This month, I was lucky enough to be included in the “Teen Parenting Summit 2015” hosted by Tova Garr. The Summit included over 20 parenting experts, who were interviewed on various aspects of parenting teen girls. I loved being a part of such a rich experience, and I want to send a big thank you to all my new Summit subscribers for sharing their parenting challenges with me. The most common response to the Subscribe question, “What is your biggest parenting challenge?” is some form of control issue. Control is a broad umbrella for issues of respect, letting teens take more responsibility, getting teens to take more responsibility, building self-esteem, and a desire for them to be safe and independent, all at the same time. So, it’s all about control, isn’t it? Yes and no.
Don’t you just love that answer? Thanks a bunch, Terri! I just want to know what to do! Okay, here’s the quick and dirty answer to control issues: with teenagers, you have very little — and that’s okay! That’s the way it’s supposed to be. Our teenagers are a few short years from being on their own. Now is the time for them to take their own decisions for a spin. If they fall, or spin out of control, you’re still there to help them pick up the pieces. Middle school and high school pieces are much easier to pick up than college pieces; trust me. So, the answer to the control question is: LET IT GO (Insert Frozen theme here)!
But, first you need to have a discussion with your teen about responsibility and craft a plan together for how much feels right. How the heck do you do that? Here are a few tips:
1. Appeal to Their Ego: Teenagers love being asked about their opinion. The reason they don’t talk to adults is that we don’t generally ask them questions; instead, we try to tell them things in question form. When you ask, “How was school today?” they hear, “I hope you did well in school today, and, if you didn’t, I want to know why.” Come up with the question you really want the answer to, and ask it, without having an agenda. Like, “When do you think you will be ready to drive on your own or with friends in the car?” or “When is the right time to start applying to colleges, presuming you really want to go to college?” This sort of open-ended query will surprise them, especially if your relationship with your teen has been a power struggle. Asking them what they think will put you both on the same side: the side of curiosity.
2. Accept the Fact That You Are No Longer in Charge: I’m not saying that you don’t have rules in your house. I’m just saying that the implementation of those rules is no longer your job. You can ask your teen to do something with a consequence if they don’t do it; but you cannot require them to be happy about doing something they dislike. Be very careful about wielding money as a weapon; it can backfire into a rebellious teen. It’s easier if you craft rules according to your family values and let the consequence of not following them be the discipline.
3. R-E-S-P-E-C-T Yourself First: You cannot make your teen show you respect; respect is something that is earned by being honest, clear in your requests, and trusting that your kid is a good person. You have spent a lot of time raising your children. Trust that you’ve done a good job, and get off the “show me some respect” soapbox. That attitude will shut a teen down, and they won’t hear anything else you’re saying. Instead of trying to get your teen to respect you, put that energy into respecting yourself. Spend time and energy on self-care. When you feel content, your teen will be drawn to that calm energy. When your daughter sees you taking care of yourself, she will understand that self-care is important. Self care leads to self-respect, which leads to confidence, and that’s something that everyone needs.
4. Go from Coach To Consultant: Our job as the parent of a teenager is no longer to call the plays; we are here to help implement the plays that this burgeoning adult designs. It does not help our teenager for us to check homework, figure out their schedule for them, or do their science fair project. We are not here to fix our teenagers; we are here to help them fix themselves. If you can accept that role, then your teen won’t feel pressured by you. You can both be on the same team, but you are no longer the coach. The two best sentences in high school are: “Everything is going to be all right” and “How can I help?” These two sentences are both reassuring and empowering.
I know that this method works, because I’ve tried it both ways. I’ve done the “it’s my way or the highway” approach to parenting a teen, and it led to a prickly relationship that is still under construction. With this new consultant approach, I don’t have real fights with my 15 year old. In fact, the other day on the way to school, she said, “You’re a really great mom, and I love you.” She was driving, so she couldn’t see the tears that welled up in my eyes. This is all I ever wanted with my eldest, but my need for control would never allow it to happen. The closeness I have with my girls is the single greatest source of joy in my life, and all I had to do was let go.
If something in this blog post intrigued you or enraged you, I want to hear all about it! Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org Or, if you need a little help getting to a new place with your teenager, go here for coaching.