Cole's book has chapters on developing a family identity with goals, deciding which activities support the family goals and setting rules to support those activities. He helps work through the process of selecting, assigning and administering consequences for both positive and negative choices as well as discussing discipline, compliance and contracts for performance. "You can motivate teens with a stick or with carrot cake," he said. "In our house, we had a unique way of disciplining. Instead of grounding, which puts parents on restriction, too, we had our kids pull a 'good habit card' when they made a bad choice. When their chore was finished, the restriction was finished, and you got something out of it."
Coming up with "good habits” was easy for the Cole family on their 10-acre ranchette in the middle of Atlanta where they breed Australian Shepherd dogs, milk cows and raise calves.
"One of the points we make in our book is if teens have a social purpose or a positive addiction, they’re easier to raise. One of our sons was a risk-taker, and we discovered he liked horseback riding and calf roping. We got him a special horse, calves and an arena, and he spent from the time he was 12 until he was 20 always negotiating with me on trading good behavior for calves, a rope, a chute, a diesel truck, a horse or entry fees to a rodeo. Our contracts included seminary attendance, certain grades and behaviors at home. He was totally addicted to this – I have a stack of contracts to show for it – and it was all by design."
When kids develop a positive addiction, Cole said it also makes it easier to have conversations and schedule time together.
"Love 'em and hug 'em, and take them out for ice cream," he said, "even when they're driving you crazy.
“For members of the church, we often get this 'all or nothing' mentality," he said. "Sometimes our attitudes toward teens really aren’t consistent with what Jesus wants us to do and a lot more consistent with what the Pharisees and Sadducees were doing. … These kids go into high school where there’s horrific pressure."
If there isn't respite or a positive outlet for them elsewhere, "they do things they wouldn’t normally do to relieve some of the pressure," he said. "So we need to be sensitive. We need to recognize a teen's unique bright light so we can tap into it and nourish it.
"Each one of our kids is different, and we had to tailor our parenting plans to their differences," Cole added. "Our kids aren’t supposed to be perfect. They’re supposed to make mistakes, so they can learn from them, and we have to love them through the process."
Cole's book also encourages parents to take the role of teacher seriously. He encourages weekly family meetings where lessons are taught and families create their own “branding” together. He includes 25 sample lessons and methods for teaching the topics including honesty, gratitude, preventing drug use, delaying sex until marriage, practicing self-control and healthy habits.
Cole's work with the CDC has taken him all over the world, but frequently to the Middle East and Africa to make presentations on public health.
"The highlight of my career has been going back and forth to Israel," he said. "I've been in the valley of Armageddon. I've seen Jordan and the Dead Sea. I've had many amazing experiences in Nazareth … and been to the Garden Tomb many times having the most sacred experiences I could imagine. Anyone who knows me would say that my favorite mantra is, 'The main thing is Jesus. … Jesus is the way.' He is the way we worship and should be the way we parent. If we look to him, we can’t go wrong."
Stacie Lloyd Duce is a freelance columnist and magazine editor featured regularly in several Montana newspapers and magazines.
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