Parent and Teen Struggles: A Survival Guide
by Stephanie Partridge
At some point as a parent, regardless of how great your relationship is with your teen, you will butt heads and go through some struggles. You teen will begin trying to separate from you and become an individual. They want to be independent, in control of their own lives and make their own choices. While it may be difficult and even painful for both of you, these struggles are actually good for your teen – and for you. If you handle these struggles properly, you can actually strengthen your relationship with your teen while making both of you stronger, wiser and better decision makers. These survival tips will help.
Don't – Fall in the Parent Trap
Many parents fall into what I call the "Parent Trap." They play that parent card like they were playing a winning hand in a million dollar poker game. They over use the power (bordering on abusing it), completely controlling the situation and giving the child no leeway whatsoever. Do you want a kid who sneaks out after you go to sleep or who wears one thing out then changes into a "forbidden" ensemble in the gas station restroom after they leave your house? Well, that is exactly what you are going to get if you control every aspect of your child's life. And if you say, "MY child wouldn't do something like that" you are especially at risk. You are kidding yourself and your child probably already has done something like that.
Do – Talk
Now, I don't mean you should talk, talk, talk, completely monopolizing the conversation. I also don't mean you should use the "because I said so" routine either. What I mean here is open a dialogue with your teen where both of you can voice your concerns and opinions. If your teen is engaging in activities that you don't approve of or you feel are not healthy, don't just barrel through and drop the ax. Forbidden things are very appealing. So you have just forbidden your teen from going to an inappropriate movie or smoking. Congratulations, you have just pretty much guaranteed that they will be clamoring to do whatever it is you said they can't. Talk, but also let your teen talk as well. Allow them the opportunity to give their side.
Don't – Use the "When I was your Age" Routine
Trust me, in the heat of battle your child could not care less how things were when you were their age. In their mind (and it is pretty true) the world is a much different place now than when you were their age. I think about how things were when I was my daughter's age. She has Facebook and texting; I had the telephone because the internet did not exist. She listens to CD's and her mp3 player; I had cassette tapes and records and I listened to a Walkman. Times have changed dramatically and we as parents have to realize that our lives as teenagers, in many ways, are nothing like the lives our kids are living now. Kids today are exposed to much more than we were when we were their age.
Do – Remember that your Teen is an Individual
Many parents forget sometimes that their child is an individual. They seem to feel that their child is an extension of themselves. This is a grave error and is a fast way to destroy your relationship with your child. Your teen is an individual with their own opinions and feelings. They probably don't react to things the same way that you do and they probably don't process things the same way either. They have a different set of experiences, a unique personality and needs that are different from yours. What may not be good for you may work quite well for them. Try analyzing the situation, whatever it is, from that perspective. Take yourself out of the equation and focus on your child and the individual that they are.
Don't – Avoid "Rocking the Boat"
Sometimes you just have to put your foot down. If your teen is doing something illegal or harmful, you have every right to do whatever it takes to stop it. Don't be afraid to punish your teen for not following your rules, but keep it fair and be consistent. Also know that at some point you may need to seek outside help. If your teen is drinking, you may need to get counseling for them or even rehab. If they are doing something illegal, it may be necessary for you to contact law enforcement and even turn them in. It is a fine line between putting your foot down and control, but try to keep it in perspective.
Do – Look for Compromises
Compromise is good. Compromise teaches your teen how to negotiate and how to find better ways of doing things. It also teaches cooperation and teamwork. It is good for you because it keeps you from being a complete control freak. Approach struggles with your teen by first voicing your sides of the argument. State your case, then give them the floor. Then ask the question, "What can WE do to fix this?" Try to find a halfway point that works for both of you. You won't always be able to do that, but you would be surprised at how often you can compromise when you stop pushing your own agenda and start trying to work together.
Don't – Lose your Cool
No matter how frustrated you get, no matter how much you want to throttle your teen, keep a cool head. If things get too heated, take a break. Go into different rooms for a while, take some deep breaths and calm down. Losing your cool will start a downhill slide that will begin with harsh words, escalate to yelling and wind up with a gaping void between you and your teen that damages your relationship and accomplishes nothing. If your teen starts to lose it, call a time out. Let them go for a walk, take a bath or go in their room and listen to music for a while. Give them time to relax and regroup so that they can return to the conflict with calm, clarity and rationale.
Do – Be Flexible
Flexibility is one of the greatest survival skills you can have if you are parenting a teen. The teen years can be challenging to put it mildly. You may tell your teen to take out the trash – now. Your teen may wait half the day before doing it, if they do it at all. You see it as rebellion, your teen sees it as exerting their independence and making their own choices. So, beat them at their own game. Give them choices. Instead of saying, "Take the trash out right now," say, "It is your turn to take out the trash, do you want to do it now or after dinner?" If they say after dinner, then when they don't do it you can counter with, "you said you would take the trash out after dinner." The key is that you have been flexible and given them choices. In a way you are in control of the outcome, but you are giving them the choice of which of your outcomes they want.
Don't – Give Up
Sometimes you may feel that you are swimming in quicksand – and sinking fast – as you deal with your teen. These teen struggles can be so exhausting, so frustrating. You may feel at times that it would be better if you just gave up. I have one word for you, DON'T. Don't give up on your child, whether you want to give up on them completely or give up on preventing them from engaging in a dangerous behavior. When you give up on your child, you take something very important away from them – your support. They push you and try you because you are safe. They know that they can be impossible, they can be impudent little brats and you will still love them unconditionally. In fact, they are counting on it. They are just as frustrated and scared as you are. They are on the cusp of adulthood and about to enter a world that can be very dark and very scary. They have to flap their wings a bit while in the nest so that they can fly when they leave it.
Do – Listen
Listen to what your child says. Don't just listen with your ears, don't just hear the words, really listen with your heart. Try to understand their point of view, and if you don't understand it, at least respect it. Even if it violates your own beliefs, respect it. You will teach your child tolerance, make them feel as if they have a voice and make them feel like their opinions and feelings are valued. Listening is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child. It is something that you should practice with them every single day, whether you are struggling with them or not.
Stephanie Partridge is a freelance writer and photographer as well as a FOIA analyst for a federal agency in Washington, D.C. She is a single mom to Jeffery, 19; Micah Elizabeth, 17 and Benjamin, 15. She is also the author of the ebook, “Diet is a Dirty Word.”
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