Parenting a teenager is no easy feat. It can feel like an uphill battle full of moments that test your patience and make you question if you're making the right decisions. It's during your child's teenage years that you are truly exposed to situations that showcase their ability to make responsible choices, resolve conflicts, and move towards eventual independence. It's important to remember that how you communicate and interact with your child matters. How we interact with our children throughout their lives, and the messages that we send them, continue to influence them well past their teen years.
A 2014 study out of the University of Virginia reports that one reason why some teens struggle with autonomy and giving in to peer pressure stems from the degree of psychological control that their parents have exerted over them. Finding a balance between healthy and unhealthy communication styles can be tricky and many parents may be making some of these common mistakes by exerting some level of psychological control over their children without even realizing it. A recent article, written by Daniel Flint M.A., outlined several tactics that manipulative parents may use to regain control over their child. In order to foster a healthy and open line of communication with your teen, it may be important to remember these three common mistakes that parents make.
All too often I hear parents using the "You make me so scared and angry. How could you act like this?" conversation style. This kind of rhetoric can stem from the fear that any parent experiences with continued loss of control over what their child is doing--which is particularly common during the teenage years. It's important to realize that while this is a healthy and normal feeling to have, blaming your feelings on your child--even if the feeling is fear, is an attempt to regain control over the child's behavior. If the expression of these feelings happen in an honest and calm conversation and include "I statements" focused on your feelings, the tone of the conversation may go differently. It's important to understand the difference between "I am feeling scared right now because I don't want anything to happen to you" versus "How could you do this to me? You know how much I worry about you!"
2. INVALIDATING FEELINGS
This mistake is not unique to parent/teen relationships and can often begin as early as the toddler years. In this manipulation style, parents may have difficulty differentiating themselves from their child (i.e. seeing them as one-in-the-same or "knowing their child better than they know themselves"). It can manifest in completing your child's sentences, talking over them, or correcting their feelings. Not only does this tactic minimize the importance of the child's feelings, it also places a hierarchy on the feelings--implying that the parent's feelings are more important or more "correct". It's important to provide an environment where your child feels comfortable expressing their feelings--even if they are different from your own.
3. WITHDRAWAL OF SUPPORT
Beginning in infancy, the attachment and bond that we create with our children is stressed as one of the central components to effective parenting. The importance of this attachment does not diminish as our children grow and is often a central component to the third instance of psychological control that parents exert over their children. This is often a last resort for parents--as they may have exhausted other options and are trying to emphasize a point or catch their child's attention. But using the attachment that you worked so hard to build in those beginning years, against your child, will not yield positive outcomes. This type of control is exerted by not talking to your child, using previous instances of support against them, or even avoiding eye contact.
No child or parent is perfect, and it's essential to remember that parenting is a learning experience for everyone. It is, however, important to note that these common mistakes can have lasting impressions on our children as they develop and navigate their own relationships. The previously mentioned study out of The University of Virginia notes that these control tactics may create havoc for teens, as they may may have increased difficulty expressing their autonomy in friendships and romantic relationships later in life. What we say to our children and how we treat them matters, no matter their age.
Flint, D. (2019, December 2). Three Tactics of The Manipulative Parent. Psychology Today.
Society for Research in Child Development. (2014, October 23). Teens whose parents exert more psychological control have trouble with closeness, independence. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 23, 2020 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141023091944.htm
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Dr. Corrine Fallon