Parenting today is incredibly challenging and as parents, we can no longer use the template of how we were parented, to help us navigate this role.
Gone are the days of authoritarian parenting for teens. Teens today have access to more information than we ever had and as such, have more power than we ever did. As much as we would like to believe we can still dictate the rules, it often just isn’t effective.
I am a parent to 4 children and I know how easy it would be to parent as my parents did. I also see as a Counsellor of many teens, that this way of parenting simply doesn’t work anymore. The reality is, we can parent how we want to or we can parent effectively. As parents, we need to look at what is happening with our kids and find a way to navigate it safely with them.
Absolutely we still need rules and discipline. But how we apply these rules needs to be different. I am considered by my kid’s friends as being very strict. But I am also seen as the person they can all safely talk to and not be judged.
My kids too talk to me openly because they feel safe to do that. I won’t judge, yell or lose my head. I listen and work with them. Because they can talk openly to me and they feel respected, they also respect me which allows me to have strict rules and they choose to follow them.
My best advice to parents today is when your kids tell you something negative, don’t react. They are watching for you to react and if you do, they close down and you won’t get much more out of them. How then do you keep them safe and apply your rules when you don’t know what is happening?
Probably easiest to explain this in an example.
Suppose your daughter who is 15, has a party on the weekend that will have alcohol at it. A lot of the kids at this age are already seasoned drinkers.
- If she has a safe relationship with you and feels that she can talk openly, not be in trouble and that you will try and help her navigate life rather than ban her from it, she will tell you the truth. You, as the adult then can explore how safe this particular party is for her and make a safe decision for your child. You can have a conversation with her and ask questions to help you decide the best course. Who is going? Who is supervising? Will the parents be there? Are they parenting on the same page as you or are they trying to be the popular parent and provide alcohol? How well does your daughter fit into this group? Will she be ridiculed if she doesn’t drink? Do you want her to have a drink to fit in? Do you want her to not drink but she needs a good excuse to counter the peer group pressure? She will talk openly about this stuff with you and together you can come up with a plan. It becomes collaborative parenting with your child which is effective.
Sometimes you might decide that this particular party isn’t safe and tell her she can’t attend, explaining why so she learns and doesn’t feel dictated to. Sometimes you might decide that the party isn’t dangerous, you don’t like the alcohol there but know she needs to fit in or life is too hard socially at school. You come up with a plan that she will go and she will hold a drink so everyone thinks she is drinking, she fits in, the pushing from her peers will stop. You have a code word that she can text you at any time if she needs you to call her. The result is, she trusts you to be open, you can keep her safe, she still fits in (which is really important at this age in particular), she feels protected by you and you can trust that she will come to you with problems.
You are able to say no to other parties because she trusts you to help her, not stop her.
- Now imagine you have an authoritarian parenting relationship. Your daughter asks you if she can go to the party. You ask if there is alcohol there, and if she really wants to go, chances are she will lie. You now have no idea of the situation your daughter will be in, you presume she is safe but if something goes wrong there, she can’t call on you. Your 15-year-old daughter is now navigating an adult world on her own.
Whilst as parents we want to be able to parent and set the rules how we want, it isn’t always effective. Building a collaborative relationship with your teen that allows free communication and respect that works both ways, allows you to keep your child safe as they find their way into adulthood .
Teens believe that know everything but as we know, they are naive in many ways. Unfortunately, they are also able to navigate around us if they really want to. We want to believe the best of our kids, but unless you have a great relationship where they are safe to talk to you about the negative, chances are, they are busy doing what they want in some ways and you just don’t know.
A real example of this I want to share with you. A teen girl, 17, has a ‘fun’ relationship with her Mum. Her Mum thinks because they shop and laugh together, that she knows all about her daughter. But her Mum has laid down the law to her. She was told, “If you have sex before you’re 18 I’ll disown you. No drinking and no dates until then”. Her daughter was fine with this until she met a boy she wanted to date. She tested the water with her Mum and asked if she could go on a date. Her Mum gave a very direct no and threatened her again.
Mum assumed all was good, they still laughed and joked around, nothing much changed. Her daughter however, had her heart set on this boy and started to date him. She met him at the park, after school, when she was supposedly with her friends. Mum had no idea. The relationship got more serious and she wanted to go the next step with him. She left the house one night when her parents asleep and had sex with him in the local park. Mum still thinking she has kept her daughter safe by being strict.
At this stage, she is now in a relationship with this boy and her family still know nothing of him. He invites her to a party with his friends and wants her to stay the night. She desperately wants to do this so she comes up with a plan. She asks to sleep at a friend’s house and is allowed to. Her Mum has an app on her phone to see where she is. She goes to her friends place and gets ready to go out with her boyfriend. She then leaves her phone at her friend’s house so the app shows that she is there and she takes a cheap phone with her. The plan is that if her Mum calls, her friend will call her on the cheap phone, put her on speaker and then answer her Mum and put the phones next to each other.
It was very clever and she got the night with her boyfriend and her Mum believes she spent the night at her friend’s house. Luckily, nothing went wrong. But the danger here is that Mum can’t keep her daughter safe. She dictated rules without listening and as such, her daughter chose to navigate this new world on her own.
This is a true story and one of many like this that I hear of now. Absolutely as parents we want to determine the rules for our kids. But how you do this now matters more than ever. Develop a relationship with your kids that allows them to tell you the bad stuff and you can help guide them onto the right path. You can still have strict rules, but you need to get your kids to want to follow the rules.
If you need help navigating the teen years, contact me for a parenting session to help develop a trusting relationship with your teen.