We have been discussing the topic of bullying and its significant impact. We have also acknowledged that teenagers are in a maturation process that has many ebbs and flows. Usually, teens will have a lack of awareness of the consequences of their behaviors–even bullying–that may have a negative impact on others. Therefore, what do teenagers do when they have really messed up and feel like they can not fix the dilemma they have created?
Who hasn’t made a mistake?
Like any of us, teenagers will make mistakes, and those who care for them should expect mistakes to occur.
Teens have so much to learn, and because they tend to lack judgment, have impulsive tendencies and are self-focused, they will break rules, offend someone close to them, bully someone, damage something or violate trust. It is essential that we give them a chance to make amends, receive forgiveness and restore the broken relationships.
Often, parents and caregivers think that teenagers automatically know how to make amends. Yet, even though teens may want to make up for mistakes done to others, rarely do they have the ability to figure out how to make amends and create momentum towards positive change.
We need to be aware that they are looking to those who care for them to provide the structure, set a new direction in their lives and help them find a strategy to fix what they have broken. They need ideas as to how to do this and some power in how it all happens. However, it will not be successful unless there is an adult in their lives who will be willing to work with them during the process.
Consequences vs. punishment
Parents should engage their teenager and help him or her determine the specific steps for change and growth. It is always good to have the amends process be consequential and not punitive.
I like to hear the stories of parents who are creative in how they help their teenagers invent ways to make amends that are unique to them and the situation. It can be a great time to figure out what is most relevant and beneficial to their teen’s growth and development. Remember, it is important listen to their teen’s perceptions while insisting on the values that will protect them from some of the consequences that often accompany behavior that is unacceptable.
As parents and caregivers create opportunities for teenagers to make amends, the opportunity alone can provide them with a sense of purpose and responsibility. As those values are agreed upon, a starting point now exists to work toward creating healthy boundaries (reinforcing values) that help teens be more mindful of their impact.
In a world the feels both judgmental and punitive, making amends is a welcome relief to our teenagers. After all, the purpose of helping them through these issues is to restore them to healthy relationships isn’t it?
This is a life-giving process where parents and caregivers can be coaches and healthy advisors. It is a key part of how a teenager can learn how to cross the bridge to becoming a responsible adult.
Gerry Vassar, President and CEO, Lakeside Educational Network