Don't Teach Your Teen the Blame Game
Think for a minute. When your relationship with your spouse hits a rocky patch, do you say he's to blame? If you have a bad day at work, is it because you have a "crappy boss" or your coworkers are "slackers"? If everything that happens in your life is someone else's fault, John Miller, personal accountability expert and author of QBQ! The Question Behind the Question (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2004), says you may be teaching your teen to play the blame game. Here's why you don't want to do that and how you can stop.
What's the Blame Game?
If your life centers around finger pointing, you're not being personally accountable – you're playing the blame game. Are you late to work only because of your kids? If you're passed over for a promotion, is it because your supervisor is a "jerk"? Thoughts like those are classic signs that blame's the name of your game.
Think about it. Could you have made it to work on time if you'd gotten up a little earlier? Or is it possible you didn't get the promotion because you're always late for work? Before you blame someone else, you need to first look in the mirror. Consider what effect your own actions (or inactions) may have had on the situation.
Why You Don't Want Your Teen to Play
What does your finger pointing do to your relationship with your teen? Parents who constantly point fingers don't just do it to their spouses, coworkers and friends. They do it to their children too.
Paula Jackson, a mother of two in Atlanta, Ga., says she's always found a way to get out of things by blaming other people. She's found that often times the blame falls on her children. "Even if it's something I know I'm responsible for, I'll find myself saying, 'Oh my kids did this' or 'They didn't do that,'" she says.
Miller says when parents don't accept responsibility, it causes them to lose their effectiveness as facilitators and role models for their teens. "As the primary role models for our teens, when we behave poorly by blaming and whining, we are missing the chance to have a positive and powerful impact on our kids," he says. "When we don't accept responsibility and our kids see that, then they don't have to accept responsibility."
Not only do parents lose out; the teens do too. They are robbed of realizing their full potential. If for most of his life your teen has watched and listened as you blamed others for things that did or didn't happen, he may have learned that it's up to the people around him to make things happen in his life. You've got to help him realize that he's got to make those things happen himself; he can't depend on others. But that's hard to do if you're asking the same questions.
Now that you know what the blame game is and why it's not something that's beneficial to you or your children, work on ways to change your bad habit so you can stop teaching it to your teen. In his book, Miller says, "The better answer is always in the better question." To train yourself to ask the better question, he says the first step is to listen to your own self-talk. "When something happens that you choose to be frustrated over, do you immediately slip into victim mode or point fingers?" he says.
Take a bad question like "Why won't my teens listen to me?" and begin it with "what" or "how," and put "I" in it so you can ask a question like "What can I do to be a more effective parent?" instead. By switching the question, you accept responsibility for any part you may have had in the problem and focus on what you do about it rather than deflecting the blame on others.
Don't expect to be able to change overnight. If you've played the victim all your life or have faulted others for a very long time, it may be difficult to learn to accept personal accountability. In some instances, counseling may be required. The key is "to know when you're pointing fingers, to know when you're whining and to know when you're procrastinating," Miller says. If it takes counseling to be able to identify those things, do it. Your personal success and your teen's may depend on it.
Re-teaching Your Teen
Just because you change your finger pointing ways doesn't mean your teen will automatically follow suit. Here's how you can get your children to mirror your new behavior and stop playing the game of blame.
- Model it. This should go without saying, but don't expect your teen to "do as I say and not as I do." In order for him to stop blaming others for his actions, you can't just tell him to stop; let him see that you've stopped. Then and only then will he pick up that this is something you're serious about.
- Confront it. When you see or hear your teen blaming others or thinking like a victim, point it out and help him change the behavior by thinking of a better question or realizing what role he may have played in the situation. Don't just let it pass, thinking he'll get it eventually. You've got to make sure he eliminates blame-placing each and every time he starts to do it.
- Make home a "no-excuses" zone. If you make your home into a place where no excuses and no blame-throwing is the rule, your children are bound to get it, even if it's by accident. Eventually everyone in the house (including you) will catch themselves and correct it each time they start to make an excuse or place blame on others. And that's what being personally accountable is all about.