The Value of Consistency

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If I could give only one word of advice to parents that word would be consistency. A consistent parent gives the child a gift of always knowing what to expect. Neither, the rules, nor the consequences change daily.

I had foster kids who called this 'nagging', but they knew what they could or could not do and what would happen if they made the wrong choice. They would come in the door and before they knew we knew what they had been 'up to', they were discussing the consequences. They knew them in advance. I knew I had hit home with a message when the kids started to finish the sentence. No kid, upon learning they were in trouble, could claim ignorance because I had heard them repeat that very rule.

They claim the average attention span for teens being 'talked to' is about 30 seconds, so that is the time you have to get messages across. If that is the case, a complete message needs to be broken down into small, short bits, and repeated often.

Teens dislike sermons so these short bursts are best. But more important than length is what you say. Being consistent means telling them the exact same thing in the exact same way. It is kind of like when you hear an advertising jingle for a product on TV. You begin to remember the exact words; the phrase goes together without even thinking about it. Have you noticed the new trend in advertisements? The first few weeks, or months, you get the complete ad with every gruesome detail. Later, on just the 'punch line' so to speak is the entire ad, but in your mind you have already filled in the blanks. It is the same with these 'little messages.'

Consistency would mean nothing to kids if it were only reserved for what and how we say it. You must follow through in practice. This means a parent should be very sure of what policies they want to implement. Consistency implies no change without a good reason. I have been a foster parent in organizations where every day saw policy changes. As foster parents, we were confused. Now, consider a foster child who has never had stability. Suddenly, the pattern is repeating itself and he does not know what the rules are anymore. Most foster kids came from families that were very inconsistent. For the first few years of parenting, these parents were often so lenient, set few rules, and never expected kids to pay consequences for their action. Suddenly, they decide it is time to be firm and go so far the other direction as to almost be abusive. They certainly are not realistic. It takes months before they admit this approach is not working and midstream; they change direction once again. Their kids are confused, and by this time probably dizzy.

Another scenario is the parents who say if you do 'this'; you will be punished in 'this way'. When the kids do (let's say use drugs), the punishment for that is grounding for a month. Unfortunately, the kids are driving them crazy being inside and whining all the time so they let them out in two weeks. These kids have just learned not to believe what you say. They figure they should not worry about rules or consequences since you will weaken or they can 'get around you'. It is always better to keep grounding to a minimum that you can live with, but be consistent. I must admit this does not always work since I had one young man who was grounded for two weeks every time he got drunk. He had the pleasure of my company every two weeks. He would pay his consequence without complaining, then immediately go out and do it again. It eventually took treatment to help the situation, but we did not back down. This young man has since attached himself to our family and for all intents and purposes, he is our son. We all lived through it. I also in some rare instances allowed kids to 'work' their way out of grounding for both their and our sanity's sake. But the work was in addition to regular chores, time-consuming, and hard.

Consistency is important in scheduling for the same reasons as in rules. These kids never knew if they would eat or when, what time they would finally go to bed, if they would actually see this parent that day etc. We tried to keep to a reasonable schedule in our foster home. It is difficult, but not impossible. Crisis and a tremendous workload make it a challenge, but keep to a schedule as best you can, if you want calm kids. A factor in the lives they led which may have added to their problems was nothing was predictable. They might complain to you, but they tend to thrive on set times for everything. I am talking within reason here.

Kids learn to associate certain things with certain other events, such as homework being done directly before or after supper. They also associate things like the bus coming for school exactly hour after their morning shower, or lights out or quiet time at specific times, followed by sleep.

Consistency should also carry over to love. No matter what those kids do, they still need attention and love. That should never be withheld from them as a 'punishment.' when they 'screw up', they need it most of all.

See how consistency helps you deal with those kids. And foster parents- thank you for always being there.

Where does this misinformation come from, and why do these kids believe it? Isn't sex-Ed taught to clear up these types of myths? Why haven't the parents cleared this up? My guess is that this is one area parents still don't talk about. A common parental myth is if you don't want your kids to engage in sex, don't talk about it. Here's a news flash; they already are having sex! Give them the blasted facts!

Then we have the "I didn't use a condom because he said he can't feel anything with one on. Or "Jeff says it isn't real that way."

We also have the sad commentary on why girls let this happen. First, there's the everyone's-having-sex-you-gotta-do-it-to-be-cool syndrome. Then there's the "we really love each other and I wanted to show him" routine. But saddest of all is when a girl told me she wanted something of her own that she could love. "I needed someone to love me no matter what."

Our teens are searching for unconditional love that their families haven't given them. They are hoping this tiny infant fills their needs, when it should be the baby getting his or her needs met. They want love and they confuse it with sex. When sex brings about a small life, they feel they have found love. They are so busy trying to get 'love'; they may not ever learn how to give it. And so the cycle continues, and another child is born who does not have its needs met.

A Plea to Teens

Teenagers, please wait to have babies. My advice is to abstain from sex, but you won't listen, so at least have protected sex. Babies should be born out of love because they are wanted. They should be welcomed and anxiously awaited. They should not be the result of a union taking place between two kids who don't even know each other's name. The reasons to not have babies are numerous. First, you need time to grow up, and your childhood is extinguished as soon as you are pregnant. The health and safety reasons for not having sex you probably know, but ignore. Pregnancy, AIDS and venereal disease are real possibilities. Yes, it can happen to you!

Your education will be shortened and your options will be lessened if you become pregnant while very young. Programs exist, but are difficult to get into. Your chances of keeping the baby, school and a job going--and having a social life--are almost nonexistent.

Learn the facts about sex, contraceptives and pregnancy. Make good choices. Don't have sex just to have something to do. It may be an activity to your group just like going to the movies or going roller blading, but the consequences can be deadly. It's easy to protect yourself from pregnancy, the grounding that lasts 18 years, because we know what causes that now.

Credits: Jo Ann Wentzel

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