We have a warped idea about parenting in our society today. We think that only “bad” kids get into trouble and that “good” kids never do.
That’s complete hogwash!
All kids get into trouble. The difference is whether or not you catch problems early on and deal with them.
I have two great kids. They both are on the honor roll. They have a great group of friends. They interact well with their peers and with adults. They help others. They’re involved in activities that they enjoy.
And they both have gotten into trouble.
I remember the first time I got a call from the principal’s office. My child was in first grade. I was horrified. Three months later, I got a call again. I met with the teacher and the principal. Afterward, the veteran teacher told me, “If your kid isn’t getting into a little trouble once in awhile, your kid isn’t taking enough risks. Your child, in my opinion, is right on track.”
Apparently this teacher thought my child was getting into the “right” kind of trouble.
Here’s what I’ve learned lately about trouble and kids:
1. Learn the difference between “normal misbehavior,” “troubled behavior,” and “problem behavior.” Normal misbehavior includes talking back, slamming doors when mad, and so on. They’re common misbehaviors that you need to talk about with your child. Take these misbehaviors seriously, but remember that they’re on the lower end of the trouble continuum.
2. Troubled behaviors are behaviors that show that your child needs to change direction. This could include trying smoking, getting into a fight, or skipping a class. They’re one-time risky behaviors that a lot of kids try and that need to stop right away.
3. Problem behaviors are ones that require professional intervention. This often includes underage alcohol use, sexually acting out, running away, and so on. These are serious problems that will not go away unless you and your child get outside help.
As parents, I wish we could be more honest with each other about the trouble our kids get into and how we’re working with them to change their behavior. Instead, we tend to talk only about what’s going well with our kids. To me, being an effective parent is about helping our kids grow up well. That entails that they’ll make mistakes at times and get into trouble.
As one veteran parent told me, “You want your kids to get into trouble when they’re living at home with you. Because then you can influence them more. If you cloister them from the world too much, they’ll find all kinds of trouble once they leave home. You want them to have the problem-solving skills they need to succeed. So expect some trouble. And expect to work through it with them.”
What do you do when your child gets into trouble?
Laurence Steinberg, Ph.D., and Ann Levine, You and Your Adolescent: A Parent’s Guide for Ages 10-20 (New York: HarperCollins, 1997).