Facts for Living: Wise parenting – What’s the problem?

By Rebecca McFarland, Frontier Extension Agent

Parenting, like life, is filled with unexpected challenges. Imagine your 14-year-old daughter telling you she’s pregnant or finding out your 16-year-old son is doing drugs. These are difficult issue and require a parent to respond wisely. So, we explore the second principle of wise parenting, framing the problem. Many times when we are faced with challenging or difficult issues, we may skip this step altogether. We jump to conclusions and try to “solve” the problem without knowing what the problem really is.

One of the most important steps in coming up with a wise response or solution is to make sure we have the problem identified correctly. As parents, here are some factors we need to consider when it comes to framing a problem:

Know whether the problem is a puzzle or mystery. Puzzles have definite answers and can usually be solved with the right knowledge and commitment of time and effort to pursue the solution. For instance, your teen is having trouble getting up in the morning and getting ready for school on time because he is going to bed too late. Having your teen get to bed earlier and disconnect from his digital devices earlier will likely solve the problem.

Mysteries, on the hand, are usually difficult problems that lack a perfect solution. Most of them involve moral or ethical problems that involve balancing goals, values and perspectives. Many of the challenges parents face are “mysteries”. They have no “right” answer because the answer depends on many different factors, both known and unknown, as well as one’s values.

Don’t let emotions define the problem. As I mentioned in the first principle, stay cool, calm and reflective. When we respond with our emotions, we respond rashly, resulting in heat of the moment, ill-advised decisions. Also, we often perceive problems based on our initial reaction. As a parent, we all have had times when we feel our child has responded to a question in a disrespectful manner. We can get angry about the response and in return, respond with a harsh reprimand. But, if we take a moment for reflection, remain calm, listen carefully, and strive for compassion, we might consider that the problem could be more about how she is feeling than how she is acting. Maybe she had a particularly difficult day at school or work. Not jumping to conclusions and considering an issue from multiple perspectives makes it more likely we will see the problem in the best possible light and come up with a solution that gets to the heart of matter.

Problems are often more complicated than they appear. There are many ways to view a problem. We have a bias that leads us to generalize and see the problem too narrowly, often in black and white or yes and no terms. Most decisions aren’t black and white as they may appear to us. The range of possibilities is usually much more expansive if we just take the time to consider all of the options.

Problems evolve over time. We may believe that we’ve solved a particular problem at one point in time, but many issues need to be revisited. As our children get older and more mature, problems may change as the situation changes. Issues of homework, curfew, and dating will change as our child gets older. What might not be acceptable at age 10 might be something we negotiate with our child at 14 and by age 18, it’s completely out of our hands.

Taking time to frame the problem correctly can save parents and teens a lot of frustration and provide teens with the wise support and guidance they need.

McFarland_RebeccaRebecca McFarland is the Frontier Extension District family and consumer sciences agent. For more information, she can be contacted at the Extension district’s Ottawa office, 1418 S. Main, Suite 2, Ottawa, KS 66067, or call 785-229-3520, or email [email protected].

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