EDITOR'S NOTE: Also read part 2 of this article here. A couple of weekends ago, my daughter Addy and I watched a marathon of CMT and MTV’s “The World’s Strictest Parents.” The show is yet another way of “showing-by-example” unacceptable behaviors of teenagers. Each episode documents two uncontrollable teens brought in to abide by the rules of strict host families.
Most of the host families that we watched lived on farms, which meant not only were there rules to follow, there was work to be done. I think I heard a total of twelve teenagers say, “I hate work.” All of them resisted doing chores and any menial labor. One even announced to the cameras that when she grew up she’d have a maid and other staff to do her bidding.
In the beginning there was way too much whining. When the teenagers weren’t whining, they were breaking the rules. This pattern would continue for a few days until the kids would settle into the new routine and structure. All but one of the twelve teens stuck it out and seemed to be taking major steps in the right direction.
As they were returning to their families, most of the teens reported a renewed respect and appreciation for their parents. Many pledged that their lives would be different and that they would make strides to improve.
I was amazed by the hosts’ ability to deal with difficult people. While some did seem to be way over-the-top, most offered troubled teens a warm, loving environment that was heavy on both chores and personal accountability. When a child broke the rules, he or she was punished. In one show, although warned that a rule violation meant the worst-on-the-farm chores, two teenagers decided to break the rules and go joyriding in one of the work trucks. The next morning the pair had to clean out stables packed full of manure.
On their website (CMT.com), CMT staffers included some suggestions to parents. Although their advice is peppered with jokes and fun, what’s offered can be helpful to anyone parenting a teen. They remind parents that while there is a need for rules, home is not a military academy. They also suggest offering encouragement—that the parents’ goal is to help their children bloom.
As I see it we also have another goal: we are charged with the mission of helping our offspring become productive members of society. In one of the episodes an 18-year-old boy said he wanted to be a chef. When asked by a host parent what plans he had to make his dream a reality, the teen shrugged his shoulders. He had no clue. No plan. Clearly no understanding of how the process of becoming a chef might work. By the time he left the host parents’ home, he seemed to understand this valuable lesson, and pledged to make a plan toward making his dream come true.
Probably the most important advice from the CMT website is that parents must learn to say no. I am one of those parents who would rather not upset my child, but not learning how to say ‘no’ means the door for ‘maybe’ is always open. If teenagers believe that every no is a maybe, they will continue to work on you—to wear you down—until your ‘no’ or ‘maybe’ is a ‘yes’. This creates a no-win situation and sets them up to be adults who use this tactic on loved ones and in professional situations. Teenagers need caregivers to set limits, which will in turn help them build the self-control muscle.
Watching "The World’s Strictest Parents" with your teen can help begin a dialogue about work, values, accountability, and his or her hopes for the future.
Interested in Nominating Yourself or Your Kids for "The World's Strictest Parents"?
Through February, the show is recruiting Oklahoma parents and teens to try out for a spot on the show.
- For teens: ages 15-18 still in high school (with their parents’ approval) from every type of background to spend a few days and nights across the country with a family totally different from their own!
- For parents: searching for families with a firm family structure to host a teenager in their home for up to one week.
Call 888-418-3367 or visit TheWorldsStrictestParents.com for application information and further details.
Allyn Evans (TheAlertParent.com) is a published author, professional speaker and consultant residing in Stillwater.