Influencing Adolescents - Guided Democracy
You need to smart to be able influence adolescents. You need to be able to stand back a little, hold your tongue and wait your turn to speak.
Recently, Sam my seventeen year old son, said "No way" to our requests to wear some decent clothes to an upcoming on-stage event. Sam was chosen to read a piece of his written work on stage in front of 200 people in a plush venue the coming Friday night.
Our suggestions to wear a decent set of threads as opposed to the thread-bare, bum hanging out of his pants attire that was his norm was met with defiance. His is jutting jaw and arms folded he said determinedly, "No way, I am dressing for me not for you! I want to feel comfortable on stage, and I won't feel comfortable dressed like a dork."
My experience dealing with him lead to me to believe that meeting him head-on was like waving a red rag to a bull, and he would have only stood his ground and not shifted on principle. I wanted him to feel comfortable with his clothing but also that he needed to dress according to the dictates of the situation. We wanted him to be himself, just a souped-up version of himself for that night.
It was time to instil a few doubts and chip away a little at his suit of defensive armour. I said, "Maybe you won't feel comfortable if the other kids are wearing good clothes and you're not. It can be awful being the odd one out. A bit like the only one wearing fancy dress at a party" He didn't reply but I could see by the look on his face that I had given him something to ponder. Time for a retreat and allow him some time to chew it over.
That evening he brought the matter up to his mother and I. Sue suggested some clothes he might wear. "Why not wear your grey pants, your good black shoes and a shirt?" "No way, not my black shoes, no way," he replied.
"Okay, but if you wear your check shirt then you are making a real fashion statement."
"I could wear my check shirt?"
"Yes, of course. I wouldn't want you to look like a dork on stage."
My wife then left him to think on this. It was obvious that he was thinking, pondering and getting used to the idea of wearing decent clothes and the option we suggested was not such a bad one. We wanted him to think that his choice of clothes was his decision. This is guided democracy at work
On the night of the reading he appeared with freshly pressed grey pants that covered his boxer shorts, black leather shoes and a very smart check shirt. With hair jelled and pointy he scrubbed up well. He looked like we hoped he would look - like a seventeen year old who had made the effort to bridge the gap between the more conservative adult world and his own adolescent world, at least for a night.
"How do I look? Do you like my clothes?"
His mother threw a huge smile his way, hugged him tight and said, "You look very handsome Sam. Can I go out with you tonight?"
An awkward smile lit up his face and I swear I saw him grow a few centimetres in that instant.
He held out his arm and said, "Mum you're on. Let's go."
As he walked out the door with an air of confidence I knew that we had made the right decision to push him to dress appropriately. I also knew that it had to be his decision to wear decent clothes - he just needed to be given some time and a few things to think about in the meantime.
Michael Grose is Australia's leading parenting educator. He is the author of six books and gives over 100 presentations a year and appears regularly on television, radio and in print.
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