Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a fight with your teen, thinking: how can we be seeing this so differently? Why can’t my teen understand that I’m doing this to protect him?
Often, when we argue with our teens, we are fighting for two different things. Parents fight for protection. Teens fight for control.
As a parent, we have a tendency to control our kids to protect them. It makes sense. We want to ensure that our kids have the best opportunities for life. But in that protection, our high-control techniques keep them from exercising muscle that will actually strengthen their character in the long run.
It’s like getting a new car. When you pull your new wheels into the driveway, it looks gorgeous. It’s clean, sleek, and perfect. And then, you drive it. After you put on a couple thousand miles, it gets dings in the door and scratches in the paint. The shine wears off. You have the choice to keep the car in perfect condition, but you would need to keep it in the garage to do so.
The way we control our kids is similar. If you keep them away from the world, they won’t experience the pain and hurt that normally comes with everyday life. But keeping your kids isolated in the garage has an inherent problem: someday they will be forced to drive out into the world. Do you really want the first time your child gets hurt or makes a mistake to be when they are away from you? Whether that’s away at college, or when their primary relationship is with a boyfriend or girlfriend, the mistakes they make will be a lot more costly if they aren’t in relationship with you.
Adolescence is about the transition teens make from childhood to adulthood. In order to allow this to happen, they need to have opportunities to make choices in their lives. Teens really want three things: to make decisions about themselves, to feel like they’re in control, and to have opportunities to prove their maturity and to show you that they can do it. It’s not a surprise that they want these things. When your kids were young, they learned about growing up. They used you as their model and formed their own hopes and expectations for adulthood on what they saw in you. Now that they are teens, they are breaking away from having their identity tied so tightly to you as their parent, and because of this, they encounter this struggle for control.
As a parent, when you don’t allow your teens to have opportunities for control, they can respond with rebellious behavior. Sometimes, they withdraw from opportunities. They may become aloof or lazy and will just coast through life. Other times, teens can fight for control through making choices without your counsel, or will intentionally rebel against how you have counseled them. At some point, you aren’t going to be able to influence your teen. Whether your teen is out of the area for college, the military, or a job, your ability to speak into your child’s life will decrease. When this happens, what you have done up until that point will be the primary source of guidance that your teen will have to reflect on – so it’s wise to make the most of the time you have with them right now.
If you aren’t sure whether you are controlling your teen’s life, ask them! Hey, I’m sure your son or daughter will be brutally honest when you simply ask the question. And an open line of communication is one of the most important things you can do to strengthen your relationship with your teen. Whether or not your teen thinks you are controlling, give them more things to be responsible for. Think about chores around the house, and responsibilities they have in school or extracurricular activities. Every piece of life is an opportunity to give your child a chance to grow his own ability to apply the lessons you have taught them. If you are controlling every aspect of your child’s life, later on, they will not know how to respond to the things that life throws at them.
As you give your child more opportunities for responsibility, be ready to support them in both success and in failure. Having your teen become more responsible may be exciting to you in the beginning, but if you don’t build that sense of trust between you and your teen that you will be there when they fail, the responsibility you give them will end up demoralizing and frustrating them.
It’s hard to think about your teen growing up. We like the young and innocent phase, and it’s a little threatening when our children begin to emerge as young adults. At times, when your teen makes goofy choices or makes stupid mistakes, you will be tempted to seize control so that you can protect them. The secret is finding a healthy balance to allowing freedom while building trust with your teen.
As parents, let’s do our best to stop controlling and start inviting our teens to greater levels of responsibility. The rewards will be rich as we watch them develop into responsible and independent adults. – Mark Gregston