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Loving leadership - a better way to parent teens

Posted April 20

Question:

I have a teenager who I am struggling to have a relationship with. She is making bad choices, which is making me overly controlling, and this is driving a wedge between us. I don’t feel that she respects me and is openly rude. I want to feel closer to her, but my questioning and trying to connect just makes her angry at me. She is almost 18, so I don’t have much more time with her in my home. I really want to repair our relationship. Do you have any advice on how?

Answer:

You can build a stronger, more loving and respectful relationship with your teen and have more influence on her if you will let go of your fears and expectations and become a safer space of love, support and respect for her.

Sometimes instead of providing guidance and leadership, we just create power struggles, and our relationships become full of anger, punishment and fear. When we parent from fear, we tend to be overly controlling too. This type of parenting quickly makes you the enemy and pushes your child toward their friends for support.

What your child needs from you is loving leadership. This is guidance with respect, and it is more about empowering and encouraging them to be successful than forcing them to do what you want.

Think about your relationship with your friends or co-workers. If you showed up in these relationships focused on control and getting these people to be the way you want them to be, these people wouldn’t like you either. Of course parenting is different and requires stewardship, teaching and guiding, but this can be done from a place of respect and love, and you will have more influence on your child when you have a safer relationship of mutual respect.

To be a loving leader parent you must remove the fears that cause you to be controlling, angry or critical, and you must change your parenting mindset to one of support and encouragement. Here are eight steps to help you:

  1. Focus on what your child needs. This is more complicated than you think. Are you worried about how her choices make you look? Are you worried about failing as a parent? Are you worried about what the neighbors think? Are you overly concerned with how her actions make you feel and put you out? Are your standards, opinions and ideas the ones that matter? All of these thoughts and fears are selfishness and show your focus is more on you than her. If you want to build a good relationship with your child, you must be able to set your stuff aside and focus on what she thinks, feels and needs most. Until you let go of your fears about you, you aren’t capable of love or a good relationship.

  2. Let go of fear of failure. You must remember that your value isn’t tied to your child’s behavior. She has agency to make her own choices and those choices (and what others think of them) don’t change your value. Your intrinsic value as a human being is infinite and unchangeable. It is the same as everyone else’s all the time. You have nothing to fear. You must trust that this journey is a classroom and these parenting experiences are just lessons that don’t affect your value. It’s only in this place of trust that you are capable of the kind of unselfish love your child needs.

  3. Trust that your child’s life is a journey. You play an important role in your child’s life, but it’s not your life. Your child and the universe are in charge of co-creating her perfect classroom, and that may include learning some lessons the hard way (if your child needs that). It may include classes you wish she didn’t have to take, but you can’t save her from lessons she needs and is signing up for. Trusting that your child's life is a journey will make you less scared, selfish, angry, panicked and stressed, which will make you more capable of love.

  4. See parenting as your classroom. Every experience with your child is your perfect lesson, and the point of these experiences is to make you stronger, wiser, kinder, more in control and more loving. If you will see each interaction with your child as your lesson on you becoming better, you will handle things much differently. Use the Worksheet for Frustrated Parents on my website to help you gain this perspective before interacting with your child.

  5. To get respect, you must be respectable. To build a good, respectful relationship with your teen, you must have your act together. If you have insecurities, which cause emotional overreactions to problems or are prone to immature behavior, your child is not going to respect you or listen to you. I get a lot of calls from parents interested in coaching for their teens, but we usually won’t coach a teen until we have first coached the parents. You must gain confidence and start modeling happy, healthy, adult behavior. Teens are smart enough to know when you aren’t happy or balanced, and if your lifestyle isn’t making you happy, no teen is going to listen to you or follow you. You may need some professional help to improve your self-esteem, see situations clearly and respond with more maturity, confidence and love. I highly recommend getting some professional help if you need it.

  6. To get respect you have to give it. Teens actually believe they are as smart as you, and because of this they get insulted, offended and defensive if you talk down to them (which you are prone to do). If you can talk to them with the same level of respect you would give another adult (someone your age) you will see a big difference in how they treat you. Ask yourself how you would phrase it if you asked an adult staying in your home to do the dishes and ask your teen the same way. If they don't do what you ask, how would you handle that with an adult? You would have a respectful conversation about it. Do that here. Also be willing to listen, honor and respect how they feel and they will be more likely to give the same back to you.

  7. Swap control for empowering and encouraging. You really don't have control anyway. Your teen is in control of her life. Your only hope is to have influence. To have influence, your child must listen to you. Your child won’t listen to you if you don’t create a relationship where love and support come before control and expectations. Teresa Graham Brett, author of the book "Parenting for Social Change," said, “Parenting is about building a relationship of trust and love between you and a child — it is not about making them turn out the way you want. It can’t be about control more than it’s about love, trust, mutual respect and caring for each other.” This may mean being more flexible about some of your rules and standards. When you are too rigid about the way you want your child to turn out, you will always come from a place of disapproval and judgment. This will feel (to them) like you care more about your expectations than you do about them. Too many lectures and not enough listening and validating can make them feel you are against them. Instead spend most of your time empowering and encouraging. Point out their strengths and tell them you believe in them. Tell them they are smart, capable, strong and can do amazing things. Build them up and ask how you can help. Be a cheerleader, a support system and safe place when they need advice.

  8. Create an emotional connection. There is only one way to create this kind of connection with another human being, and that is good communication and lots of it. This means communication that is open, honest, validating and encouraging. It means doing more listening than talking. It means honoring and respecting their right to think and feel the way they do. It means valuing them as a person and being respectful and asking for permission before giving advice, like, “Would you be open to a suggestion from Dad?” and not giving it if they say no. There is a communication formula worksheet on my website that teaches how to have mutually validating conversations. It may take practice and patience, though, to rebuild trust if you have talked more than you’ve listened in the past. You may need to apologize for that and ask for another chance. You must also be very careful not to use shame or fear in your parenting. Imposing shame on anyone makes you an unsafe place and severs the emotional connection.

Remember parenting, like everything else in life, is a class to teach you to love at a deeper level. If you will focus less on changing your child and more on changing and improving yourself, you can and will improve this relationship.

You can do this.

Kimberly Giles is the president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is the author of the book "Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness" and a popular life coach, speaker and people skills expert.

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