When adolescents engage in problematic behavior, we might find ourselves managing problems as they occur. We see the issue happening or see the consequences after the fact and can only react to what has already happened. We then engage in a cycle of “putting out fires” by reacting when things are out of control rather than preventing the problems to begin with. While reacting to problems as they occur may seem like the only solution, we unfortunately start to feel like we cannot get ahead of the issues. We are not dealing with the problems in a preventative manner and begin to feel like we are just waiting for the next issue. While following the resolution of one problem, we are left waiting for the next to occur. When adolescents are troubled or engaging in problematic behaviors, taking a “proactive” approach rather than a “reactive” approach might help us find solutions to behavioral issues before they start. Think in terms of “fire prevention” rather than “dousing the flames.”
Punishment for Problem Behaviors
When adolescents engage in problematic behaviors, like drinking or using drugs, we may feel that punishment and strong discipline are keys to dealing with the behavior. Punishment rarely deals with understanding the roots of behavioral issues. Punishment is a reactive strategy to a problematic behavior or action. When approaching behavioral issues, we may be more successful by engaging in problem-solving tactics rather than punishment. Understanding the root cause of the behavior may lead to more successful outcomes rather than using punishment or enforcing more discipline. Punishment may even result in resentment by adolescents and result in even more rebellious behaviors or actions.
Breaking Down Our Bias About Behavioral Reactions
We might react to adolescent behavior in the same way that we were taught by our parents or teachers. We might have been punished when we were growing up and feel like we are spoiling our kids by not teaching them the consequences of “bad” behaviors. We might even fear that without punishment, the issues will continue later in life and create an unstoppable chain of events. Without any type of intervention, we might worry that our kids may continue to spiral on a path toward self-destruction.
When dealing with problematic behaviors, intervention is important. However, we can open ourselves up to the possibility of multiple intervention strategies when we notice that we are only reacting to issues instead of preventing them. We might have our own bias regarding problematic behaviors due to the way we were treated as kids. When considering behavioral interventions that focus on understanding the roots of the behavior versus punishing any “bad” behavior, we might have some of the following thoughts:
- “My kid needs to learn a lesson!”
- “I can’t let them get away with this!”
- “I need to be more authoritative.”
- “I can’t be seen as a weak parent.”
- “I was punished as a kid and I turned out fine.”
Some of these thoughts and feelings may be driving our own reactions to adolescent behaviors. These thoughts are coming from a place of caring. Parents want their kids to behave properly and be successful in their lives. We are trying to keep our kids out of trouble and doing the best that we can. If the problems are not going away, we may need to change our mindset about behavioral interventions.
Preventative Measures to Behaviors
Behavior can be a form of communication. Problematic behavior can be a way for an adolescent to get their needs met. For example, if our kid is drinking due to peer pressure, consider what it is they are trying to communicate. What need is not being fulfilled? Our kids might be communicating that they want to fit in with peers or that they are lacking a sense of belonging. They are looking for a way to get their needs met and find a way to do so and drinking with their friends has become the solution. The root of the behavior is looking for a way to belong, and as far as our kids can understand, drinking with friends resolves the issue. However, we know as adults that drinking or succumbing to peer pressure are not healthy ways to fit in. If we react to our kid’s problematic drinking by punishment without understanding the root cause, we are not teaching them healthy ways to meet their needs. Punishment as a reaction to behaviors often fails to teach our kids healthy ways of problem-solving.
Behaviors are complex. We are motivated to engage in behavior to get our needs met. Adolescents may not fully understand the best approaches to fulfilling their needs and may engage in problematic behaviors as a result. Teaching our kids healthy ways of getting their needs met can help us shift from reacting to problems to a healthier approach to preventing problems before they start.
Fire Mountain is here to help both adolescents and their parents understand the root causes of behavioral problems and addictions. We offer classes and information to parents as well as providing programs for adolescents. By learning how to prevent problems, we can be better equipped at building our kids up to be happy and healthy adults. Adolescents may not always do what we expect. They may engage in problematic behaviors both in and out of the home. We may feel that punishment is the only strategy to prevent these issues. By shifting our mindset to a solution-focused behavioral approach, we can help our kids learn better approaches to getting their needs met. Fire Mountain can help you and your child.
Call us today at (303) 443-3343.