their parental unit / taxi driver, on when and where they will be picked up. This means there is a frenzy of phone activity at 3:00pm. Not having access to their phone at that time would cause very real problems as they juggle sports, study hall and social activities.
Before the above policy, students would have their phones on, and with them all day. There was never a legitimate reason for having the phone, and the temptation to text was great. I actually had a dexterous group of seventh graders who could text with the phones in their pockets! The temptation to take photos (of each other, of tests, of the inside of their open mouths) was another great concern. I talked with a group of students and surveyed when they actually needed their phones. Every situation was covered with allowing use before and after school, and during school with teacher permission. We put the policy in place and I checked back a few weeks later on how it was going. Surprisingly, not having the phone with them all the time was a relief (we only texted because someone was texting us). And there were several times when students asked to use the phone during the day – all legitimate and appropriate (Mom was having an operation, Dad texted to say it all went well, student forgot she had volleyball practice, left a message for mom to pick her up later, etc).
The only remaining issue was what to do with the students who broke the rules. A phone going off in the middle of a class is a dead giveaway. The teachers would confiscate the phone, which would make its way down to my office, where the student could pick it up at 3:00pm. I wanted to reinforce the rule, but also not make a Federal case out of it. I needed a quick way to make my point and the student wanted out of my office and on to their next activity with minimum delay. So, I have the transgressor take a picture of me, with a stern face and a wagging finger, which they have to put up as their home screen for a week. Quick, easy, funny, makes the point and I have very few repeat offenders. A great reset button I think.
Space is another area of great contention. Issues tend to surface more often in the home, where there is the greatest amount of shared space. As with most animals journeying into adulthood, territory is critical, and invasion of space vigorously defended. It is also another area that contains an imbalance of power: “Your” room, but “My” house. It also dramatically impacts Mother-Daughter and Father-Son relationships. For example; for women, it is often very difficult to have another “woman” in her kitchen, for men, another “man” in their workshop or den. In both cases the adults are conflicted because they want them to learn to use the tools in either setting, but the tools are often very personal, often gifts with sentimental value. The incoming adultlet does not value the tools in the same way, to them they are just tools. The adult sees this as disrespectful. Problem. The only solution, I believe, is to share the stories as you share the equipment, but with an attention span of a mosquito on speed, I can’t guarantee success in reaching the teen.
Simply put, if things get too intense, it is (short term) acceptable and understood to change the focus. A great bullfighter never actually stands in the way of a charging bull!