There’s a lot to be said for the concept of balance — it’s important to be aware of it in our own lives, and in the lives of those around us. Being in balance in your own life is a key to helping others recognize when they might be out of balance.
In working with teenagers and their families, I find that it’s easy for relationships to get unbalanced quickly, and without anyone recognizing their own part in the imbalance. One of the key ingredients is balancing acceptance and change. In other words, what parts of my life can I learn to accept, and what parts demand that I make changes?
I’ve been reading Ready or Not, Here Life Comes, by Dr. Mel Levine, and he articulated this concept of balanced relationships between teens and parents better than I’ve heard it anywhere else. He has a number of spectrums, I guess you’d call them, which provide clear guidelines for families to assess areas of their relationships which might be unbalanced. To see these, read on!
From pp. 211 & 212:
- PRAISE/CRITICISM: Every six criticisms from parents should be counterbalanced by at least four statements of honest praise!
- DISCIPLINE/FREEDOM: Certain activities should be declared free from imposed parental oversight and others supervised and monitored closely. For example, at age 16, it might be proclaimed (preferably in writing) that homework is not run by parents, nor is the esthetic condition of the bedroom, but nightly curfuew, chores around the house, the state of the shared bathroomo, as well as spending limits are under tight control.
- PARENTAL INTERVENTION/SELF-HELP: Parents should do more listening than advising and more advising than doing battle for the child.
- FREE PLAY/PROGRAMMING: All kids should have at least several hours a week during which they are obliged to entertain themselves (possibly with one other child and without TV, musical accompaniment, video games, or structured pursuits, such as organized sports).
- LEISURE/WORK: Before finishing high school, all kids should have direct work experience and jobs to do at home. Their lives should include 75 percent work (including school) and 25 percent nonwork entertainment. Of course, ideally, it would be best if they could also derive some of their pleasure allocation from their work!
- CULTURAL ASSIMILATION/INSULATION: There should be a minimum of several occasions per month when a child is collaborating or playing with kids and/or adults very different in their backgrounds from his own. Also, there should be a maximum total of ninety minutes a day of computer game immersion, TV viewing, and headphone time.
- INDIVIDUAL PURSUITS/GROUP ACTIVITIES: All kids should spend several hours a week engaged in activities few or none of their peers tend to embrace, pursuits that interest them and affirm their uniqueness and perhaps their ultimate competitive advantage.
- INTERACTIONS WITH ADULTS/PEERS: Parents should ensure that kids are friends of some adult friends of the family and, at least twice a month, have extended conversations with adults who are not their teachers or close relatives, in addition to their interactions with peers in and out of school.
- FAMILY LIFE/LIFE BEYOND THE FAMILY: Parents should have at least one ongoing project as well as regularly scheduled exploratory expeditions with each of the children. Kids should also have regular community activities that exclude parents.
- GENERAL ABILITIES/SPECIALIZED AFFINITIES: In addition to general education in school, a child should be spending part of each week working on his or her specialized/unique competencies.
- BODY/MIND: Whle encouraging interest in body image and motor effectiveness, parents can initiate sophisticated meal talk, cultureal activities, and other home-based forms of shared learning.
- PRESENT/FUTURE: Mothers and fathers should seek opportunities at least twice a month to discuss a child’s future with him one to one in a nonthreatening, nonpreachy, upbeat way.
My suggestion: rate yourself on a scale of 1 – 10 (for example, if you’re “all praise” give yourself a 1, if “all criticism” give yourself a 10) and figure out which “spectrums” score outside of the 3-7 range. Those might be areas to work on, gradually, as you aim for greater balance in your relationship with your teen. Good luck!