Women, life, happiness
  • “I’m so tired of arguing with my teenager.”

    February 25th, 2011Keryl PesceFamily and Relationships, Life in general

    "I don't know what to do anymore. Honestly, I'm emotionally drained and exhausted. All I want is what's best for my child, but it seems he fights me on everything. And I mean, everything. He won't do anything I ask him to do, but his friends call and he jumps through hoops. How do I get him to listen to me?"

    The answer lies in what you just said. Here's a hint. You just told me his friends have more influence with him than you do. There's a reason for that, and you'll understand why by the time youfinish reading this.

    Let's start by hitting the usual parental directives:

    "Apply yourself at school. Do your homework and get good grades."

    "Hang out with the right people."

    "Don't do drugs"

    "Don't have sex (or the more liberal "without protection" clause)."

    "Don't smoke."

    "Clean your room."

    Usually followed by the big "or" - whatever consequence will come if they don't do what you say.

    Every parent wants their child to be safe, healthy, happy and successful. And every rule or directive imposed is with that intention in mind. So you must do it. You must insist, punish and reinforce, right? Maybe not.

    When I was a teenager, I vividly remember being at a friend's house with my boyfriend on a Saturday during the day. The phone rang and it was my father. Apparently, he went to get dressed and had no clean underwear. Whose assigned chore was it that week to do laundry? Mine. I knew it. He insisted I come home immediately and wash his underwear, which I begrudgingly did as I bawled my eyes out from the second I hung up the phone and and stormed to the basement to start the wash.

    Now, he was right. I knew I was supposed to do the laundry. But I was a teenager. Let's see . . . out with boyfriend? Home washing father's underwear? I'm not so sure it was a deliberate choice NOT to do the laundry, but where would any normal teen's head be? As a parent, you might be thinking "Damn straight. I would make her come home too." And honestly, if I had children, my initial reaction might be to do the same. But let's play this out.

    He wants me to learn responsibility. I get that. But do you think as a teenager I saw that? No. I saw a father who was mean, embarrassing, and selfish.

    So his desire was to teach me to be responsible, which of course is in my best interest. But did he accomplish what he set out to do? Do you think I respected him and appreciated the lesson he was teaching me? I didn't appreciate squat. The only outcome, in addition to him having clean underwear an hour later, was me resenting him. He drove a giant wedge between him and me and furthered my belief that parents are unreasonable. Result: push me away from him and closer to my friends.

    Once any teenager begins to believe you are unfair or unreasonable, he will be on the lookout to justify his belief. Without even being consciously aware of it, he may likely act out in less than desirable ways to prove it. "I was only 10 minutes late! What's the big deal? You act like I was out all night."

    Parent: Impose a rigid rule.

    Child: Challenge your attempt to control them.

    Sounding at all familiar yet?

    Here's the deal in case you hadn't realized it. Your kids see the world around them through an entirely different set of eyes than you do. Take yourself back for a moment to when you were a teen and remember how things looked to you. It's not right or wrong. It just is. Even as adults, each of us has our own set of lenses through which we see and interpret what goes on around us. Regularly remind yourself of that. It will help you react more calmly and with a more open mind. And trust me, that's good for everyone involved.

    The next time you are faced with pointing your child in a direction which you know is better for them, whenever possible do so in a way they feel they get to choose the better behavior. I'm not telling you anything you don't know when I say that your child will go against what you say, just because you told them to do or not to do something. Whether you are right or not makes no difference.

    What you end up with is a kid who doesn't necessarily disagree that you are right in what you say, but he will devise and scheme ways to prove to you that you can't control him, even if that involves engaging in self-destructive behavior. And guess what? In a big way, he is right.

    None of us can truly control another person. And what happens when we try? It backfires. The relationship goes further and further down the tubes until you get to the point where you feel your child hates you, he speaks to you at an absolute minimum and won't talk to you. He essentially cuts you off from his world. You end up not having a clue what he's doing, what he's thinking, or what guidance he really does need from you. Even if a major decision such as whether or not to have sex is on his mind, there ain't a snowball's chance in Hell he will ask for your input.  I have to ask again. Is this sounding familiar? Is this what you want? Of course not. You end up with exactly what you don't want and fear most.

    If your child's safety is at risk, you can't pull any punches. You have to keep him from physical harm. But barring that risk, I suggest you try a different approach than you have been. Should you communicate to your child what you prefer he does? Of course. Should you insist, demand, threaten? Not unless you want to push him away from you.

    Look, your kid knows what you want him to do. I'm sure there are times you must wonder if your kid is an idiot, but he isn't. He heard you. Continuing to harp on him won't suddenly inspire him to WANT to do what you ask of him. The only way you get him to WANT to do what you ask of him is to do everything in your power to strengthen your relationship with him. You wonder why his friends have so much influence over him? Because his friends don't try to control him. The relationship is strong, open, there is a basis of trust. So he tells his friends everything and will do what his friends want him to do. That's the position you want to be in.

    So what do you do? From here on out, when deciding what to say and how to say it to your child, ask yourself if what you are about to do or say will pull him closer to you or push him away. Choose closer.

    The only way you truly have influence over your child is when he trusts you and wants to please you. I can't remember one instance in my lifetime where someone forcing me to do something in any way added to my respect or trust of the other person or motivated me to please them. Has it ever for you?

    I get that it feels uncomfortable to loosen the grip, but the tight grip doesn't work. If what you have been doing isn't working, perhaps it's time to try something different. Not sure where to begin? Try honesty. There is tremendous power in truth and admitting we're not perfect. Let your child know something is on your mind, that you'd like to talk to him about and to let you know when is a good time for him. What's the message you want to get across?

    "I love you more than anything. All I want is what's best for you, always. Even with that, I realize that I'm not perfect. You and I hardly talk. We're barely a part of each other's lives anymore. I accept that in large part, it's my fault. I miss you. I want to be part of your life again. If that means I've got to change my ways, then that's what I will do. From now on, I will let you know what I prefer you do and why and let you decide whether or not you choose to do it. You are growing up and I understand that you are able to make intelligent decisions about what you do and how you behave and accept the consequences of those actions. Granted, we still have certain basic rules, which are (whatever bare minimum structures must be in place). But today is the first day of me showing you that I love you, I trust you and am giving you more freedom to make the smart decisions I know you are capable of."

    Word of caution. You have to be ready to follow through on what you say.

    I understand this might feel scary to you. It likely feels like you are losing control over your child, but have an open mind and really think about it. When you repair and strengthen your relationship with your child (and you do that by not trying to control him), you have a thousand times more control over his life because you have influence over him. When your relationship sucks, you have zero influence. When your relationship is strong, he welcomes you into his world, he talks to you, he tells you what's on his mind, he asks for your help and opinion. That, my friend, is your ultimate goal. That is exactly where you want to be.

    (For more in-depth information on this concept, read "Choice Theory" by William Glasser. There is a section specifically for families.)

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2 responses to ““I’m so tired of arguing with my teenager.”” RSS icon

  • Thanks for the compliment and constructive feedback. It’s been corrected!

  • Very good article, but you should be careful with some of your grammar. For example, it shouldn’t read “between he and I”. The correction is “between him and me”. We so often get overly concerned about the “you and I” thing, that we forget proper usage.

    Only constructive criticism here.

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