Teens struggle to be free from their controlling parents, who they feel have too many rules. Adults struggle to hold on to children who no longer want to be in their presence even after all you have done for them. How can this not be a time of struggle with goals so polarized?
The amount of miscommunication between teens and parents is exemplified in the commercial about automatic dishwashing liquid. As the teen is helping unload the dishwasher she holds out her hand and making a motion with her fingers that mom interprets as her asking for money for helping. The dishwashing counselor jumps in to help mom understand the teen is saying these dishes are greasy. I'm not big on commercials; I record things I like to watch for playback later so I can fast forward through them. But this one spoke to me.
I find that when I work with parents they usually agree that times have changed and things are different now then when they were growing up. Yet, they live what they learned. In other words, they start doing and saying the things they swore that they would never do or say. Take the following conversation, for instance:
"Don't back talk me, young lady."
"But, dad I'm just giving my opinion. That is not talking back."
"Now you are arguing with me."
"No I'm not. Dad, this is a free country and I have a right to express myself."
"Not in this house you don't. My roof. My rules. Now go to your room. You are grounded for the weekend."
"Okay you are grounded for a week."
Teen storms off to room in exasperation and slams the door.
"Make that two weeks now."
That is an example of what helps to rupture a relationship with a teen. Mending one is a bit different. The teens I have worked with tell me that what frustrates them the most is that their parents don't listen to them. They have an insatiable need to be heard. On the other side of the coin, they may have the illusion that if their parents listen to what they have to say then they will get to do what they want. This isn't true either, of course. When I explain this to them, they get frustrated, but not as much. For them at least being heard is better than not, even if it doesn't lead to them getting to do what they want.
My take on the teen years are a time of greatest opportunities for parents to teach and guide their children. They are the years parents can expect their teens to mess up. However, with each mess up the teen makes, this creates an opportunity (should a parent choose to take it) for parents to show empathy, love and understanding while setting limits, expecting them to be broken and allowing the experiences to be the teacher with the parent giving guidance and helping their teen through the rough spots. It isn't so easy to give what you didn't get, but this is the reality of parenting.
For example, we gave our teen daughter a weekly allowance so she would learn how to manage money. When she got a fine of $100.00 for shoplifting, we discussed the situation, heard her out and got her input. Our decision was that she would pay us back from her allowance. Every allowance day, she got a paper of how much her allowance was less deductions. I say deductions because later she ran up a 300.00 phone bill which she was responsible for paying it back. We took the long distance off the house phone, too. She did not like the limit setting but she took responsibility for what she did and stuck with it. This became a growing experience for her instead of a punishing one. The natural consequences of incurring debt is that you pay it back, so what we did made more sense than grounding her for two weeks. While this took a much longer time, she never shoplifted or ran up a huge phone bill again. This worked for her. Let me add that we did not rub this in every time allowance time came around. Nothing needed to be said. It was in black and white. It was enough.
It may not work for your child but I hope this is giving you some guidance on thinking outside the box of old parenting paradigms. Raising teens is emotionally and labor intensive at times because we take their behaviors so personally. We need to remember that everything they do or don't do is a reflection of their understanding and struggles. Our job is to not take their behavior so personally, but to use our power to influence and guide them instead of alienating them.
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