Parenting Your Teenager: The Teenager and the Gorilla

Q: A parent writes in to ask, "You write a lot about the difference between controlling and managing teenagers. What's the difference........., and how do we do it in our family?"

A: In the counseling and seminars that I do, I have found that many parents are confused about the difference between controlling and managing their teenagers. In my experience, there is not only a huge difference, it's "the difference that makes a difference" when it comes to successfully dealing with the teen years in a family.

The control approach

Taking a control approach in a family will typically breed resentment and rebellion in a teenager, and exasperation and angerthe part of the parents. While the control approach may get compliance, it also breeds an attitude of "I'll do what you say now, but I'm going to get you back someday."

The managmement approach

Coming from a management approach breeds respect and cooperation, as well as an attitude of "let's work together as a team." As I have said before, trying to control a teenager is like trying to put pants on a gorilla - it's only going to frustrate you and make the gorilla mad.

Now in no way am I saying that teens should be allowed to do whatever they want. The difference between trying to control vs. manage a teenager is all in how you approach the situation.

A management approach meets the following six criteria:

1) The parents are clearly in charge

When I work with parents to take a management approach with teens, in no way am I suggesting that parents let kids do whatever they want. Quite the contrary, a key sign of a healthy and strong family is when the parents are clearly in charge. The key distinction comes down to the difference between an authoritarian style and an authoritative style on the part of the parents. An authoritarian style comes from a controlling approach, while an authoritative style comes from a management approach.

A good example of an authoritarian style can be found in the movie The Great Santini. This family was ruled by the iron hand of the father, a military man, who tried to run his family like he ran his troops, complete with morning inspections.

The best example I've been able to find of an authoritative style is The Huxtables of The Cosby Show. If you think back to the show or watch the re-runs, you will notice that in the Huxtable family, the parents are clearly in charge. At the same time, there is compassion and caring for all the family members. One strong indication of this is that while each child may not always get a vote, they almost always have a voice.

2) The teen, over time, learns and earns the ability to be more and more in charge of themselves

Notice I said over time. This simply means that the parents give the kid enough rope, not to hang themselves, to coin a phrase, but to grow themselves. You don't hand someone who has had little or no responsibility a huge responsibility all at once. You give them a little bit, and then a little bit more, and so on and so on.

3) There is a clear map for continually building trust and responsibility

In a management approach, there is no guessing on the part of parent or kid. Everyone knows how trust and responsibility are earned in the family. The rules are clear with little or no surprises.

4) The parents have a way to monitor the progress of the teen

One way to do this is to simply measure trust on a scale from 1 to 10. In this way, the parents have a clear and objective way of monitoring the progress of their teenager.

5) There are clear consequences when the teen demonstrates that they cannot be in charge of themselves (just like in the real world)

There is a proverb that goes something like this "raise up a child in the way they should go and when they are old they will not depart from it." What this implies is that at some point along the way, they are going to depart from it. It's simply part of the territory that kids are going to mess up. Before this happens, there needs to be a simple understanding about what will happen when the mess ups occur.

6) There is a clear map for how to earn back trust and responsibility

Many parents tend to look at trust as an either or situation - either you trust them completely or not at all. Using a scale from one to ten not only gives parents a way to monitor progress, it can provide a map for how to earn trust back when it is damaged.

Successfully steering a family through the teen years is one of the most difficult jobs a parent will ever face. Using the six point management approach can help parents to get their kids, and themselves, through the adolescent years with most of their sanity intact.

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.

In The News:

Parenting Kids in the Age of Screens, Social Media and Digital Devices  Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project
The Real Work of Parenting a Rare Girl  The Wall Street Journal
The Case Against Tickling  The New York Times
‘They Go to Mommy First’  The New York Times
What Are Pandemic School Pods?  The New York Times

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