Remembering Who’s the Parent

Psycology Today

Posted September 1, 2021

David Schwartz LMFT

To get their way, teens often try to reduce your authority.

KEY POINTS

  • Teens want what they want and will push against family rules. 
  • When we react on a teen’s level, a parent’s authority is often diminished. 
  • Creating consistent boundaries can help teens feel more secure. 
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

One of the problems we all face in life is when our emotions get the better of us. Teenagers can easily try our patience and if you have one, it’s likely they do so regularly. They behave poorly at times and can cause our blood pressure and frustration levels to rise. As a result, we sometimes are not at our best and do things that are counter-productive to getting the results we want as parents. In fact, there are times we may revert back to loud arguing with our teen and as such, reduce our stature as parents. We may say things we don’t mean or wish we could take back. Clearly, upon reflection, we often wish we had handled things differently.

The problem is, we are not perfect either. Even when we know better; even when we have read all of the parenting books and done our best to handle things logically and maturely we still can be subject to our reactivity and hurt feelings. Let’s face it: there are times when we can “lose it,” just as our children can lose it. At those times, we may forget we’re the parents and emotionally be right back in our teenage years trying to get our way and acting like a teenager ourselves.

When this happens and we lose perspective on the fact that we are the parents and the teenager is the child, we can get into shouting matches, or other actions to try and control our children so they behave the way we want. This tends to escalate things and often leads to adolescents slamming doors or punching walls, and us with tight stomachs and massive frustrations.

Who’s the adult?

One of the keys to successful parenting is to keep our perspective. We are not teenagers. We are not on an even playing field with our kids. Even though our teens may want us to believe they are equal to us in terms of stature in the family, it’s not true. We get to set the rules and the boundaries. While children are growing up faster and faster these days, especially with ready access to the internet, it doesn’t mean they’re ready to make major choices in their lives.

If you as a parent feel that something is not right for your child, you get to set rules and boundaries to help keep them safe. If the child balks, that’s normal. If the child defies us and says they’re going to do what they want regardless of what we say, then we have to stay firm as parents. It’s not about who can shout the loudest, it’s about having consistent, clear boundaries in place that we expect the child to follow. And if they don’t follow our rules, we don’t have to get mad. We just have to have appropriate safeguards in place that create consequences for their actions.

When parents “lose it”

When parents lose their tempers and revert back to their emotions instead of being clear on what is appropriate and what is not, teens often feel they are unsafe. They may feel the parent is out of control, which makes them more likely to escalate the situation into unsafe territories themselves. When parents are able to maintain their boundaries and rules dispassionately, without judgment, or emotional escalation, then the child sees that the parent has a plan and clarity, which helps the child feel safe and often more willing to accept their parents’ decisions.

Of course, this is not foolproof and sometimes teens act out even when parents maintain their boundaries. However, if parents stay together on the rules of the house (even divorced parents can have consistent rules) the children grow up from a young age understanding that the parents have expectations and boundaries which generally causes them to fall in line with the house rules. Sure, they may grumble, but they will also likely respect these rules, especially if they’ve been consistent throughout their childhood.

Maintaining your authority while respecting your child

Teenagers want to establish their own identities. They want to push back against parents’ rules and regulations. However, they tend to feel safest when their pushing back doesn’t cause the parents to emotionally collapse. When parents can stay firm in their boundaries then children recognize their importance. When parents “lose it” and become another child in the situation, loudly arguing for what they want, they often lose their authority in their child’s eyes. This can then cause teenagers to go off the rails because they no longer feel their parents are emotionally solid. That’s why it is so important for parents to be on the same page about the rules and boundaries in the family and not feel the need to argue incessantly with their teen. They can explain “why” the rule is in place, but don’t have to spend hours going over every nuance of the decision. When parents have clear boundaries that are consistent and reasonable, teenagers may not always like them, but hopefully they’ll be willing to accept them.

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