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Wham! Bam! parenting - why My Way or the Highway does not work

Wham! Bam! parenting? The parenting style that fights fire with fire, my way or the highway, a battle of wills, I am going to make sure I stay alpha no matter what.

Wham! Bam! parenting might seem effective in the heat of the moment, and yes you might see ‘instant’ results but in the long run, it actually does nothing to curb behaviours, encourage growth and trust, or help in you maintaining your sense of calm and perspective. If used as the standard style of parenting it could actually be fuelling a toxic relationship.

W!B! parenting is different from authoritative parenting: the difference being the motivation of the parent. To know the difference you first start with asking yourself is it about winning, or about addressing the behaviour? Be honest.

I don't know about you but I simply do not have the energy to be fighting all the time. I actually don't want to have to go over things time and time again and be burdened with ‘what even more drastic punishment can I implement to really teach my teen a lesson this time?’ I don't want to be losing my shit and yelling all the time. I strive for a relationship with my teens that is relaxed, respectful (both ways), trusting and mutually supportive. That doesn’t mean I let them get away with everything. It does not mean I do not have rules and consequences.

But I have discovered that by investing in the right type of parenting at the right times, things are so much better for longer. The extra effort at the beginning has reduced the constant fighting and the stress levels for all.

There are many challenges in raising teens - that can not be a shock to anyone.

But the challenges I am wanting you to think about may actually be a challenge in itself. You need to be in the right head-space to raise teens. This headspace requires a great deal of self-reflection and brutal honesty with your self.

It can be really hard.

Are you raising your teens the way you were raised? Is that entirely the right thing to do? (just asking) Just because it happened to you and you turned out ok, does that mean it is right for your teen? Many of us were brought up to fear the consequences - but that is different to knowing why the action was wrong? What we probably did was learn to not get caught or just hide what we were doing.

Are you fully aware of what stages of development your teen is at? Are you parenting them fairly based on where they are at? Do you assess, evaluate and manage your expectations of them? How do you do this?

How well do you keep your ego in check? This is a tough one for many - myself included. By the time our kids get to teens, we know them pretty well. But do we? Your teen daughter is a different person from when she was 8. Do you really know what is going on in her head, heart and life? We can sometimes be pretty arrogant in our stance that we know our child better than anyone. Often we can be far from the truth.

Further to the ego question: are you arguing with your teen because you are right and want/need to prove it? Are you prepared to be wrong? Are you prepared to let them win occasionally (even if you are right?) or are you fighting them to the death to prove you are right and because you are the grown-up and do not want to be dictated to by a teen? Is the concept of ‘my way or the highway’ the basis of your parenting? To recognise and own that this is the way you parent takes guts and a whole lot of reflection. It is not a light thing to own, so if you do recognise the ‘need to be right’ then maybe you might need some work on this.

As I said, these questions can be challenging to consider. If you are ‘guilty’ of any of the above, then you are in good company ...I think many of us would be guilty of varying degrees at some point. Being aware that you may have said yes to a few of the above is a great start to making change for the better.

Wham! Bam! parenting can be the easiest option given the circumstances.

It is the equivalent to the smack: a quick, sharp reaction that does get a response, but is it the right one in the long run? Like the smack, punishments that are dealt-out in a state other than calm, will no doubt just be hurtful. Taking privileges away or banning them from using the internet - yes effective to stop a behaviour right now, but are they going to help your teen grow and learn that what they did was wrong? Is it going to assist them to understand you or just resent you? If they fear that you are going to ban them again in the future, are they going to stop the behaviour or just hide it from you? Something worth thinking about.

So what do you do when your teen has done something wrong? Before we talk punishments/consequences, we must take a step back and talk about the rules.

When you make up the rules do you just layout the law or do you have a sit-down conversation with your teen before the rule has been implemented and talk calmly about the reason why this rule is important? If you need to set boundaries of internet use for example, then discuss this quite early and the reasons why you want all devices placed on the charger in the family room after 8 pm. An important thing to consider at this point is that you must listen to what their argument might be against this rule. At this point the rule has not been broken so there is no emotional charge involved: no one is in trouble so it is easier to discuss. This method can be used for all rules requiring implementation.

Yes, removal of the device might seem a reasonable consequence when it is just at ‘conversation stage’, but at the time when it is implemented, it will seem dreadfully unfair. By discussing it before it happens (because let's face it, it will happen), you can discuss ways in which the ‘unfairness’ can be dealt with. You can remind your teen that you both discussed this and it was reasonable at the time. Try and use points that they may have used when you were talking about it initially. Remind them that it was something they agreed with.

The next step, which is important, is to go the extra parental guidance and be mindful of their emotional reaction to the consequence: if they feel hurt/hard done by then you need to not just ‘let them wallow and learn their lesson’ because they won't - they will just resent you. Next time they will try and hide their behaviour out of fear or spite. By acknowledging and staying connected and engaged as someone that loves them, not someone who is out to ruin their lives, you will encourage a stronger more trusting relationship between you both.

Parenting bad behaviour is hard. It is even harder if we are coming from a place of anger and/or fear. If you as the adult find it difficult to remember the rational and calm way of dealing with a situation, then imagine how hard it is for your teenager who has nowhere near the emotional and cognitive development you have! Just being aware of the Wham! Bam! response and being willing to explore some of the aspects of why we do it will assist in being able to deal with adverse situations when they occur. W!B!, like the smack, gets perceived results but the long-term reactions are far from what you really want if that want is for your teen to be able to make considered decisions, to trust that you are there for them and that you get much further with trust and empathy than you do fear and resentment. Why not give it a go?

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