TEENS & TWEENS
By CHARIS PATRICK
In his classic book Between Parent and Teenager, Dr Haim G. Ginott says: “Teenagers are like a person needing a loan but wishing they were financially independent.” No wonder control is at stake for the teenagers.
The troubles come, of course, in trying to give them the control they so desperately crave. When the child becomes an adolescent and begins to insist that she knows better than you when she should arrive home from a party or how much time she needs to study, we find ourselves in one of the most intense battles for control we will ever encounter.
The following self-test (taken from The Control Freak by Dr Les Parrott) can help you assess your relationship with your teens. Score “Y” if the statement is true of the teen you know, or “N” if the statement does not apply to this person.
1. If this teen knows I want him or her to do something, he or she will often do the opposite.
2. This teen knows exactly how to push my buttons.
3. This teen takes control by preventing me from knowing what’s going on.
4. I sometimes find myself going out of my way to avoid contact with him or her just to avoid having conflict.
5. This teen can be a perfect lady or gentleman around others but becomes a tyrant around me.
6. This teen can literally exhaust me with pressure to get what he or she wants.
7. I never quite know what kind of mood this teen will be in.
8. If I’m honest, I sometimes feel myself regretting the way I treat this teen – but he or she continually drives me to do things I don’t want to do.
9. This teens sometimes blatantly lies to my face in order to get his or her way.
10. I feel as if I’m in a constant game of tug-of-war with this teen.
If you score five or more Ys, you are certainly in a control struggle with your teenager. Ask any teenager for a definition of control and you will hear something like, “Getting to do what I want, when I want to.” And ask the same teenager what keeps him or her from having that control, you’ll hear something about his or her parents. It is inevitable.
How can we find our way through this potential war zone? Consider the following story:
One day, a teenage boy, who was left in charge of his little sister when their mum was out, discovered bottles of coloured ink and began to paint his sister’s portrait. In doing so, he made a huge mess of things. There were spilled bottles and ink blots everywhere. When his mother came home, she said nothing. She picked up the piece of paper with the drawing. “Why,” she said, “It’s your sister!” and stooped to kiss her son. The little encouragement set the teenage boy on the path to becoming a professional painter. He was none other than the great American artist Benjamin West of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Even as an accomplished adult, West often said: “My mother’s kiss made me a painter.”
Consider what might have happened if West had not been affirmed by his mother. Your teenager at home may be waiting for that same kind of “kiss” from you. Sure, it’s difficult to look past the mess and find the good, but it’s worth the effort. It may even mark the turning point in your teenager’s life.
When your teen has friends over to your house and they make a mess of the kitchen, try to look past the extra work this creates for you and see the positive social value this brings to your child’s life. When your teen is caught daydreaming or doodling instead of studying, try to look past the time wastage and be curious about their dreams and admire their masterpiece.
When your teen asks you to buy supper, try to look past your desire to go to bed, and see it as a time to connect over supper. When your teen splurges on a branded jacket, try to look past his dwindling budget and affirm his fashion taste.
Granted, it’s not the natural or easiest thing to do. The point is to look for the good and affirm it – at least initially. Later, your teen’s decision may need to be discussed and critiqued with care. But begin by looking for the good. It will ease your relationship and make your teens easier to live with.
As Dr James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, puts it: “The most successful parents are those who have the skill to get behind the eyes of the child, seeing what he sees, thinking what he thinks, feeling what he feels.”
Charis Patrick is a trainer and family life educator who is married with four children.