Following up from my previous 2 blog posts on Adolescence, I will now talk about the issue of control in parent/adolescent relationships.
As our children move through their natural development into adolescence, our ability to influence them lessens, however that does not mean we have no influence. One thing to keep in mind about influence is from Dacher Keltner who is a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley from his book, The Power Paradox in which he says, “Your ability to make a difference in the world is shaped by what other people think of you. Your capacity to alter the state of others depends on their trust in you. Your ability to empower others depends on their willingness to be influenced by you.” One strong way to make sure our adolescents are not willing to be influenced by us is to try to control them. In a sense, control cannot be taken by us but it is given to us.
In regards to control, the psychologist Alan Kazdin tells us,
“Too often [we] respond by exerting control for its own sake, just to remind everybody who’s boss. But when you do that, you just end up making your child more aggressive and driving him/her away, encouraging him/her literally or figuratively to escape and avoid you. Meeting defiance with redoubled force might (if you’re lucky) momentarily suppress the behavior you don’t want, but the effect is very temporary. Research consistently shows that the bad behavior comes back just as frequently and just as badly as before – and it will probably get worse, since ‘cracking down’ tends to amplify defiance”.
The antidote for control is giving choice and being ok with your adolescent not always making the “right choice”. Not only does this give your adolescent a chance to practice making choices but also allows room for your adolescent to act in ways that are not just compliant, thereby enhancing your adolescent’s ownership of their own behavior. In a situation where an adolescent is just doing their homework or studying to get their parent off their back, they are not really owning the work, they are owning the avoidance of parental control and the parent is owning the problem of homework completion because they are the ones making sure it is getting done, which may feel good in the moment but does not bode well for long-term ownership of studying or homework completion.
You can “set the table” so to speak with what the expectations are and what the consequence, positive or negative will be for choices made and then let your adolescent make a choice. And again, you would want to do this as dispassionately as possible as to not reinforce button pushing and to let your adolescent own their behavior. Once you’ve “set the table” then it is up to your adolescent whether they sit and eat and we then get out of their way, unless they ask for our help, then of course, we Turn In.
One last thing to think about in terms of control, is that oftentimes, we as parents, try to control our adolescents as a way to get rid or avoid our own anxieties and insecurities. Oftentimes, our directions are more about us than they are our children or the situation. I previously wrote a blog entitled, “Parenting with Existentialism and ACT” that can be found on The Sibley Group website which talks about how “The more we argue that it is about the kids’ safety, the more obvious it is that it is all about us.” And the more control we try to convey due to our anxieties, the more resistance from our children we are likely to incur.
I hope these blog posts have been helpful and there is much more to talk about in terms of what adolescence is and how to best manage this stage of development. These ideas may already be familiar to you and yet you may have trouble implementing them. That is what therapy can be helpful for, therapy is not necessarily to tell people what to do but to help people be able to do what they know and figure out what is getting in the way of doing what they know. So while everything cannot be distilled into a blog post, there is more help if you want it!