Hope For Tomorrow Counseling

Parents of Teenagers: Change Yourself and Your Teen Will Follow

by: Claudia Fletcher, Chief Program Officer at Patrick Henry Family Services.

I wrote a status update on Facebook several years ago that said “In case there are people out there who have not yet learned this, if a child is too big to physically move you really can’t MAKE them do anything.”   

I had all kinds of responses to that status update from those agreeing and disagreeing.  But now that my twelve children who came through our family through adoption are all over eighteen, I am totally convinced of that truth.

One commenter asked me to explain what to do, and I shared the following lessons I’ve learned:

1) Let go of your own emotional ties to the success of your children. Whether it is rooted in pride (not wanting to be embarrassed) or the societal misconception that bad children are raised by bad parents, it’s important to remove yourself from the picture in regards to your connection to their behavior. When my kids are refusing to do what I say, it’s not because I’m being a bad parent.

2) Assume can’t, not won’t. Concluding that teens are simply being non-compliant to annoy us may not be accurate. It’s even possible that they can’t do what you are asking them to do for a reason you don’t yet understand. Sometimes there is an underlying story that they do not feel comfortable sharing. If you assume won’t when they can’t, it is demoralizing for them at best.  If you assume can’t when it is won’t they may end up doing it just to prove you wrong.

3) Realize that no child really wants to have parents, siblings, and teachers angry with them all the time. My husband often tells me, “Do you think he WANTS to be like that? If he had a choice, don’t you think he’d be different.”

4) Pick your battles. There are a lot of things that I get very worked up about on a daily basis that are more about my issue with needing control than my children’s behavior. Do my kids HAVE to clean clothes EVERY day when they are 17 or 20 or 23? Sure, I want them to smell nice and I want their teachers to think that we do laundry around here, but eventually other people say things to them and they figure it out. Other examples include going to every class (like I can control that when they are at school and I’m at home) or turning in homework (I can make them do it, but I can’t make them turn it in).

5) Recognize that there are things and people in life that will teach your kids things they refuse to learn from you. Several of my kids act differently away from home.  That means that they will probably be able to do better than I think they will. And the lessons they need to learn — such as the consequences of being mouthy — will be better taught somewhere else.

6) Determine which things make your home unbearable and then change the definition of unbearable. I hate swearing and disrespectful behavior. I hate some of the music my kids listen to. There are several things that in the past we labeled unbearable. But as time has gone by we have a shorter list.  If there is a long list of things you can’t stand, make your list shorter.

7)  Remember that parenting teens is like teaching them to drive. You can’t be in control — so realize it and relax as much as you can.  And whatever you do, don’t fight over the steering wheel.  

If you summarize the points above it delivers a message none of us really want to hear. It’s not about making our kids do anything, it’s about changing ourselves by altering our expectations, working on our controlling tendencies, and thinking differently about our kids.

My favorite quote of all time is this, “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the person I can, and the wisdom to know it is me.

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