By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)
Has your teenager stopped listening to you? Do you routinely catch him telling lies, or does she continually break curfew? You may be finding yourself tempted to make tighter rules and to pass out punishments when these rules are broken. But Christina Botto, author of Help Me with My Teenager!, says this strategy is likely to backfire.
“It is possible to regain control by restricting your teenager and forcing him to do as you say. You can monitor their every move and bombard them with questions,” writes Botto in her ParentingATeenager.net article, “Trust vs. Control.” “Your teen, however, will most likely respond by avoiding you and family time, lying, dropping grades, or even running away from home. He also will be very frustrated, feel confined, and count the days until he is 18 and out of the house.”
What most parents are looking for is not to control their teen’s every move but to discourage their teen’s inappropriate behaviors while encouraging more mature behavior, like coming to them for advice and input. Because of our culture’s tendency to punish, it’s easy for parents to get caught up in this approach, when the most effective way of “regaining control” is not to punish or to control but rather to find ways to reconnect while guiding good decision-making.
As parents begin to let go of their control on their teen, however, Botto said many parents are left wondering how much independence is too much. Parents know they need to continue to teach, they know their teen is not yet at a point of being completely independent, but they don’t know where to set boundaries without seeming too controlling. That feeling of unease can lead parents of teens, just as with parents of younger children, to becoming overly permissive or controlling.
To help parents find the right boundaries for their teen, here are a couple tips to try when faced with an area of conflict:
- Allow your teen to make some decisions, such as what type of clothes to buy or when to do homework. This boosts confidence in himself and his decisions, as well as allows parents to gain confidence in his choices. This give-and-take in trust strengthens your attachment bond.
- You may discover your teen is more mature in her decision-making than you thought, or you may realize this is not so. When she does make unwise decisions, this gives you the opportunity to support and guide her, which when done appropriately and compassionately also strengthens the attachment bond. Don’t scold or punish. Instead, work together to talk about and problem-solve the situation. By discussing the problem and analyzing the facts, your teen will gain confidence in your ability to empathize with her and offer helpful advice. And by allowing your teen to join you in problem-solving, you’re boosting her confidence by giving her the opportunity to come up with her own solutions.