"As adolescents move through middle school and high school, some adults expect them to automatically make mature decisions, as if these external events [puberty] magically grant adolescents adult-like thinking skills.  This is a recipe for future conflict; adults become disappointed and teenagers feel misunderstood..."  To read more on the article by Terence & Eileen Houlihan, please click here

Terence Houlihan speaking to high school teachers in Akron, OH, 2013.

Thursday
May032012

Negotiating with the teenager

by Terence J. Houlihan, MS Ed, CRS

“My son doesn’t talk to me.”  “Once our daughter turned 13 she became so disrespectful.”  “We barely see our kids anymore.”  “Why does my son only answer, ‘fine’, when I ask him how his day was?”

These are some of the statements and questions often heard from concerned parents.  They are a hallmark of the changing relationship between parents and adolescents. 

The doting child who once was your sidekick and existed to win your smiles and affection has seemingly turned into an unrecognizable, irritable teenager.  For parents, it is frustrating, hurtful, and sometimes, downright scary.

“I don’t know what to do with him anymore, “ a concerned father once told me.  “He sighs when I ask him more than one question about school or what he’s doing with his friends this weekend.  He insists that I don’t leave him alone.  What he doesn’t get is that I do try to give him space.”  I could tell that this parent was worried…not for his son’s well-being so much as he was worried about the changing nature of his relationship.

At a recent PTA presentation, one mother shared that her daughter accuses her of “staring at her” during dinner.   This was said, amidst other parents, in a light-hearted way, and it received a few chuckles of identification.  She didn’t know how to handle this new situation and she was most likely a little frightened.

Being a parent is difficult.  It requires commitment, time, energy, love, money, and a willingness to be disliked by your children (for awhile).  Being a parent of a teenager requires a little more: moms and dads might have to change their parenting styles.  What worked with an 8 year-old will longer work with a 14 year-old.  They have changed and are changing.  In most families, it is undeniable that the relationships between parents and teens have changed.  As such, parents need to change their parenting styles.

One of the pieces that parents can add to their parenting style is negotiation.  As a parent myself, I know it is difficult to negotiate with your children.  Negotiating with your child feels like you’re giving up your power as a parent.  Just because something feels a certain way doesn’t mean it is a certain way.   Adolescents are caught between the absolute control of childhood and the freedom and responsibility of adulthood.  They foresee a day when they get to make to their own decision around the corner and yet, they have no trouble allowing you to make their lunch or bed for them.  Teens (for the most part) want to be in control of their lives, so, why not give them some of that control?  In pieces, that is.

Negotiate.  Give them a little autonomy.  See how they do with it.  Push back that curfew if they’re willing to do another chore.   If they need something from you, what is it you need from them?  It is a great life-lesson as well. 

As a parent, you could find that the more you’re willing to negotiate with your teen (provided they follow through), the tension between the two of you might lessen.  It’s essential to always remember that when you put your foot down, though…it needs to stay down.  Relinquishing on pre-determined boundaries and consequences is not negotiating, it’s being a pushover.  Oh, you may stop arguments for a while, but you’ll do more long-term damage to your teens and your relationships with your teens. 

Try negotiating.  What have you got to lose?  You’re already losing the child you once tucked into bed at 8 pm, but you could gain a new relationship and respect of an awkward teen who’s on the cusp of becoming a young adult.

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