One of my favorite roles as a professional has been teaching a class for first-time substance users who were teenagers.
The program occured in Clinton County, Indiana and was funded through the Probation Department to help educate youth about substance use and abuse in order to help prevent future under-age/illegal use.
One of the phrases I used in that role was ‘raise the bottom’.
I have found, as a therapist working primarly with teens and youth, that encouraging the adults who are helping to provide teens with structure and consequences to ‘raise the bottom’ to be somewhat of an ambiguous term that at times needs an explanation.
When I think of this term, I also think of ‘failing small’.
Failing small is when we allow those in our lives, or in our care, to fail so that they experience some failure which can help motivate them to make some changes based on the consequences they receive.
For my own children, one of the tactics we used as parents was to state ‘That’s one consequence’ in the middle of a 4 year old’s temper tantrum.
Continue with the tantrum? That’s two consequences.
The actual consequences were discussed and determined later, when both the child and the parents had a clearer head.
I know, for myself, if I had followed the urge to hand out a consequence at the time it would have sounded something like ‘you are never going to leave your room again!!’ or ‘time out, no movie, no gameboy, and no television for the rest of the night!’
For children in the heat of anger and tantruming, this can sound very much like a challenge they will try to win.
During my sons’ middle school years, I supervised a Pregnant and Parenting Teen program. The program was staffed in 8 hour shifts.
The staff frequently became very frustrated with the residents in our care. At the time I supervised this program, my own children were in middle school.
In addition, I have quite a stubborn streak, which can help me in guiding those who are dealing with people who like to be persistent. Those working to connect and motivate frequently experience an amount of frustration.
“If you decide to go toe-to-toe with a teenager, they will win”
“They are better and more locked into winning this battle, so as stubborn and persistant as you feel you may be, they are still going to get the better of you due to their super-power ability in this area”
Those are some phrases I said consistently when supervising staff who were having some frustrations.
We then worked together to problem solve some trauma-informed, natural consequences to attempt to motivate our teens who were pregnant or parenting.
Now let’s think of this area in terms of parenting your own children:
When we raise the bottom, we allow our children to experience a natural consequence to their choice.
An example of this could be wearing shorts on a cold day. The child/teen will be cold if they do not dress appropriately for the temperature. That is a consequence of dressing for summer in the winter.
If you do not turn in your homework, your grade will reflect that. A ‘0’ score brings down a percentage much more quickly than a score of even 50%, so turning in your homework will help your grades if you are motivated by grades.
These get tricky, because we as parents tend to remember all of the things we wish we would have known when we were teenagers, and can recognize that lecturing and informing our child about this will certainly motivate them.
Which it probably will, it just may not motivate them in the way you are seeking.
If they are self motivated, they may not need much guidance in terms of completing their homework. If they are high achievers, the grades or feedback themselves generally motivate them.
As we think about what areas we want to work on as parents or employers, I encourge you to think of 1-2 things you’d really like to focus on.
I encourage parents to tackle one area at a time with a child in their life who is generating some frustration.
When I am meeting with teens or pre-teens, I encourage them to learn to recognize what the consequences are for their choices before they do the act of whatever thing they may be choosing to do at that time.
Learning to recognize their feelings about conseuqneces and whether or not they are motivated to change their behaviors based on the potential consequences is another area for teens and parents to think about as they make choices and consequences to them.
Utilizing In Your Life.
I would like you to think about something you’d like to focus on with someone who is in your life at this time.
What behavior would you like to spend less time focusing on talking about or dealing with, and how would you like to allow your child to spend more time allowing your child to experience that natural or prescribed consequence?
Some sources of frustration might be related to spending money on meals, movies, etc; working on grades/homework; or anything that is causing you frustration as you and your child interact.
Now I encourage you to set aside a time to meet with the person who you are having some frustrations with, and talk about some ways to handle this differently.
Maybe you check their grades less often, or you monitor their spending a little bit less, or maybe you give them less access to funds.
Now that you have thought of what to talk about, and thought of a time that might work for a conversation, I encourage you to talk during a peaceful time.
This time could be in the car on the way to somewhere, it could be during a meal, or it could be a scheduled time where you take into consideration their schedule and how they will respond at that time of day.
It could be at a time that just ‘pops up’. We call these teachable moments, and you as the adult or other participant in the relationship can work look for opportunities as they arise naturally.
One time that I will discourage you from choosing, when dealing with teens, is right when they wake up. Clearly, though, that is up to you.
‘Raising the Bottom’ means letting the person in your life experience real consequences to their behavior to help motivate them to make change vs. saving them/protecting them from all consequences.
I hope you can experience a little less frustration in an area that has been frustrating for you.
Thanks for reading!