Parenting --Teens/Misbehavior

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Hi, I am one of 5 acting coaches at an acting class. I've been teaching there for 6 years now, and I know all the kids very well. My group of students consists of 9 teens aging from 13 to 21. Most of the time, they all behave just fine. There's one girl in particular, named Leah, who often likes to "test me." At least that's what I think it is. Leah's 17, and once in awhile she's completely disrespectful to me. She won't listen to me, she does the opposite of what I say, it's just bad. She usually behaves quite well. I don't know if she's trying to impress her friends, or if she just flat out tests me because I'm the youngest coach there. Her acting coach last year was older, less strict about the work, and Leah never misbehaved once. We don't have a discipline plan there because the kids behave most of the time. Do you have any punishment ideas I could use? My idea is to make her sit in the hallway but idk.

Answer
Hello Ally,

Do you really want to become a punisher?
I know you would like all of the students to listen to you, obey your directions, and be respectful all of the time. However, when you are working with adolescents, that is very unrealistic. One of the normal aspects of development during the adolescent years is to become one's own person. But most teens don't develop their own personality and style by always following along with what the adults in authority want. As one teenager once said to me about the conflict with his mother, "If I always did exactly what she wanted, I wouldn't be me; I'd be my mother."
I understand that when you are teaching a class, things go much smoother if everyone follows the program you lay out for them. But, one way of looking at this is to accept that if students are sometimes oppositional or defiant, then maybe this will be an opportunity for you to learn and grow. In every piece of resistance by a teen, there may be a kernel of learning more about yourself and how to be a better acting coach.
Sometimes that oppositional student might have a better way of doing things, or might see things in a unique way that could be good for you and the other students.
However, the real question is: How should you handle it when Leah is disrespectful or is oppositional?  
Here are your options:
 1. Ignore the disrespect. Most of the other students are respectful, so it is not likely to lead to a mutiny of disrespect. If you just ignore it and carry on, then it puts Leah in the position of also ignoring her own behavior and doing what she's supposed to do. If it is testing the limits, then if you don't overreact (or, indeed, act at all) she is unlikely to escalate things. Sometimes disrespectful kids are looking for a fight to prove that adults are unreasonable. If you don't react, she can't engage in a fight by herself.
 2. Talk to her alone after class. You could say, "It seems like sometimes you don't respect me. I wonder if there's a problem that we can find a solution to. Or maybe there's something I need to change." This puts the burden on her, but it also says that if there's a problem you'd like to address it.
 3. When she is oppositional or doesn't go along with what you want, you can say something like: "I know you don't agree with what I'm asking you to do, but I'd like you to do it anyway." Or, "I need you to try it my way to see how it works out." When you say these kinds of things, there is no ultimatum or threat, you are saying what you want. She is free to say, "I'd rather do it my way." To which you can say, "Okay, let's see how that works."
 4. Of course, there is a final option of a threat or a punishment. But what does that accomplish aside from trying to show that you are the authority. She doesn't have to do what you assign as punishment (for instance, if you say, "You're being disruptive, I want you out in the hall," she could say, "Make me"). Usually, that doesn't lead to anything productive.

Let me know what you think and what other questions you might have.

Best wishes,
James Windell

Parenting --Teens

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James Windell

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I am a parent trainer, psychotherapist, and author specializing in parenting issues.During the past 40 years I`ve worked with parents with discipline problems and challenging children. I give frequent lectures and workshops related to discipline, social skills, and aggressive children. I consult with various agencies and schools where there are child behavior problems. I am listed in the American Psychological Associations` media panel as an expert on parenting and am frequently quoted in leading magazines and newspapers.

Experience

I have worked in a juvenile court as a clinical psychologist and as a psychotherapist in private practice. In the Oakland County (MI) Juvenile Court, I developed an award-winning parent training program for parents of adolescent delinquents. In addition I have done group therapy with adolescent delinquents using a social skills-building model. I have consulted with courts, schools, churches, preschools, and domestic violence shelters in areas of parenting.

I received my BA with a major in Psychology in 1963 from Wayne State University. I got my MA in Clinical Psychology from Oakland University in 1972.

I am a member of the American Psychological Association and the Michigan Psychological Association. I have written pamplets, newspaper articles, and professional journal articles. I have been the Coping With Kids columnist for several newspapers for 26 years, and my columns appear weekly in the Staten Island Advance. I have been the author or co-author of 16 books. My books include, 8 WEEKS to A WELL-BEHAVED CHILD, CHILDREN WHO SAY NO WHEN YOU WANT THEM TO SAY YES, 6 STEPS TO AN EMOTIONALLY INTELLIGENT TEENAGER, and THE FATHERSTYLE ADVANTAGE. My most recent parenting book (2012) is THE EVETYTHING CHILD PSYCHOLOGY AND DEVELOPMENT BOOK. I have appeared on over 180 radio and TV shows related to my books and parenting. For more information about me, my books and columns, go to my website at Jimwindell.com

Education/Credentials
I have an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Oakland University.

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