Teen Angst

Helping adolescents deal with anger and other emotions effectively

Teens and Parents: A Battle of the Wills

In one corner you have the parent coming in with vast years of experience and knowledge and in the other corner you have a teen coming in with a little more than a decade of worldly wisdom. Don't underestimate the teen's power. Read More


If you are a good parent there is no battle of wills, perhaps an occasional squabble, but that's as far as it goes. Most parents are considered 'good enough' and quite frankly it is no where near good enough. Most parents try to enforce their own standards upon their children and mould their children into a specific shape, rather than allowing a child to attain to a standard that suits them, to let them develop organically. Using the 'tidy your room' example - some people like a clean space, others have a bit of mess, whilst others are quite happy living in a pig sty - each to their own. As a parent I like my space to be relatively ordered but am not too fussed by a bit of mess and I keep the communal areas and my areas at this limit. My teens, however, seem to be generally content with the 'pig sty' effect, this is their space, not mine and therefore if they want to leave their clothes, books, make-up etc strewn across the floor then I leave them to it. I do make passing comments regarding the fact that I don't know how they live in that mess, but they seem to have an organised mess in that they know where all their stuff is. As I don't insist that they clean their room to my standards there is never any antagonism - and guess what? Those passing comments finally acheive the outcome - they'll spend an entire day cleaning their rooms, without my asking or demanding it - and I'll give them a big smile and say 'Wow, you're room looks amazing, who did that?' - We have a laugh and joke and a week later it's a pig sty again. So what? Is the fighting really all that necessary? If we allow our children to do things that we don't want them to, make sure we know where they are and who they're with when they're doing them, make sure they know the consequences (such as hanging around in a group in the park will likely draw police attention whether they've done anything wrong or not), of their actions and be there to support them when they get it wrong - which they will - then there is no need for our children to lie or keep secrets from us. For example your daughter wants to wear a skirt that you consider too short - you allow them to wear it but make sure that you tell them that others might jump to conclusions, that other girls might think they're a 'trollop/tart' or something to that affect and other boys might think that they're 'easy/up for it/etc' - my daughters went through a very brief 'short skirt period' as they discovered what I told them was true and they didn't like the reactions they received or the attention it drew to them.
I was raised by 'good enough' parents, which has caused me a lot of problems in later life, I used to be a 'good enough' parent to my children and now I keep telling them I screwed up big time, I've acknowledged the mistakes I've made and told them why I've made them and apologised for making them. And now I consider myself to be a good but not perfect parent.
If the teens are playing up they've learnt how to play up from watching their parents primarily. Yes there are other factors involved, such as peer pressure. Rebellion is not normal, it's because the teens are pissed off with the amount of control, coercion and manipulation the parents are wielding over them. We even teach our kids manipulation before they're at school - If you get ready now mummy will treat you to a toy/chocolate etc that's manipulating your child to do what you want by offering a reward, as opposed to explaining why you need to do something and it would be really great if your child will keep you company on this adventure you need to go on - the good old carrot and stick formula. We learn by making mistakes, if the parents do not allow the children to make mistakes and even worse, shout at/scream at/belittle or humiliate their children for making those mistakes without their permission then how on earth will the children ever learn to grow to an interdependent as opposed to a co-dependent state?
Personally I think we can learn an awful lot from our children but as adults and parents we don't - we have a terrible tendency to demonize them because we already 'know it all' - let's blame the kids, after all it's far easier than examining our own shortcomings isn't it?
Fortunately in my mid 40's I've finally matured, my parents in their 70's however still behave like 2 yr olds throwing temper tantrums!

You've made a brilliant

You've made a brilliant comment. I'm a 19 year old male nearing the end of adolescence (it was painful), and a lot of the ideas here were used successfully in my own upbringing. My situation was a little different though since my parents separated and had very distinct parenting styles. One used your methods, and the other used the methods of what you would call a "good enough parent," so I've had good experience seeing both sides of the spectrum from a child's perspective. My mom believed in giving me and my siblings advice, explaining things to us, and then letting us do whatever it is that we teens do (unless it is especially dangerous or foolish, of course), and I can't remember having even squabbled with her. I think her style helped me become a good, responsible person with a healthy respect for authority and the motivation to live a productive, happy life. Fortunately, she did most of the parenting since my dad's style has him control (or attempt to control) most aspects of our lives down to eating and sleeping through what you described as manipulation and coercion. His parenting led to quite a bit more conflict and rebellion until I pretty much stopped going to his house at all. I suppose that end result could have been due to me getting tired of going back and forth, the predisposition for sons to favor their mothers, or the fact that my mom's house was closer to my high school, but the parenting styles certainly contributed. I'm just hoping that each generation can learn successively better parenting; it could solve a lot of problems I think.

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Raychelle Cassada Lohmann, M.S., L.P.C., is the author of The Anger Workbook for Teens.


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