SALT LAKE CITY — I get many questions submitted these days from concerned parents who are struggling to connect and have influence with their teens. Kids today have access to friends and information on every subject 24/7. Parents are finding it more difficult than ever to maintain real influence to guide their teens.
In order to have real influence you must have real connection and mutual respect. Below are eight ways parents sometimes behave that can erode their relationships, create disconnection and cause them to lose influence:
1. Have emotional and immature reactions, in anger, self-pity or fear
When parents are emotionally immature, reactive, or lose control, teens lose respect. They want you to be the adult, see situations clearly, and respond with wisdom and love. When you aren’t able to do that and respond immaturely they lose respect for you as an adult.
If you struggle with emotional immaturity and often blow your top, go to a self-pity or drama place, or use ridiculous threats, there are resources to help you deal with your emotions. If the problem continues, you may want to seek out some professional help to change that behavior.
The best thing a parent could do for their child is to work on their own self-worth and relationship skills. Learn how to process emotions in a healthy way and get control of your temper.
2. Try to force them and be controlling
Oppressed people always rebel. It’s just human nature. Have you ever tried to drag someone in one direction? What do they automatically do? They pull the other way. No one likes to be forced (even if they want to go the way you are pulling, they will always resist being forced).
It would be wiser to spend time asking questions and helping teens figure out which options create the best results in their lives and encourage them to make good choices on their own, for themselves. This way they make good choices even when you aren’t around.
3. Engage in power struggles
Parents who try to demand obedience and make teens obey soon find out they really have no control. There are very few things you can force another person to do. You can make them sit at a table to study, but you can’t force them to read or understand what they are reading. You can demand a bedtime, but you can’t force them to sleep. These kinds of power struggles erode connection and drive children away from you.
When you engage in force, you are making yourself the enemy. It makes more sense to stay on their team, not fight against them. You both want the same thing in the end, a happy, healthy, productive adult. Approach every issue as the two of you against the problem, never against each other.
4. Tell them the same thing over and over
Lectures are rarely effective and when you say the same thing, in different ways over and again in one sitting, your teen stops listening. This is not the way to gain influence or connection with your child. Teens also get offended when you insult their intelligence and assume they aren’t getting what you’re saying. Trust me, they heard you.
What you are feeling is their resistance to how it’s being communicated. It’s not a conversation you are having, it is a one-way lecture and there is no connection involved. If you want to have a conversation about an issue with your teen it requires you to ask questions, listen and really hear their thoughts and feelings too.
If you need to be a dictator and give a speech, just expect eye rolls and disrespect, because respect has to be a two-way street. It also has to be earned through mature, calm, intelligent and validating communication.
5. Be hypocritical (say one thing yet do the other)
You lose all credibility when you don’t practice what you preach, and I guarantee your kids notice. They are learning much more from watching you than from anything you say. They may be learning how they don’t want to behave in the future or how to not treat their children.
Fortunately, your value as a human being isn’t affected by your performance, so you still have the same value as the rest of us. But it is your job to keep working on yourself and own it if you make mistakes. Never underestimate the power of being vulnerable and admitting when you are wrong — there are few better ways to connect with your kids.
6. Be disrespectful and talk down to them
You earn their respect by treating them with respect. Imagine how you would handle the conversation about their messy room if it was a friend staying with you. How would you speak to the friend about the mess? Try speaking to your own kids with that level of respect and you will get what I mean. When you talk down to teens, they can get offended and pull away from you. Any discipline, counsel or correction can be delivered with respect.
7. Talk more than you listen
Nothing shows a teenager that it’s all about you faster than this. Make sure in every conversation you are asking questions and listening to their views as much or more than you are talking. You will be amazed by what you learn.
Smart parents can ask the right questions and get a teen to figure out what they were going to say, without saying a word. That is real learning that lasts, too.
8. Spoil them or make their life too easy
This creates entitled teens who don’t listen and just demand and expect to have what they want. Make sure they learn young to earn what they have.
Your job is to prepare them for the real world, where phone plans cost money and get turned off if aren’t paid for. Let them fail often and learn these lessons now, in your home, when the lessons are less expensive.
If you have a hard time saying no or pulling back on privileges because they are used to being spoiled, seek out some professional help to show you how to do this in a loving, firm way.
Some people may think I am putting all the blame for a relationship problem on the parents. It does take two to create the mess you might be in, and your teen's bad behavior is obviously half the problem — but you are the adult.
It is your job to be accountable for your half. If you don’t have the skills and tools to handle parenting in a mature, wise, loving way, it is your job to seek them out. When you decided to have children, you accepted the responsibility of the parent role. You must take the role seriously and study, learn and grow in it.
The more you learn and grow, you will be able to model better behavior for your kids, and they will be better prepared to work on their side.
You can do this.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.