How to Parent Your Teenager.
Their world has drastically changed. Parents need to change, too.
We have met the enemy. And he is us. (Pogo)
You Are Your Teenager’s Parent, Not Boss
Parents: don’t be your own worst enemy. Teenagers are still your children. You are still their parent. But you are no longer their boss. You’ve been fired.
Your task now is to get rehired as a consultant. This will happen only when they want it–not when you want it. But you can do things that will give yourself a reasonable chance to get “back in your teenager’s good graces,” so that he or she is willing to cooperate with you much more and be less defiant, as I will show you.
Your teenagers are way beyond you. Let them go. You can’t reel them back in. If they come back, the only way they’ll come is if they want to, on their own.
In their eyes, you are not their parents anymore. You are superfluous, irrelevant. This is their delusion (a belief falsely held). But you cannot change it. Do you want to try? Do you want to force the issue? Do you want to play hard ball with them? Do you want immense control struggles, battles that you cannot win? If you do, good luck. I can’t help you.
A Better Way
There is a better way. But you will have to realize some things, and accept them for the bitter reality that they are. If you hope to get your teenager back, you will need to change. Why? Because the parent always has to change first.
Your teenagers are way beyond the four walls of your home. It’s sad, but true. They are on the internet. They have their computers, Ipods, Ipads, cell phones, and other amazingly powerful toys that connect them to the outside world. So the whole world is now their oyster, their toy box. They can watch all the porn they want. They can play all the video games they want. They’ve gone world-wide. They can all have sex they want. They can produce babies they are utterly unprepared to care for and raise. If they want, they can steal from you, cheat you, and take advantage of you–in ways you probably don’t even know about. They can do this to other people too. They can even commit serious crimes, and can go to jail for a long time. Unfortunately, parents cannot prevent it.
You can’t stop any of it. As one teenager told his mother, “Mom, you can’t stop me from having fun.” It’s true. Admit it. Accept it. If you ever had them on a leash, they are off it now. Realize this and accept it. It’s true. Your best bet is to stop trying to prevent them from doing what they want to do. You can’t.
There’s a better way for them: cooperation. And, a better role for you: consultant. This is the only role that will work with teenagers.
You probably think you are their loving, giving, self-sacrificing mother or father–albeit unappreciated and disrespected. Well, you are right–I’m sure of it. However, to those teenage children with whom you have problems, this is what you are to them:
- You’re a tyrant, a slave-driver, a drill sargent, a dictator, a sheriff.
- You’re old-fashioned, out of touch, and irrelevant.
- What you think means nothing to them. What their friends think means everything.
- They feel you have completely lost your usefulness to them. (They’re wrong, of course, but that’s how they feel.)
Power With, Not Power Over
They’re way beyond your control. They’re gone. Accept it. There’s still a role for you. And it’s an important one.
In their eyes, you are no more than their equal now. They are “grown up” and want to be treated as adults, as equals to you (as long as you still take care of them). But you are far from irrelevant or useless to them. You have much to offer them (whether they realize it or not). You have more experience, more problem-solving skills, more self-discipline, more self-control, better judgement than they do, and besides all that you control financial resources.
These things give you power they don’t have.
They are navigating the real world now, finding out what the real world is about. You can’t stop them. So let the real world teach them. The lessons may be hard ones. They may hurt your teenager. They may hurt you, too. But you can’t prevent it.
Your role is to be standing there, ready and willing, with your hand out for them to grab when they need to turn to you, and come back to you, for help.
If and when they want to come back to you, or want something from you, don’t make it easy on them. They want to be treated like adults. So do it. From now on everything is adult-to-adult. This means contracts. Written contracts. Don’t baby them. Don’t mollycoddle them. Don’t rescue them. Don’t lecture them. Don’t teach them. Don’t preach at them. Don’t even advise them. They’re playing tough with you. So play tough with them. When the opportunity presents itself, drive a hard bargain. Put it in writing. Make it a contract. That’s what adults do.
This is how you will exercise power with them, not power over them.
This is how you will become relevant to them again–as a consultant they have freely chosen to hire in order to get what they want.
Your Two-Week Experiment
Try the following experiment for two weeks and see if s/he is starting to act any different toward you. At first you might think this will lead to chaos, but you’re probably already in chaos. It won’t hurt to change your tactics for a couple weeks. You have little to lose. You have already fallen out of grace with that child. You have already been fired and are considered irrelevant. And you simply cannot control their behavior. So try the following.
- Stop initiating conversations with them. Stop trying to be so nice. Stop talking to them–except for greetings, brief pleasantries, occasional praise (if it is merited).
- Be their ally and helper. You’re trying to learn how to be their consultant, so you have to overdo it at first. Learn what it feels like to do things for them that they want.
- Accept their bad language without getting your nose bent out of joint. Recognize them for what they are. All those bad words are simply immature, disrespectful, obscene shorthand for expressing a deeper meaning, value, or feeling, or for letting off steam. Accept them as such. Their bad language is THEM, not YOU. Their words, insulting as they are, do not determine who you are.
- You can always go back later and say something like, “You know, Jack, I really didn’t care for those words you were using when we were talking earlier,” and drop it. They’ll get the point, and they may or may not want to please you the next time by controlling their tongue.
- Ask them to call you by your name, not “mom” or “dad” if they would like to. (This is optional for you. If you feel this is going too far, don’t do it.)a. They first learned to call you “mama” or “dada.” It was cute.
b. Then they learned to call you “mom” or “dad.” That was good.
c. Now it’s time for another change. Encourage them to act like adults, like your friends, and to use your name. Watch how they respond. If they don’t want to do it, their feelings about you as “mom” and “dad” still run deep. If they do want to, try it. (You might get to like, it you might not.)
- Don’t give up your standards or ideals. Don’t let them push you around. Don’t say “yes” to things you don’t want.
- When they ask for something they want from you, use the occasion to ask for something you want from them. Say, “Oh, I’m glad you brought that up. There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you about, too. Let’s negotiate a little contract, adult to adult.” Tell them what you want from them. Then say, “So we both want something from each other. How should we handle this?” Let them take the lead. See what they say. See if they play ball with you by negotiating something you can live with. Give some, take some. Drive a hard bargain. Don’t be “had.” Don’t let them take advantage of you.
- You’ve got some things that they might want you to do for them, or give them, because you have probably been doing it for a long time, just because you are their parent. That’s all in the past. Now these things are now “up for contract.” Here are some examples:
Examples of Things You Do for Them That Can Now Be “Up for Contract”
a. Buying their food.
b. Cooking their food.
c. Washing their clothes.
d. Washing their sheets.
e. Changing their bed.
f. Buying them clothes.
g. Giving them money.
h. Paying for stuff they want.
i. Letting them use the car.
j. Signing off on things for them.
k. Giving permission.
l. Taking them places.
m. Picking them up.
Fill in the blanks with things you know they want from you.
All these things are now “up for contract,” like they’re on the auction block. They carry a price. They have real value. They require your attention, time, energy, and money. You want something and deserve something in return. And you are doing it in order to help them learn how the world works. No free lunch anymore. Give each item a point value, 1-10. When your teenager wants something from you, determine what you want from him/her of equal point value. Say, “I’m glad you brought that up, because I want something of equal value from you. Let’s negotiate a little contract.”
The contract can consist of any piece of paper with the words “Contract between _______________ and __________________,” with the date on it and place for signatures. When devising the terms of the contract, be sure to specify how long it is to last. When the contract is broken, there must be a penalty. This should be written on the contract, just as the law carries certain penalties: speeding carries a $75 or $140 fine, and 1-6 points. Get your teen’s agreement and signature on all these things.
Negotiating agreements and holding your teen accountable are the best ways to deal with them. They always want to be treated like adults, so do it. Their developmental task is to become independent from you. They will make mistakes — let them. Your task as their consultant is to help them learn from their mistakes.
3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model and the New School Parenting model. Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.