To Pick Up The Gauntlet Or Not
-- Letting Teens Struggle with the Uncomfortable Feelings of Growing Up --
By Klaus Klein MA, Registered Clinical Counsellor
In medieval times to throw down the gauntlet is to issue a challenge to someone else. If the opponent picked up the gauntlet it meant that he accepted the challenge.
The gauntlet that Hal Runkel refers to in his book, “ScreamFree Parenting” is about how teenagers will throw down a gauntlet or challenge to their parents to start an argument. Just as it was in medieval times, as parents we have choice whether we pick up that “gauntlet” or not.
How Teens “Throw Down the Gauntlet”
Teens will often “throw down the gauntlet” by testing, challenging, and lashing out towards their parents or other adults as a way to distract from their own inner struggles and discomfort.
It may be hard to accept, but by pushing the buttons of their parent and getting a reaction is at least predictable, familiar, and safer than working through the unknown territory of responsibility, accountability, and showing more maturity.
It is not easy growing up during the teen years. Adolescents often struggle with feelings of anxiousness, worry, embarrassment, guilt (yes they do feel guilty at times – but often will not show you this), nervousness, sadness, anger, and so on.
Teens also struggle with wanting instant gratification, in other words, relief from the discomfort of growing up and being responsible.
As a Parent You Can Choose to Pick up the Gauntlet or Not
As parents we have choice whether we pick up that “gauntlet” or accept the challenge for an argument that only distracts from the issue at hand that needs to be dealt with.
As a parent you need to stay in an almost “business like mindset” staying focused on the real issue and not the emotional reactivity of teens or yourself. This is not easy to do, but with practice and experience over time you will be leading your teen to just where they need to go for growth and responsibility. You do this by repeatedly choosing to NOT pick up the gauntlet. You must become comfortable with allowing your adolescent to be uncomfortable with a situation, rather than allowing them to distract from the issue by trying to start an argument.
An Example of a Parent Who Didn’t Pick Up the Gauntlet
Recently a parent in my parenting group (I’ll call him “Mathew”) related a story how he found himself in a situation with his son Ben, that could have escalated into an argument or even an out right yelling match via text messaging. This is something that most of us as parents have experienced in different forms at least a few times while raising kids. In this situation the father, Mathew, sent a text message making a request that Ben return an item he had borrowed/taken from the home without permission that belonged to someone else. Ben sent a reply message to his father stating in strong terms, with a certain choice words for added impact, how his dad, should “mind his own business,” “stay out of it” and “stop meddling”, etc.
When Mathew received the message he felt the temptation and justification to fire back an angry comment to such a disrespectful and foul message.
Mathew paused himself before reacting to his son's message in an angry way. Instead he took stock of what was going on for Ben in the bigger picture.
Here’s a break down of what Mathew did upon receiving the text message:
The short term result:
Later, when Mathew was ready to address the issue of the foul written message from the son, to his great surprise, the son took the initiative and apologized for his behaviour of sending such as text. The parent listened to his son apologize and take responsibility for the text message. The “borrowed” item was also returned and the issue resolved.
The longer term result:
This parent shared with our parenting group his joy and feelings of power due to controlling his own reaction. He reported that he changed his relationship with his son in this situation. He was actually able to bring his son closer rather than reacting and pushing him further away.
What could have so quickly blown up into a full-fledged reactive argument was avoided and channelled into a positive outcome. Mathew could see that the text his son sent was actually a gauntlet. Ben’s reaction to being in an uncomfortable situation was to “throw down the gauntlet “as a way of avoiding being held accountable for the decision to “borrow” an item without permission.
Mathew, however, did not pick up the ‘gauntlet’ and get caught in a diversion argument.
Not Picking up the Gauntlet Leads to a More Responsible Child
The more you as a parent can do what Mathew did the more your teenager will be challenged towards growth and responsibility. Your teen will also trust and respect you more when you don’t get caught into reactive emotional arguments, and instead set firm limits with a rational mind.
Every situation you find yourself in with your teen will be unique and require your judgement as to how to react. Not all situations will end this smoothly. However, by pausing first and remembering to choose not to “pick up the gauntlet” will be encouraging your teen to be uncomfortable with what happened. It sets up a greater chance for a more positive and mature out come in the long term.
Klaus Klein, MA, RCC
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