Most mothers of teenagers understand they won’t be able to control their children forever, but it can still be a little disconcerting when that natural pull for independence begins. So how do you continue to have control over your teenager while still maintaining a positive relationship that will last into adulthood?
Know the difference between control and influence. The truth is, you can’t control a teenager, not in the sense that you can control a younger child. When children are young, parents control almost every aspect of their lives, from what they eat to who they play with to when they go to bed. Teenagers, on the other hand, are naturally seeking for more independence as they transition into adulthood, so it’s not only okay but GOOD for them to start taking control of their life through making their own decisions. If we continue to try to control our teenagers in every little thing, we can unintentionally set them up to either rebel behind our backs or become unable to control themselves once they leave home. To avoid this, we have to start letting go of control and focusing more on our power to influence them–and our influence can be tremendous.
Be their ally. The last thing you want to do as the parent of a teenager is to set yourself up as the bad guy–the person whom they want to rebel against. Even if my kids want to rebel, it would have to be against something other than me because they understand very clearly that I am their best and biggest ally. I’m not talking about treating them like peers and not children; I’m talking about having the kind of relationship with them that they actually believe the family rules and boundaries are there to help them succeed and be happy. The key to developing this kind of relationship is to CONNECT BEFORE YOU CORRECT: spend quality time together, show interest in what they are interested in, listen to them and their point of view, acknowledge the positive things they do at least five times more than the negative. When teenagers feel like you are their ally, they are much more receptive to your influence.
Make rules and consequences that are REASONABLE, RELATED, and RESPECTFUL. As an adult I have a hard time with rules that don’t make sense and with people who are unreasonable–that makes ME want to rebel! And our teenagers are the same. One example of a rule and consequence that is related and reasonable is if you’re teenager is getting poor grades because they are getting repeatedly distracted by their phone. In that case, you would simply take the phone away every day after school until they get their homework and studying done. But it’s how you do it that matters, too–that’s where the respect comes in. Explain to them that you know they want to get good grades, but you recognize that their phone is a huge distraction keeping them from reaching their goals, and so you are going to take the phone away during homework time to help them reach their goals. (Which is 100% true!) An example of how to deal with this same situation in a way that is UNrelated, UNreasonable, and DISrespectful would be to make your child double up on chores as “punishment” for getting poor grades (unrelated) or take away their phone for the rest of the school year (unreasonable), or take it away in a punitive, punishing way that makes them feel powerless and rebellious (disrespectful). It also helps to give them reasonable leeway when they don’t follow the rules perfectly (i.e. not going ballistic if they get home 2 minutes after curfew–you run late sometimes, too . . .). When you treat your teenagers in this way, they will respect you in return and you can have a much greater influence.
Put the ball in their court. When you’re going through the process of developing family rules and expectations, it’s important to include your children in the process for a couple of reasons. 1) You want to all be on the same page; and 2) it puts the ball in their court. Again, it’s not about you controlling them, it’s about them learning to control themselves and their own future. When I talk to my teenage kids about their behavior in relation to our family rules and expectations, it’s almost always within the context of how I can help them be the best they can be and reach their goals. When you ask a teenage child how you can help them, they don’t feel like you are trying to control them, so they are much more open to your influence.
Keep them busy and engaged. One last thought is that sometimes teenagers get into trouble or have bad behavior simply because they’re bored, lacking in self-confidence, or don’t know where they fit in. Helping them develop important life skills, find work or a volunteer opportunities, or get engaged in a hobby or sport can make a huge difference in their behavior. Teens are beyond the age of simply needing to be entertained or preoccupied in their free time, they need a vision and a purpose for their life and there are a lot of things they need to learn before they leave home. One suggestion is Merilee Boyack’s “The Parenting Breakthrough” which has comprehensive lists of life skills that teens need to master before leaving home, like how to balance a checkbook or change a tire. I also wrote a post called “5 Tips to Keep Teens and Tweens Busy During the Summer” that has lots of resources and links for both work and volunteer opportunities. They may grumble a bit at these suggestions, but once they feel the sense of satisfaction that comes from learning and contributing, they will become much more engaged and self-motivated and you will have to worry a lot less about trying to “control” them.
QUESTION: How do you “control” your teenager?