I work with teens and families and notice that so many parents struggle with boundaries and power struggles with their teens. That’s why I invited Mark Loewen, a teen specialist and parent coach in Richmond, VA, to share ideas for handling power struggles with teens.
Guest post by Mark Loewen
If there is a child who glides smoothly from childhood through the teenage years and into adulthood, you don’t know her. That child, rare as a Higgs boson particle, doesn’t live on your street and certainly not in your house. You, and most of us, are most familiar with the garden-variety teen – surly, moody, rebellious, changeable, resentful, uncooperative, and hell-bent on living life by her own rules.
There’s nothing wrong with this commonplace, and wearing, teen. He is negotiating the same awkward transition all of us must go through from dependence to independence. The most common obstacle, from the teen’s perspective, is a parent or two standing in the way with hands upraised and warnings cluttering up the air all around.
There is nothing wrong with these parents, either. They are negotiating the same hazardous ground, doing their best to prod, encourage, cajole, order, ground, and even bribe their way through it.
The pity is that while there’s love on both sides, both sides suspect that the other has gone a little crazy during this transition. Your teen believes sincerely that she is just trying to get on with life. You sincerely believe that you are just trying to make sure she gets there safely. Neither of you is really enjoying the anger and disharmony between you.
Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to manage your disagreements and recapture the fun you used to have as a family. Here are six to get you started:
1. Give up on winning. Oh man, wouldn’t it feel great to score a big, resounding victory for parents everywhere? Unfortunately, if someone wins, someone else has to lose and if you don’t like living with a teenager in defiance, try living with one in defeat. Instead, try talking openly to your child about what you want and what he wants, inviting him to help you find a solution that lets you both feel like winners.
2. Teach your child how to say no. This seems like a coals-to-Newcastle proposition, but saying “No” calmly and backed up by a rational argument is a valuable lesson for life. Screaming “No!” a hundred times at louder and louder volume is childish and should be ignored. Your response to his appropriate “no” will motivate him to keep it going.
3. Be consistent. Your child is feeling her way through a darkened room, trying to figure out where the walls and foundation are. If those boundaries shift from one day to another, or depend on who’s doing the talking, how can she trust them? You and your spouse need to decide in advance what those boundaries are for your family, and to stick to them.
4. Let your child have some power. It’s not an option for your child to refuse to go on a family vacation, but you could put her in charge of picking activities for two days. She needs to experience power and responsibility in manageable chunks.
5. Be polite. If you can speak quietly in the face of your teen’s loudness, if you can consistently show him that you are listening and taking seriously his feelings and opinions, eventually he’s going to feel pretty foolish stomping around and slamming doors. You still may not win, but you can show him how an adult handles a disagreement.
6. Get support. You’re doing a hard job and you won’t be sure of all the answers. It’s very helpful to find others in the same situation to commiserate, encourage, and help each other find solutions. If you feel that you and your child are in trouble, a therapist is a valuable ally, calming the situation and giving you both some perspective.
Mark Loewen, LPC is a counselor and parent coach in Richmond, VA He helps children, teens, and families use their inner resources to overcome stressful circumstances. Check out his blog with more information for parents.