Monday, March 24, 2014

Saving the Parent-Teen Relationship

I have recently been talking to one of my close friends regarding parenting struggles he is having with his teenagers. The topic of protecting the parent-teen relationship in the context of setting boundaries and consequences has come up several times. I began to think about how to negotiate the boundaries and consequences all families must have to function effectively, within the parent-teen relationship.

In my friend’s case, he is concerned if he is too strict or pushes too hard he will damage the relationship. However, he has also acknowledged there is a good chance his sons are aware of his fear and use this to their advantage. On the other hand, my friend understands if he is passive he may give the boys the impression that their behaviors are acceptable or that he does not care about the behaviors or them. What is a parent to do?

First, like my friend, acknowledge your own stuff. If you have fears regarding the relationship, what are they? If you are having other strong emotional reactions, why are these arising? Is something reminding you of the way you were parented? Once you take a look at how you are initiating or responding and you label those things, it becomes easier to notice them and begin to address them when they arise within the context of the relationship. If you are really brave and want even more bang for your buck, share your discoveries with others. Consider talking about these things with a friend, your spouse, or even with your teenager. When others see us modeling good communication and self-disclosure, it becomes easier for them to do the same.

Try to get on the same page with the other parent. In a large majority of families the parents tend to be on opposite ends of the parenting spectrum. One will tend towards being very strict and the other will be more passive or lenient. To further complicate things, when the strict one is overly strict, the more passive parent feels bad for the kids and becomes even more lenient. The strict parent sees the passive parent as being “too easy” on the kids, so they up the strict factor. This can be a vicious cycle that is confusing for the kids. The goal is for both parents to come more to the middle of the spectrum, with more consistent behavior between the two parenting styles. This has several benefits; it helps the relationship between the two parents and decreases the possibility the kids can divide and conquer.

Educate yourself on what is developmentally appropriate. For pre-teens and teens it is normal for them to try to stretch their wings. They are going to try new things, consider new ideas and challenge what the adults in their lives believe. This is an important stage that teens go through as they are beginning to develop into their own person. It says a great deal about the strength of the parent-teen relationship when the teen is willing to practice testing limits and comfort levels in the safety of their home and as part of their relationships with their parents. Allow them some space to figure out who they are, what they believe, and who they want to become and then be there to provide a soft, safe place to fall, which undoubtedly will happen.

Really consider the reason behind a rule/boundary. By the time a typically developing child is in their teens the rules/boundaries for them should be few and far between- just those that ensure safety and adherence to the law. It is our goal as the adults in their lives to help them to begin to self-monitor and self-enforce more and more with each year of life. Love and Logic ® puts it well: we are to become more of a consultant to the child the older they become. It is our job to help them begin to make good decisions on their own. After all, we are not going to be there to direct them forever.

There is a huge shift that occurs in most parent-teen relationships when the parents stop directing and come along side as a consultant. Love and Logic ® tells us that consultant-style parenting looks like the following:
1.) Remember consultants don’t force their ideas on the other person. Ask permission to share some ideas or to help your teen brainstorm some ideas.
2.) If your teen declines then let them know they are welcome to come ask for some suggestions if they change their minds.
3.) If they accept your offer, help them to generate a list of options (feel free to add some they may not think of).
4.) Prompt the teen to think about how each option would work by saying something like, “How do you think that will work?” or “How will that likely turn out?”
5.) Allow the teen to try one or more option. Follow-up by asking them how it worked out for them. If it did not work, encourage them to pick another option from the list the two of you generated.
6.) If needed, offer additional suggestions, but remember to honor the fact the teen may decline your assistance.

Allow your teen to feel the consequences for their choices. All too often, we as adults rush to rescue our children from their own choices. It is important that we allow them to learn from their choices. When at all possible, allow natural consequences do the teaching. If there is not a safe natural consequence, use a logical consequence. Be there to support and love them during and after the consequences, but don’t bail them out. Avoid saying or implying that you “told them so.”

One final suggestion: be willing to “lose.” Teens are very good at trying out their newly acquired debating skills. They also are bent on proving they are correct and the adults are wrong. This is a typical stage that most teens go through. My friend recently began taking a class to address parent-child relationships. He said the whole class basically boils down to this: “Sometimes you have to lose to the child to save the relationship.” Please don’t take this as being passive or giving in to the child. Sometimes we have to be willing to admit we are wrong or that there might be a different way to consider/do things. Take advantage of the fact that your teen is younger, is not yet set in their ways and sees the world in a different way than you do.

Most importantly, have fun with those teens. Before you know it they will be adults and no longer under your roof. Challenging as it may be, enjoy this time with them! It is one of the toughest, most important and rewarding jobs you will ever do.

For more suggestions on ways to improve your relationship with your teens, additional ways to support your family and for other great parenting tips call the Family Support Line at 1-877-695-7996 OR 1-866-Las-Familias (866-527-3264) for Spanish speakers. You can also e-mail with questions or concerns. Check us out on Facebook at Families First Colorado. The Family Support Line offers parenting tips, resources and information only and does not serve as legal or mental health advice. We believe you are the paramount person to decide what is best for your family. Comments provided by non-Families First individuals are not the opinion of Families First.