I have heard from countless parents how frustrated they become when they so badly want to help influence and shape their teenager’s life, however, their teen wants nothing at all to do with them. As a parent, how do you manage this dynamic? This is very tricky for a few reasons. First, as the parent you are older, wiser and have often times had experiences from which your teen could benefit hearing about. Second, it is often difficult to just sit back and watch your teenager make mistakes that you could help prevent if they would just be open to your advice. Finally, and let’s be honest, sometimes you just want things done your way. It can feel really frustrating to have advice that you feel would benefit your teen and feel that no matter what you do or say they will not listen to you or take your advice.
One question parents should ask themselves in these situations is, “what am I really looking to do by giving advice in this situation”? The reason why I see this as such an important question is because often times it is less about really wanting to tell your teen what they should do and more about wanting to stay involved, influential and a part of their life. Yes – there are situations when you truly want to tell your child what to do so that they can avoid a messy situation, however, more often you just want to have a presence in your teenager’s life. You want to be able to guide them and shape their life for the better.
With this in mind, you will want to think about behaviors which may help you remain connected (or reconnect if you feel a connection has already been lost) with your teen in addition to behaviors that will push your teen away. Often times, changing your way of interacting with your teenager will change the dynamic and can greatly improve the overall feel of the relationship and ultimately their interest in advice you may have for them. Below is a list of suggestions:
Behaviors that may help you remain connected or reconnect with your teenager:
- Be vulnerable. Often times this seems strange because parents feel they need to be the strength for their teenager. However, being vulnerable with your teenager allows them to see you as a real person with real feelings. Examples of being vulnerable may include letting them know that you miss talking to them, asking them questions about their music or pop culture they like and tell them you feel out of loop about what is current, eating meals with them and just spending time with them in general being your relaxed self. One of the best ways to be vulnerable is to apologize if you said or did something you wish you had not. Own your mistakes in a sincere way.
- Don’t act out of emotion. This can be extremely difficult when your teenager pushes your buttons or makes a decision which is harmful or highly inappropriate. As a parent who cares deeply about their child, of course you are going to be emotional (angry, scared, disappointed, frustrated) when these things happen which is normal and not a problem at all. What does sometimes become a problem is when parents act out of these strong emotions. In these situations parents often times say things that they later regret, however, even with an apology, their teen who already has insecure and fragile self-esteem will hang onto the emotional response which can damage the parent – teen relationship. It is better to take time to calm down, gather your thoughts (even write them down so that you remain on track when speaking with your teenager) and then speak with your teenager calmly about the situation.
- Don’t say “I told you so”. Nobody ever wants to hear this phrase and teenagers are no exception. As a parent, you will likely have many “I told you so” moments. You will offer advice to your teenager, they will refuse your advice and then down the road the exact thing you predicted would happen does. It will be extremely tempting to use these situations as an opportunity to tell your teenager that they should listen to you more because you were right. While all of that is true, it is better to allow your teenager an opportunity to “save face” and not feel ashamed by the situation. They will know that your advice would have been worth taking but will likely never tell you this. Getting into a power struggle about who was right and who was wrong will likely only create resentment in your teenager. As a parent, you can continue to offer your suggestions and hope that over time your teenager will see that you do have something worthwhile to offer them!
Behaviors that may further push your teenager away:
- Yelling and Screaming. This is often a natural reaction to situations your teenager may create, however, is generally not helpful and can quickly cause them to view you as the “bad guy” and resent you.
- Saying you were right and they were wrong. See the section above which outlines this concept.
- Giving extreme consequences. Teenagers will become resentful if the consequences you give them are extreme in an effort to make a point. For example, if Susie returns 30 minutes late with the car an extreme consequence may be that she cannot drive the car for 6 months. The point will get lost in the outrageousness of the consequence. When giving consequences to teenagers, the consequences should be meaningful and time limited.
For more parenting resources and tips go to the How To a Parent website where you can gain instant access to our free audio titled 3 Powerful Strategies For Parents Of Teenagers – get this audio HERE now. You can also follow Karen Vincent on Twitter @KarenParentTeen.