My next several blog posts will explore why so many parents accept verbal abuse from their teens. If your teen addresses you in insulting ways, are you stung by cruel words? Do you take them in stride and swallow your feelings? Do you tell yourself that it’s normal “these days” for teens to vent anger on parents? Think of the teens you’ve seen on TV and in movies. How many are kind and respectful?
Whether media changes the culture or vice versa, the question remains: When our teens act in outrageous ways, why do some of us feel too paralyzed to correct them? I believe that, in many cases, the culprit is guilt. Guilt scrambles the reasoning process. Guilt erodes a parent’s ability to teach. Guilt hides a parent’s true sense of duty.
The longer I work with parents, the more I detect undercurrents of guilt. I notice parents who seem to expect verbal abuse. If their guilt is great, they may be willing to accept punishment. Deep down, they may even welcome it. So, when their teen attacks them verbally, those words sink into a pit of insecurity. The parent may suddenly feel defenseless, stunned, at a loss for words. The sore spot goes very deep. Their teens, who are probably just mouthing off, probably don’t even guess the effect of their careless words.
Here’s a metaphor that comes to mind. (You’ll find that I love metaphors and similes. I find them irresistible. Just a warning . . .) Think of a dentist. He is examining your teeth with his probe, poking here and there at your enamel. Suddenly he finds a cavity. His probe sinks in. You feel a sudden pressure and a dull pain. He has hit a soft spot where the enamel is thin. Just as your teeth are weakened by tooth decay, your mind is weakened by guilt.
Often guilt is subtle, and it can take some scrutiny to find it. Let’s see if we can detect it in your response to verbal abuse.
I ask you to ponder this question carefully: When your teen verbally attacks you, do you fear – even for just a moment – that he or she may be justified?
Please notice that I said “fear,’ not “think.” When you think about it, you will probably find no good cause for such behavior. But fear is unreasonable and sometimes even absurd. Like guilt, fear casts a shadow over rational thought.
My discussion of verbal abuse begins here, and it will cover a broad range of issues surrounding this subject: How to convert guilt to action, how to convert anger to concern, how to teach our kids kindness and empathy, how to set firm guidelines for communication. If you would like for me to address related issues, please suggest them below. I’m here to help.
You might ask why I start with the guilt issue? Wouldn’t some practical advice be much more helpful? Why don’t I suggest the best ways to respond, the best consequences to impose, the best rules to enforce?
We will definitely get to the practical stuff. However, words and rules are feeble when there is no conviction. Guilt can sabotage conviction. So, let’s start from the inside out. Let’s work on conviction.
Until we speak again, I wish you insight.