Parenting Your Teenager: The Power Struggle

Q: My husband and I are at a loss as to what to do with our two teenagers. They have been great kids and all of a sudden it seems like we are in teenage hell! We keep fighting to see the kids we once knew, and they keep fighting to get their own way. We have been considering family counseling, and really would like to know what goes on in counseling. Can you give us some help with our kids and what to expect in counseling?

Sure can. Here's how it usually goes. I get a call from a worried mom or dad, who are at a loss as to what to do with their teenager(s). We talk for a few minutes and we set an appointment.

A few days later, Mom and Dad come in with their teenager. After we exchange a few pleasantries, we get down to work. The parent's view is something like this - they see the kid they raised from an infant changing right before their eyes, usually getting more and more out of control.

Their concerns can run through a whole range of problems. From slipping grades, bad attitudes and little or no communication all the way to depression, running away or drugs.

The teens view usually goes something like this - "if mom and dad would just get off my back and trust me, everything would be OK. I'm not a little kid anymore!"

Sound familiar? If it does, don't worry, you are part of a very big club, whose only membership requirement is to have a family with kids.

If we boil all the many concerns of this family down into a few sentences, it would look something like this:

The parent's bottom line is "I want my kid back."

The teen's bottom line is "I want to be more and more in charge of myself."

While those two statements may sound like "irreconcilable differences", they don't necessarily have to be. They are both valid needs.

I Want My Kid Back

Many parents feel as if overnight, a stranger is living in their house. They want to continue to help their kids, but their kids don't want any help. The heartfelt cry of parents has been expressed by singer-songwriters Harry and Sandy Chapin in their song "Tangled Up Puppet" -

"I have watched you take shape from a jumble of parts, To find the grace and form of a fine work of art Hey you, my brand new woman (man), Newly come into your own Don't you know that you don't need to grow up all alone?"

How to Get Your Kid Back

Realize that the toddler/child you once knew is gone. You have a budding young adult on your hands. Cherish the memories.

Realize that breaking away from you at some level is their job at this point. At the same time, they usually return once they have gone through this passage. In whatever way possible, maintain the relationship in a way that keeps it intact for when need you. Sometimes you have to catch them off guard.

Again, in the words of Harry and Sandy Chapin, "Tonight while we played tag for five minutes in the yard, just for a moment, I caught you off guard."

Remember that it's their job to act like they don't need you. But they desperately do need you. Hang in there with them.

Pick your battles. You don't have to fight to win over each and every issue.

I Want to Be In Charge of Myself!

This is not only the heartfelt cry of teenagers, it's their job as well. Parenting is one of those rare jobs where the goal is to work yourself out of a job. Unless you want your child living with you at 30.

How to Be "In Charge of Your Self"

Make sure your behavior matches your word.

Do what you say you are going to do.

From my seminar "The Care and Feeding of Parents":

"Here's how to tell when you are growing up - when you can do something even though your parents suggested it."

Pick your battles. Every issue is not a battle for independence. This one is important. If you constantly have to fight to do the opposite of what your parents say no matter what, you are just as controlled as if you obeyed their every command.

Do these things, and you'll get to be more and more in charge of your self. Don't do these things, and you have just sent your parents an engraved invitation to bug you as much as they want.

A final word for both sides: remember that the relationship is always more important than being right!

Visit ParentingYourTeenager.com for tips and tools for thriving during the teen years. You can also subscribe to our f*r*e*e 5 day e-program on The Top 5 Things to Never Say to Your Teenager, from parenting coach and expert Jeff Herring.

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