Monday, November 8, 2010

Lessons learned from reality TV

Parenting a teen has been challenging lately.  It's all new.  There's no manual.  I am frustrated and sad.  I'm so far gone that I'm now learning parenting tips from reality TV.

If anyone ever said I'd learn something from reality TV, I'd laugh.  Are you kidding me?!  No way.  I am proud to say that I've never watched reality TV.  Crime-scene dramas peppered with a little paranormal activity are more my style.  As luck would have it though, I stumbled upon a winner:  World's Strictest Parents. 

Don't laugh.  I am inspired.  Taking rebellious teens and molding them into decent members of society, what's not to admire?  It gives me hope.  Oh, and that is so important right now.  After my marathon viewing this weekend I couldn't help but notice some common threads -  pieces of parenting that seem like the right thing to do.  I started paying attention.  I might have even taken some notes.

It's all about trust and it needs to go both ways.  And one thing is clear as the parent, until you can trust the child, nothing's off the table.

Manual labor helps.  For real.  Most of the "strict" parents I saw in my sampling of episodes lived on farms.  They had plenty of work to occupy the teens, and the parents made sure it got done.  There was an episode with the "strict" family living in the burbs but they ran a pizza business, so there again, manual labor was a positive influence.

There were some pretty good one-liners.  How about, "if you're going to expect, then you have to inspect."  This reinforces something we all know - it's all about follow-through.   Another favorite saying, "you can make your choice, but you cannot choose the consequence."  Set the rules, set the expectations, set the consequences, and then follow through.  It seems so simple.  Why is it so hard?

Another important take-away:  it wasn't all manual labor and rule-following.  These "strict" parents were lush with constant attention.  They set expectations for both good and bad behavior - they let the kids know how they could be successful.   They made sure they had fun times and showed the teens that life is both working hard and playing too.   It wasn't painted as a "reward", either.  It was positive reinforcement for getting the  work done.  There was no carrot to entice a job well done.  That was the expectation.  And, the emphasis was when you do a job well, you feel good about yourself, not....get a candy, or a trophy, or a dollar bill. 

In every episode I've seen, the "strict" parents are compassionate and fair.  They've earned some respect from me.  I'm not completely bonkers.  I know there must be some Hollywood coloring.  But I look at the similarities between the "strict" parents and I don't think these things are coincidences.  Now, if I could only keep my voice as calm, my tone with confidence, react with less emotion, maybe, just maybe....I'd have a chance?
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