By Amy McCready, Positive Parenting Solutions founder and TODAY Moms contributor
Parents want to have close relationships with their children, but many wonder if that’s even possible as their once sweet, loving, cuddly child enters adolescence. Suddenly, your son is more interested in peers than spending time with the family, your daughter may be showing more rebellious behavior, and now, instead of being the one they turn to for advice, you don’t know a thing!
While scary for parents, the normal individualization process during the tween and teen years doesn’t have to involve power struggles and hard feelings if parents avoid these three common parenting mistakes:
1. Too much "ordering, correcting & directing”: Yes, you are still the parent, but take a close look at how often you bark orders at your kids. No one wants to be bossed around and constant "ordering, correcting and directing" is sure to backfire. In fact, it’s a guaranteed way to get your tween or teen to shut down or rebel. Parents wouldn't order, correct and direct co-workers or friends, and it’s an ineffective communication style for our kids as well.
Instead, use a calm voice and make respectful and reasonable requests. Ask yourself the question… “How would I feel if someone made this same request of me?” Tweens and teens must be held accountable for their behavior and that can be done in a way that fosters a mutually respectful relationship and empowers kids to learn from their choices.
Instead of “ordering” – try “inviting cooperation”… “I’m slammed with work this evening. Anything you can do to help with the dinner clean up would really make a difference for me tonight.” Most of the time – the teen will lend a hand!
Instead of “directing” – “You need to get that project finished!” Try, “What are your plans for your finishing your project this week?” It allows your teen to think it through and demonstrates that you have faith that she has a plan in place. If not, it allows her to save face as she quickly develops one! And, this is ok since you are allowing her to figure it out on her own.
2. Exerting too much control: Part of the normal development process for teens is to separate from us – but that invokes fear in most parents and they respond by “clamping down.” Instead of respecting the child’s need for greater autonomy, parents attempt to exert more control, which escalates power struggles.
Recognize your teen’s growing need for power and autonomy. Instead of “clamping down,” look for opportunities to give your teen MORE responsibility and decision making opportunities.
Be reasonable with curfews and privileges. Demonstrate faith in your teen by giving a little more rope – but within your comfort zone. Be very clear about the responsibilities that accompany his or her privileges and be sure to reveal consequences in advance. That way your child will be perfectly clear about what will happen if he or she decides to violate curfew for instance. As the late parenting educator and author, H. Stephen Glenn said, “Children need enough rope to get rope burn, but not enough to hang themselves.”
Involve your teen in family decisions and problem solving as appropriate. If the chores aren’t getting done, sit down and brainstorm solutions to solve the problem and agree on a plan you all feel good about. Be clear about the consequences if the plan isn’t followed and have him repeat the plan and the possible consequences back to you to ensure that you’re all on the same page.
3. Not being ON their team. Most teens feel that their parents are against them – not with them. When parents order, direct and correct too much, interrogate them about every little thing, or try to exert too much control – it invites power struggles and reinforces the feeling that we’re against them. When teens feel parents are ON their team, they are more likely to communicate honestly and openly and may actually want to spend time with the family!
Show that you’re ON their team by getting into their world. Spend one-on-one time with them – on a daily basis – doing what THEY like to do. Parents often perceive that teens don’t want to spend time with parents – but they do! Taking 10 minutes, one or two times a day to talk, hang out, download music - or whatever your teen enjoys - increases your emotional connection and works wonders in keeping lines of communication open. It reinforces that you are "on her team" - not against her.
As our children grow, their needs change and the interaction between parent and child needs to change as well. We must allow our teens to spread their wings by giving them autonomy and power, while still respecting and obeying our rules. It’s a bittersweet fact of life that if we do our job well, our kids should be able to grow up and away from us. As parenting author Alfie Kohn wrote, “The way kids learn to make good decisions is by making decisions, not by following directions.”
Amy McCready is the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and mom to two boys, ages 12 and 14. Positive Parenting Solutions teaches parents of toddlers to teens how to correct misbehaviors permanently without nagging, reminding or yelling. For free discipline training resources, visit: www.PositiveParentingSolutions.com