You’ve seen it. Your teen and a friend get into a little squabble. They have a minor disagreement. Suddenly, your teen’s friend drops the bait—they make an outlandish accusation, they make some outlandish statement that will arouse unnecessary emotions, or they make an inappropriate and irritating gesture. You think to yourself, “Don’t take the bait….” But your teen takes the bait and they’re hooked. Their friend takes control of the argument while reeling in your teen. Your teen escalates to crush the bait but it’s too late. The hook is set. Self-control turns to thrashing and the whole interaction goes downhill. No one wants their children or teen to get caught in that situation. Instead, we want to teach our teens to avoid taking the bait.
Fortunately, the best way to teach our teens is by example; and, when it comes to NOT taking the bait, our teens will give us an unlimited supply of opportunities to teach them by example. What parent has not found themselves hooked by the bait their teen’s simple eyeroll, angsty accusation, or under the breath comment. Face it, our teens bait us. They try to hook us, take control of the argument, and reel us in to their net. If we take their bait, emotions escalate. Disagreements increase. We fight to maintain control. In the process, our communications decrease, our relationship suffers, and our teens learn nothing. So, teach your teen to NOT take the bait by setting a good example. Do NOT take their bait. Here are some tips to help.
- Avoid the emotional bait. We love our teens. They will say things that arouse our fear, anger, helplessness, or sense of inadequacy. They seem skilled at it. Do NOT take the bait. Stay calm. Keep your emotions in check. Stay focused on what your teen is trying to communicate, their underlying message. If you feel yourself getting lost in the emotions your teen arouses in you, find the support of a spouse or friend to help resolve that emotional bait.
- Avoid the bait of “taking it personal.” Our teens naturally pull away from us during their teen years. It’s normal and appropriate. In the process, they will think us “stupid” and “too old to understand.” They will roll their eyes at our “naïveté” and shrug their shoulders with an “I don’t care” attitude. They will respond with more angst and anger than they even intend. You will long for that loving, affection grade school child, but your teen is growing toward independence. Do NOT take it personal. It’s not about you. It’s part of their development. Do NOT take the bait of their teen angst and drama.
- Avoid the “tit-for-tat” bait. Your teen may let some harsh statements fly. Do NOT take the bait. Do NOT return “tit-for-tat.” Remember, you are the stronger, more mature person. If you take this bait, you inadvertently send the message that their words are stronger than you. This creates a feeling of insecurity for them. So, don’t take it personal. Do NOT take the bait. Avoid “tit-for-tat.” Give them high regard, even when they sink to harsh statements. Show them kindness with firm boundaries, even when they say mean, irritating things. Show them how to NOT take the bait.
- Avoid the bait of power. Our teens job is to assert their independence, their individual power to control their own lives. We still want to protect and teach, but they want to try out and learn. We want to help them solve their problem, but they want to learn to solve the problem on their own. When we take the power bait and try to teach or solve their problem for them, we often end up making a power play that pits us in a power struggle with out teen. Do NOT get into the power struggle. Step back. Let them have age appropriate control. Ask them how they are going to solve the problem. Ask them what they want to do. Offer suggestions but let them have age appropriate power. Do NOT take the power bait.
As you can see, we get plenty of opportunities to teach our children how to NOT take the bait. Interestingly, they provide the bait for us to NOT take. So, practice well and teach them well. They’ll be glad you did.