“You don’t love me at all!”
The 16-year-old boy yelled at the woman across the room, his face turning a bright red.
“You’ve always loved my brother more than me. Maybe it’s better if I wasn’t born at all!”
His mother, a be-spectacled woman in her mid-40s, seemed speechless at the onslaught. But she soon recovered and ventured a reply to the boy.
“That’s not true. I gave you everything you wanted. A new phone, a new computer; I even gave you money to buy all those new games on your phone. You have everything that you need!”
“No, Mum. I need you to stop comparing me to my brother. I need you to stop nagging. I need you to stop telling me what to do! That’s what I really need.”
And for the first time that afternoon, his mother listened in silence.
This scene is one of many, recounted from the files from my counselling room. The details of each case may differ but they share a similar storyline: a teenager seems to have disciplinary issues or problems concentrating in school. And during a family therapy session, such words of anger are thrown at either of the parents, with the receiving party completely taken aback at the intensity and the hurt embodied by what was said.
From tween to teen
Many parents share with me that they are at a complete loss as to what to do with their teenage children. They tell me that before their tween became a teenager, they were the most obedient child in the world.
But once past their 14th or 15th birthday, it seems almost like the clock had struck midnight and Cinderella’s carriage has become a pumpkin once again, and their sweet and obedient 12-year-old suddenly morphs into an alien from the far reaches of outer space.
According to Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, the adolescent years are characterised by a need for exploring and developing a sense of personal identity.
So it is important to modify the way we parent our teens in order to better meet their needs. Yet many parents struggle with this, and unwittingly engage in behaviours that could cause a breakdown in the parent-child relationship.
5 ways to shut down a conversation with your teen
A breakdown in the parent-child relationship does not occur overnight. Contrary to what some parents believe, there is no magic switch that causes an obedient child to suddenly become a rebellious teen. Parental beliefs and actions during and even before the tween years often serve set the scene for what is to come.
Here are five of the most common ways we work ourselves into a gridlock with our teen.
- Criticise them
The fastest way to shut down a conversation is to criticise them for their actions or choices. The teens whom I counsel tell me that they are most affected by this because it undermines their sense of who they are as a person.
When they meet with criticism, it makes them feel that their preferences and wishes are not important, and that only the parents’ decisions matter.
- Compare them with others
Another way to quickly put a dent in your relationship with your child is to make frequent comparisons. By comparing your teen to his or her sibling or friend, your child gets the message that they are unable to match up to the parent’s expectations.
Very often, the teens who feel this way end up simply choosing to go their own way and rejecting everything that is expected of them.
- Nag at them often
A third relationship-killer is nagging. This action builds on the first two ways, with the nagging communicating that we don’t respect them, and resulting in a battle of wills. To make things worse, incessant nagging can make even a teenager who’s trying to “be good” grouchy and irritable.
The key ingredients for this budding plant to bloom under your care are respect and trust.
- Give unsolicited advice
Unsolicited advice is another conversation killer. When we do this without first tuning in and listening to our children, we show them that their views are not important, and that our desires come first. Nagging and unsolicited advice often go hand in hand, and teenagers dislike both.
- Communicate distrust
One of the top ways to cause a breakdown in the parent-child relationship is to communicate distrust. Distrust can be shown in a few ways, such as not respecting the choices they make, being intrusive in every aspect of their lives, and going behind their backs to check on what they are doing.
Teenagers are struggling with issues of identity, and if they feel that their parents do not trust them, it is almost tantamount to a complete rejection of who they are as a person.
While it can be scary loosening the reins of control and surveillance, we will ride through this stage by providing a safe space for them to discover who they are.
Healing the relationship
Given that identity is such a big issue in the life of a teenager, we need to consider how our actions affect their sense of self-worth. Again, the key ingredients for this budding plant to bloom under your care are respect and trust.
We need to respect that our teens are going through a stage of exploration. While it can be scary loosening the reins of control and surveillance, we will ride through this stage by providing a safe space for them to discover who they are.
Trust implies an acceptance of the choices made by our children, even if these seem contrary to our wishes. Of course, their decisions still need to be considered in the broader context of morality and guidance, and we may need to be firm in instances when they choose to go against societal mores or the family’s moral values.
In guiding teenagers to make the right choices, we first need to cultivate a culture of openness at home about issues big and small. It is only in a safe and non-judgmental atmosphere that our teens can open up and share about their lives.
In the safe space of home, decisions can be made with consultation and deliberation, not duress or coercion. By carefully considering their unique makeup and developmental needs, we are giving our teenagers the tools they need to weather the storms of adolescence and meet life’s challenges with gusto.
Mark Lim is Consultant & Counsellor at The Social Factor, a consultancy and counselling agency which conducts training on life skills such as parenting, mentoring and special needs. He and his wife Sue co-write a parenting blog Parenting on Purpose, where they chronicle the life lessons from parenting two almost-tween boys aged 11 and 9.
© 2021 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
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