Living with Teens ( and Winning )
July 12, 2006
With Paul Beckow
Last column I suggested living with teens is a call to parents to learn a whole new set of skills. These new skills and practices results, over time, in an entirely new manner of relating with your young person.
So, what are some of these new attitudes and skills?
Robert and Jean Bayard in their book “How to Handle Your Acting Up Teenager” answer this question identifying two essential skills for parents living with their teens.
They begin by suggesting that if you’re having troubles with your teens then you are probably doing one (or both) of two things:
One) You are failing as a parent at a job that is rightfully yours - to make your own life happy.
And/ or Two) You are failing to get out of your youngsters life and turn back responsibility for their life to them.
This first skill is all about taking care of your well being. There are so many ways we can “lose ourselves” with our children.
We can find ourselves giving so much, almost sacrificing ourselves, and becoming resentful. We can feel disappointed, hoping for that special connection with our teen, just at the time when their attention and energy is directed outside of the family. We can be caught in anxious concerns about their lives; concerns that leave us stressed and unhappy.
We begin looking after ourselves when we start withdrawing our attention from their life and begin focussing on our own well being. Seeing what we need to be okay, to take care of ourselves, we then take effective action on it’s behalf.
This, looking after ourselves, establishing our own personal boundaries, without manipulation or attempts to control others, is a fundamental skill in any relationship.
Communicated clearly, without blame, it has a clean and honourable sound. Our kids can hear it.
“I will make dinner two nights a week, Tuesday and Thursday. It’s up to you all to sort out the rest”
“I am out of the weekly laundry business. From now on I’ll do laundry on Saturday. This will be the laundry that’s brought to the hallway basket by lunch time.”
“Please no friends in after ten. I work tomorrow and love an uninterrupted night’s sleep.”
This is looking after yourself, the issues and concerns in your life. These authors call these kinds of concerns “your life pile”. Looking after the concerns on your life pile is skill number one.
The second essential skill is beginning a process of getting out of your child’s life, turning back responsibility to them for the issues and choices that directly affect their life
These issues and concerns can be thought of as issues in their “life pile.”
These are issues from the seemingly light or less significant (hair styles, clothes they wear, care of their room, the music they listen to, computer games they play, ) to the more significant choices before them as they may affect their future and their life ( school, activities, friends, drugs and alcohol, personal values, decisions about sex, body piercing etc.).
If you are in their life attempting to manage and control their life pile issues, the facts are they’re probably busy resisting you – creating frustrations and power struggles meant to show you that you are not in charge of them ( their life ) anymore.
The second skill, then, is the ability, over time, of getting out of your child’s life, turning more and more of the responsibility for their life over to them.
You can do this cleanly and powerfully when you express faith and confidence in their ability to face these choices and find their way.
“Mark, I’ve come to see its time I got out of your school business. School and how you do in school is your responsibility. The decisions you make about school directly affect you and your future. So its important get clear what school means to you personally. I’ll help if you ask but in future I won’t be responsible for your school. School is your job.”
“Your father and I don’t believe in smoking. We think it’s dangerous and harmful. And we know whether you smoke or not will be a decision in front of you. A decision that will effect the quality of your life. Basically this choice belongs to you. To be clear we will not allow smoking in our home.”
It’s letting go - and letting go can be scary. But when you think of it, you’ve always been letting go. Since a baby on your knee it’s the direction the whole parenting experience is always going.
This giving away responsibility, getting out of your child’s life, being clear about what is “your life pile” and “their life pile” forges an end to power struggles and the birth of a new way together.
Paul Beckow is a certified individual, marriage, and family therapist. If you have a relationship, personal issue or concern, he can be reached by phoning the Victoria Family Institute at 721 2477 or contacted through his web site at www.paulbeckow.com
For personal or couple counselling, for more information, or to register for a course - please contact Paul Beckow at The Victoria Family Institute.