by Genelle Black, MA
I recently opened my email to see the subject of a newsletter I had received that was all about how to “control” your teen. Immediately I was triggered. You control your electronics or machinery. You can control an animal.
You can’t or shouldn’t control a human being.
Take a second and think back in time to when you were a teen. Did you like being bossed around? Did you take kindly to others imposing their will on you? Did their bossiness make you want to comply or rebel? If you’re anything like most teens, you did things just because you were told you couldn’t or shouldn’t.
That is part of what adolescence is; testing boundaries.
When I think of control in the context of parenting, I think of the authoritarian parent. That is the parent who believes that it is their way or the highway. This parent seeks to break the will and spirit of their child. The parent who switches up rules on a whim to suit whatever their need or feeling is that day. There is no reasoning, no compromise and no understanding with this parent. This style of parenting breeds unhealthy attachment styles for their children that last well into adulthood.
Adolescence is also a time of self-discovery and individuation. Attempting to control your teen will stunt that self-discovery and make the transition to adulthood even more difficult. Making choices and dealing with the resulting natural consequences of said choices will be foreign to those adults who have no autonomy.
All this is not to say that adolescents do not need boundaries and guidance. The way guidance, discipline and boundaries look over time should shift based on the age and developmental stage of your child. You can’t simply redirect your teen away from the dangers of sexting and inappropriate sexual behaviors as you would redirect your toddler from a dangerous stove or electrical outlet.
The adolescent years require parents to actively engage in helping the teen develop a moral compass and a strong sense of self.
In order to do this work, you must approach your relationship with your kid from a place of openness. So many times parents discipline from a place of shame or fear. Those two emotions tend to leave little room for truth or growth. Fear and shame make us say things like “how could you do that?” Or “No child of mine would do that!” Or even “what’s wrong with you?” To minimize issues with your tween or teen, try some of these changes.
- Be proactive about the behaviors you want to see. Create a behavioral contract with a clearly defined list of desired behaviors and clearly defined consequences. The adolescent and the parents come to an agreement about what is expected and there is no ambiguity which results in seeing more of the desired behaviors.
- Keep the lines of communication open. Listen to your teen when they vent. If you don’t listen to the small things they won’t tell you the big things. Your teen must know that you are a safe person to confide in and that communication with you will remain judgement free and non-punitive.
- Let your tweens and teens learn from the natural consequences of their actions. Don’t step in to rescue them from everything and don’t always be quick to step in with your own punishments.
- Educate your kids about the risks they are taking. Notice I said educate and not “shame”. You may have heard your parents say “good girls don’t do xyz”. A better approach would be to discuss the risks and rewards for such behavior. It may look like saying “It may have felt good to get that kind of attention from your crush but you took a big risk by sexting with him”. Then talk about the risks without judgement and what can be done differently when similar situations come up in the future.
- When you do impose consequences, think of the intended goal of the discipline and make it appropriate to the situation.
- Discuss behavioral issues or problems with your tweens and teens when everyone has had a chance to cool down. Discipline and anger should not go together.
- Make sure that you are able to follow through on any disciplinary measures you impose. Empty threats will get you nowhere and problem behaviors will only escalate.
- Choose your battles wisely. If you are reactive to everything that your adolescent does and every reaction is punitive, they start to think, “I’m always in trouble anyway/I’m going to be in trouble no matter what I do so I might as well do what I want”.
If you find that your family requires individualized help in order to decrease conflict with your tweens and teens, please schedule an appointment to speak with me about how I can help.
Learn more about Genelle and how she can help you and your child today, Here
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