The following was originally a Keynote Address delivered by APSGO Founder Helen Jones at the 2012 APSGO AGM.
Credibility Trumps Power
In her keynote address, Helen Jones expounded on the difference between credibility and power, and why credibility trumps power every time.
Although we can’t control our teens, we can influence them – but only if they view us as credible. So what do we do that diminishes our credibility with our teens, with others, and with ourselves?
We squander our credibility in several ways:
Making rules for others
The problem with rules is that we can’t enforce them. All we can do is punish those who break them. As a result, our teens’ creativity, rather than being channelled into positive, life-enhancing areas, is channelled into getting around the rules and avoiding getting caught.
The argument is sometimes made that, without rules, our society would go to hell in a handbasket. But it’s not rules that make our society safe. It’s the values we live by. For example, I drive on the right-hand side of the road, not because it’s a rule, but because I’m less likely to injure myself or someone else, and that matters to me.
Insisting parents be on the same page
This makes power part of the structure of the family. It also sends a clear message to the teen: “Not only am I in authority here, but it’s two against one.” Not being on the same page provides parents with a golden opportunity to demonstrate respect, to teach their teens that two people don’t always have to agree in order to get along. “I won’t be giving you any money, but I know your dad’s always happy to give you some.” “Homework doesn’t really matter to me, but it’s a big deal to your mom, so I think you should discuss that with her.”
Asking questions when you have no way to verify the answer
“Where are you going?” may not provide you with any useful information. Try instead, “Be safe. I love you.”
Parents tend to think that changing their mind is a sign of weakness and indecisiveness. In fact, it can be quite the opposite. Changing our minds lets our teens know that we’re fallible, that sometimes we make mistakes, and that we’re capable of rethinking our decisions. It might sound something like this: “I know I said you were grounded for the next month, but I’ve been thinking about it, and I don’t think that would be a good idea for either of us.”This is not the same as copping out or simply not following through with a decision, which in fact reduces your credibility.
If you want to teach your teens values, demonstrate those values by living them, not just talking about them. If you want them to be honest, don’t cheat on your taxes or keep the extra change the cashier gives you. If you want them to be respectful, show them what that looks like by respecting your friends, your family, your co-workers, the mailman – and especially your teen.Note: When you comply with “orders” from the teachers or principal at your teen’s school, you’re letting your teen know that they are your boss, and that theydirect your parenting. Don’t fall for it! Advise the school and your teen that they’ll have to sort out their differences between themselves – “And thank you for all you do on my child’s behalf.”
When we ask, “Where are you going?” or “Is your homework done?”, we’re investing in our teen’s material needs. When we open up the discussion to values, beliefs, effort, and ethics, we’re investing in their psychological needs.