One of the most common reasons parents reach out to me is because they're not getting along well with their teenagers. Typically, there is a lot of fighting, tension and disrespect (the house is full of W.M.D. -- Whining, Manipulation and Disrespect).They're frustrated, unhappy and stuck. They're also often scared about what the future holds.
When this happens, it's very energy draining -- at least for the parents. Oddly enough, the teen often thrives on the chaos as it gives them a sense of power. It's not a healthy sense of power, but it's power nevertheless.
When I help them peel back the layers of the onion, one of the things I often see is the parents lack self-confidence in two common, but related ways:
1. What it means to be the appropriate authority figure at home
2. What rules they want for their home
Building up this self-confidence is critical to restoring balance at home. It's the first step in reducing the terrible stress of being at odds with your children and everything that comes with it (stress in your marriage, negative impact on your other children and loss of joy at home, to name a few).
Here are four basic principles parents need to work on to build their self-confidence and take back control of the emotional thermostat in their home.
1. You are the pack leader. As funny as it may sound, it can be useful to think of your family for a moment as a dog pack. In this pack, you are the indisputable pack leader -- the "alpha." It's your pack and you ultimately say what goes and what doesn't. Other members of the pack are loved and valued and can respectfully provide input, but at the end of the day, you're the pack leader -- the parent and adult -- so you have the final say.
Action Step 1: take a deep, deep breath and step confidently into your role as the pack leader. Own it.
2. Go with your gut. Many parents second-guess themselves when it comes to the rules of their home. They're afraid others (i.e. their teens) won't like them, and this then leads to a cascade of fear and self-doubt. As a result, they often have ambiguous rules that seem constantly up for negotiation. The solution is to go with your gut. Trust that you have a reliable sense of what is right and wrong for your home and your kids. If your intentions are good and you're being reasonable, you'll be hitting the mark far more often that not.
Action step: Take five minutes to sit alone quietly. Close your eyes, put your feet flat on the floor, take some deep breaths, and let your mind and body settle down a bit. Think of a situation where you need to set a rule or limit with your teen. Regardless of the reaction you might encounter, what does your gut tell you is the right way to go with it? Learn to listen, and then run with it.
3. Stop explaining yourself. An extension of going with your gut is realizing you don't have to constantly explain your choices when it comes to your teens. Let go of feeling like you have to explain yourself and justify your rules. Your teen doesn't have to always like them, but as long as they're living in your home, they have to accept them. This doesn't mean you can't be open to their feedback (as long as it's respectfully communicated) and take it into consideration. But once you've made up your mind, don't feel that you owe your teen an elaborate explanation -- and don't let them goad you into thinking you do. Your rules are your rules, plain and simple.
Action step: Next time you're drawn into a debate or negotiation with your teen, catch yourself, and get out of it. Calmly restate your position on the matter, explain to your teen that she doesn't have to like it but she does have to accept it, and walk away.
4. You always have the trump card. Finally, it's important to realize that as the pack leader, you always have the trump card. Often, parents hesitate to set limits because they're afraid how their teen will respond when they hear the word "no." They fear their teen will escalate with anger and start tantruming or making threats. If this is a situation you're facing, realize that as the parent and adult, you always have the trump card. Whether it's giving consequences for bad behavior, withdrawing privileges or at the very extreme, exploring ways to move your teen out of the house for a period of time, being self-confident means knowing you always have the last say. This doesn't mean it will always be easy, but where there's a will, there's a way. The alternative is allowing your teen run your home through threat and intimidation.
Action step: List out the leverage points you can use as consequences when your teen behaves poorly. Think of everything that's in play (i.e. cell phone, use of the car, a summer trip with friends, come and go privileges on the weekends, paying for college, etc.). It doesn't mean you have to use any or all of them, but part of having the trump card is knowing they're on the table.
Building this self-confidence takes time. It doesn't mean you have to walk around with a puffed out chest letting everybody who walks through your door know you're the boss. But it does mean developing the quiet inner resolve and certainty that it's your home, and you can shape the emotional climate of it in the way you want. Take a deep breath. You can do this.