I don’t think there is any more terrifying time for parents than the teenage years. Teenagers have more ways than ever to harm themselves, and they are notoriously short on sense. While both are true, according to Dr. Michael J. Bradley, author of “Yes, Your Teen is Crazy! Loving Your Kid Without Losing Your Mind,” trying to control them will not work. Teaching them to control themselves is our only hope.
I am the parent of two teenagers. Their father and I have drastically different approaches. I have also witnessed friends of my teenagers and their parents, and I have some distinct memories from my teenage years that support my view that over-control backfires.
Here is what I have observed can occur when parents (or grandparents) get into micromanaging kids.
They react against you instead of learning to think about what they do.
Teenagers are developmentally in the business of deciding who they are. If you try to decide for them, they will push back. I had a father who meant well, but was determined to make me do what he thought best. In particular I remember being made to take Accounting in high school. I failed the course. I hated it and I had something to prove. I did very well in the courses I chose.
My best friend in high school had very strict parents. She took to sneaking out of the house, because they wouldn’t let her go anywhere. Then the put bars on her windows. Guess who was pregnant before she graduated from high school!
Your fears point the way to the forbidden fruit.
Some other parents I know were fixated on not letting their daughter get into boys. They monitored her cell phone use and restricted her clothing choices. Of all my daughter’s friends, this one is the most obsessed with boys. Recent gossip is that she got in trouble for sneaking out at night.
Because you come down hard, they just won’t tell you anything.
I had a strict dad, and I just left both parents out of the loop. I did a lot of dumb things in high school, and if any of them had turned out badly, my parents would have had no idea where I was. Unfortunately, this was the price we all paid because I did not trust them to be reasonable.
I see this all the time today among my children’s friends. Everybody is missing out. It makes me sad.
You teach them that they are incapable of managing themselves.
Teenagers are on the verge of independence. Decision making is a muscle they need to develop. If you make their decisions for them, you deprive them of the opportunity to learn how capable they are.
My 16-year-old son recently took a Greyhound bus from our city near San Francisco to Los Angeles. It was strange putting him on that bus. He wanted to visit friends, and there was no logical reason to say no. He’s bigger than I am, resourceful, and smart. He’s also a purple belt in taekwondo. I took a deep breath and let him go. He came back a more confident young man.
Now he takes the BART across the bay whenever he wishes. He’s 17 now. I am confident that in a year or so when he leaves home, he’ll be just fine.
While it can be terrifying to hold your child loosely, you will feel better about it if you know that you are a good example for them and that they will talk with you. Rapport is the best insurance.
More from Elizabeth Danu:
How to Parent With An Angry Ex
The Benefits of Giving Massage to Your Child
When Your Teenager Has Headaches