1. Speak reasonably; don’t command. For example, instead of saying ‘Just say no to drugs,’ say ‘If you use drugs, you can harm your body and mind. You might get addicted, make less money and have to depend on others to live. Is that what you really want?’ Or, rather than saying, ‘You can’t stay up past midnight because I say so,’ say, ‘You still have to get up at 7 am to go to school. Do you really want to feel and look exhausted all day?’
2. Acknowledge the teenager’s need for autonomy. For example, instead of saying, ‘Stop being so selfish! Think of my needs for a change,’ try saying, ‘I know you need to find your own way without me telling you what to do all the time. However, it is my job to tell you when I think you’re wrong. You’re also free to say what you think.’
3. Don’t let your anxiety overwhelm your teenager. Instead of reacting to everything, help him make good decisions by reasoning things out on his own. Anxiety blocks thought. If you show confidence in your teenager’s ability to think, then he’ll feel confident and less dependent on ‘what everybody else is doing.’
4. Coach your teenager. Pull rank only as a last resort. Let her learn by making make her own decisions, and facing the consequences as much as practical and possible. Predict negative consequences, but recognize that you could be wrong as well. Don’t teach her to second-guess herself with ‘What will my parents allow me to do?’ Instead, teach her to figure out what makes the most sense.
5. Don’t take your teenagers’ errors (or resistance to your suggestions) personally. Her errors are her own. It’s not about you — it’s about her own efforts to establish independence and find her own way in life.
6. Create a climate conducive to open communication. No subject should be off-limits or taboo. Don’t say things like, ‘That’s stupid,’ or, ‘When you’re my age, you’ll see it differently.’ Instead, listen carefully to his arguments and point out what you think is right or wrong, and why. Seek the same from him. He’s now a young adult, and needs to reason and argue. In fact, it’s a good mental exercise for you both.
Robert Epstein, author of ‘The Case Against Adolescence,’ told Psychology Today, ‘We have completely isolated young people from adults and created a peer culture. We stick them in school and keep them from working in any meaningful way, and if they do something wrong we put them in a pen with other ‘children.’ In most nonindustrialized societies, young people are integrated into adult society as soon as they are capable, and there is no sign of teen turmoil. Many cultures do not even have a term for adolescence. ‘ we not only created this stage of life: We declared it inevitable.’ So true!
Adolescence is a state of mind. ‘Teenage’ is just a number. There’s no inherent reason why a thirteen- or sixteen-year-old should be irrational. Long before their children ever reach the teenage years, parents assume that they will be obnoxious and rebellious. Given the intensity and certainty of such assumptions, it’s no wonder they often become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ll never forget what one parent told me. Her teenager had never ‘rebelled,’ and went into adulthood without the ‘usual’ problems. I asked her why this was, and she responded, ‘We never gave her anything to rebel against.’ Of course — that’s it! (Hence these six tips.)
Parents have to treat their teenagers like the young adults they are. Leave them free to decide for themselves, but expect them to take responsibility for those decisions. After all, what is adulthood, other than freedom of choice coupled with responsibility for those choices?
It’s not a question of whether you reason with him or just tell him what to do. You can tell him what to do all you want, but it’s not going to work. Teenagers are different from six-year-olds: They don’t hero-worship you, and they’re not desperate to win your approval like they once were. And they’re not going to admire you unless they have reason to do so. And the most important reason to admire you is your integrity. Do you practice what you preach? Do you live according to your values? Do you take responsibility for your choices?
Today’s society is not particularly rich with integrity. Teenagers are entitled to be a little cynical, don’t you think? But if they know that their parents mean what they say and say what they mean (while remaining rational about it) then they won’t have any real reason to rebel. Oh sure, they’ll disagree at times and try to make a point (loudly, perhaps), but that’s not rebelling; that’s just independent thinking. Independence is what teenagers care most about. You don’t have to endorse everything he or she does, but you have to support independence, because it’s coming whether you like it or not.