It is inevitable that as teens mature they seek greater control within their own lives. It is a natural process, designed to produce an independent, fully functional adult.Trouble is, we as parents can see all the pitfalls and dangers we wish to protect them from, so we want (and need) to maintain enough control to keep them safe until they are mature enough to do that for themselves. There is no magic wand, but there are some sensible guidelines for dealing with this stuff in order to minimise conflict:
1. Don’t sweat the small stuff: It takes energy to enforce rules, so make sure the rules you make are about things that really matter. Rules about safety are important, as are rules governing relationships in the family. These latter might include ‘No violence, no put-downs, no name-calling’, as well as keeping the home peaceful. These rules provide training in relationship that will stand them in good stead in their adult relationships.
2. Be reasonable: Listen respectfully to your teen’s perspective. Acknowledge their feelings and opinions. Be negotiable where appropriate, but stick to the important decisions. Don’t allow your teen to keep hassling you, or to wear you down by going on at length, sulking, or telling you what a bad parent you are. Say kindly and firmly, ‘I’ve heard your reasons, and I can hear that you’re unhappy with my decision, but for now that decision stands and I’m not willing to discuss it further right now’.
3. Don’t take sides: Especially in fights with siblings, both parties need to feel valued and heard by you. You can best help by listening to each point of view (one at a time!), and clarifying the issue causing conflict. This takes the heat off the sibling, and will hopefully lead to some constructive problem solving. ‘I see, so Martin took your jacket without your permission and you feel really annoyed. And Martin, you couldn’t find your jacket and were worried you’d get into trouble for having the wrong uniform? Hm, I wonder what else might work here?’
4. Don’t criticise their taste in friends, clothes, music etc: Being critical only harms your relationship with them. They will have to work out for themselves what’s okay and what’s not, and they will do so more successfully from the grounding of an open, safe and respectful relationship with you. By all means express your worries, but name them as that so you don’t come across as critical or distrusting of your child.
5. Talk things through, and by ‘talk’ I really mean ‘listen’! Take the time to hear what your teen is saying. Show interest, ask clarifying questions ‘So do you mean . . .’ Reflect any feelings you notice – ‘Sounds like that’s a bit of a worry for you?’
6. Be positive: Let your teen know the things you like, admire, appreciate and respect about them. Notice when they are cooperative or helpful, and thank them for it. Good feelings beget good behaviour!