Contracts Do They Work?
by Jeff Schadt
I am surprised by the growing popularity of contracts between parents and kids to address certain behaviors and issues. While it surprises me maybe it shouldn't given the pace of life that leaves so little time for genuine relationships and the resulting distance I see in so many families we work with at YTN.
Contracts were originally a tool for kids who exited treatment programs. Today they are appearing in social media and some parenting programs as a great tool to use with our kids, but are they?
Early in our country’s history trades, barter and agreements were often conducted with a handshake. Then something changed. Tightly knit communities began to grow and trust began to disappear ushering in simple written agreements that were then replaced by elaborate contracts written and arbitrated by attorneys and the legal system. This is why the thought of contracts and kids seems so foreign to me. Contracts are used with people we do not know or trust to assure that our interests are protected.
What this tells me is that the breakdown of relationships and trust in our families is worse than I have thought. In a way the breakdown makes sense because of the divorce rate and other factors that leave us fearful and seeking to protect ourselves. We need to ask ourselves if we believe that a lack of trust and protecting ourselves will lead to the close, kind and cooperative family we desire.
After interacting with thousands of kids I know how establishing a business relationship with them wounds them deep within. One 14 year old girl told me, "My dad is not my dad, we have a business relationship.” The pain and anger this girl carried within related to this topic was working its way out in self-destructive tendencies. In a way she was seeking attention and trying to get even with her family, which she believed was focused solely on her performance. The deep love and concern that her parents truly had for her was obscured to the point that this girl was considering suicide.
Although our kids may not appear to be processing everything we say, they are to a much greater extent than my generation ever did. They are more relationally focused and community based which means that they take in all we do and say. In discussions with the kids I am coaching, I find that far too much of what we are doing as parents today communicates a lack of belief and trust which pushes this generation of kids away.
It is for this reason that I am ardently against contracts even for kids coming out of treatment programs. While they may make us feel like we have more control or can protect ourselves from their outbursts, what are they really saying to them? How do kids feel and perceive the use of contracts with their parents with whom they once felt close and wish they could be close to again? If my time with so many kids is any indication, I believe they are acting out and blowing up in their homes because they are hurt and feel like they have no way to address this hurt with their family. They want to make it work, but do not how.
Kids agree to contracts because they have to, and it leaves them feeling like they are trapped. Contracts hurt them and leave them feeling hopeless because they cannot be perfect. They are left feeling like a sledgehammer is hanging over their heads, waiting to be dropped. They think their parents do not understand, trust or love them.
When trust breaks down in a marriage, what happens? The same happens when our kids feel we do not trust them. They cannot divorce us physically, but they can divorce us emotionally which leads to all sorts of behavioral issues.
As a coach I have helped many families escape from this position and the answer has always been found in mending the relationship, not contracts and control. This is the secret behind Influential Parenting, which offers parents hope and a totally different way to lead their kids. It results in closer relationships, more open communication, more fun, less conflict and far more cooperation!
Learn how to be an influential parent by joining the site or securing the DVDs today.