Are you Guilty of Using Scare Tactics on your Teen?
Parents of teens have a difficult job. We are somehow supposed to encourage open communication with a person who rolls their eyes, slams doors, and generally acts like we don’t know anything. It can feel difficult to know what to say or how to say it. As a result, we can sometimes fall into the trap of using scare tactics (using fear to motivate behavior) when discussing serious issues or discipline with our teens. We may feel that if we can just scare them enough, our teen will behave. Unfortunately, research shows that it doesn’t work, and in some cases, it can actually increase a teen’s likelihood to engage in the unwanted behavior.
Problems with Using Scare Tactics
* Scare tactics do not work on teens. Developmentally, a teen’s frontal cortex, which is the area of the brain that controls reasoning and helps us think before we act, is not yet mature. As a result, adolescents are more likely to act on impulse, misread social cues, and engage in risky behavior. Additionally, they are so young that they simply do not believe that anything truly bad will ever happen to them.
* You lose respect. In general, people do not like to be scared or manipulated. Teens are absolutely able to recognize when they are being manipulated, and it hurts. Many times, scare tactics simply make teens withdraw from you, so instead of opening lines of communication, you are closing them.
* You lose credibility. Scare tactics typically exaggerate the truth. Teens are smart enough to see through these exaggerations, and then, they feel like you lied to them, and they can’t trust you. For example, if you try to scare a teen away from marijuana by saying that people who use pot get schizophrenia, your teen will likely think to themselves, “I know people who do that, and they are fine.” If you want your teen to want to talk with you, listen to you, and care about their family, you must make sure that you are always honest with them.
Alternatives to Scare Tactics
So, if we are not supposed to scare our teens into behaving, what are we supposed to do? Studies show that the best way to raise a responsible teen is through these methods:
* Communicate Facts. When trying to explain your reasoning for not wanting your teen to engage in risky behaviors, it’s best to stick to the facts, not your opinion and not exaggerations. Do a little research on the issue you want to discuss with your teen and share the information you find, especially statistics. Be honest and factual, and you will have a more receptive audience.
* Listen Actively. When your teen says something, be interested! Make eye contact, listen, and ask questions. This demonstrates respect, and besides, it’s fun to hear your teen’s opinions, hopes and disappointments, because you are seeing who they are becoming.
* Set Limits. Involved parents set limits for their teens, and revise and maintain them over time so that they stay age appropriate. People are guided by the expectations of those around them, and so it is very important that you set clear limits and boundaries with your teen. Teens like when parents set realistic rules and make clear what the consequences are for not following them – as opposed to not knowing what you want from them or what will happen if they break the rules. Teens get very frustrated when they get into trouble for something they didn’t understand was wrong. You should have house rules that are understood by everyone in the family. Equally important is that you role model the behavior you expect.
* Follow Through with Consequences. Once you have established firm rules with consequences, you must enforce them immediately and every time an infraction occurs. Consequences must be followed through or the rules lose all meaning and you lose authority. If you are a parent that tends to give in before the punishment is up, try setting up the restriction in a way you can’t break.
* Be Consistent. When we are inconsistent in what we say and do, it leads to arguments, broken rules, hurt feelings, lack of trust, and a poor relationship between you and your teen. Family rules are made to ensure the safety and welfare of each family member and the family as a whole. When these types of rules are followed, the family runs smoothly. When rules are made haphazardly, changed often, or inconsistently enforced, family members do not get along.
Teens need to trust that their parent means what they say and will follow through. This provides security to a child who is going through the difficulties of adolescence. By being honest in communications, showing interest in your teen’s life through active listening, setting limits, and consistently following through with those limits, you will be building a very strong relationship with your teenager.