Parenting #101: “It’s all about the controls”

Anyone raising a teenager knows about the power struggles. It reminds me of when I would play tug-of-war in elementary school. Tug, pull, release, drag, one step closer to the line…one step further away. Other days, it can feel more like a seesaw. The other person has just as much control as you do. It is up to them if they just allow you to free fall to the ground or if you both will just safely bob your legs in accordance for a semi-fun experience. Most days, I feel as if Cole just decides to hit the ground, no legs beneath him.

“Why?” He asks after every directive.

“Cole, can you bring down your dirty dishes from your room?”


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It’s infuriating and to be honest my first response is my father’s response, “Because I said so.” If your goal is to keep communication open between you and your teen and you’d like to keep the balancing act that is now your relationship going smoothly, this is the wrong answer. It is the wrong answer because it takes all of the control. It is an immediate shut down. It diminishes the questioner. It implies that as the adult no explanations are needed or necessary.

As a parent who was raised by parents who literally said, “It is my way or the highway,” I find it daunting to respond in a balanced healthy way to my son’s incessant “whys,” but I stop what I am doing and go into his room. I make eye contact with him.

“Do you feel it is unreasonable to ask you to bring your dishes downstairs?” When you ask a question to answer a question it often renders the person defenseless though they do not in fact feel that way. The human brain will switch gears and send activity to the frontal lobe, which is starting to really develop as teens age.

“No,” he answers.

“Good,” I respond. “Then bring your dishes downstairs please.”

“Can I do it in ten minutes?” This is a trap. Here is where I need to give him back the control.

Internally, I want to scream. My inner voice is screaming, “No, no you can’t have any more time. You have literally had days and days to lie about in your own toil and filth and now I want you and your incessant whys to get your butt downstairs and do what I say.”

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Instead I say, “Yes, you can have more than ten minutes, Buddy. Thanks so much for doing that.”

I walk away and stay determined to not mention the dishes again. An hour later while I am reading on the couch, he brings down stacks of dishes in more than one trip.

“Oh, wow, that’s great, Cole. Thanks again for doing that,” he grunts at me and I smile.

Giving up a large bit of control where your teen is concerned but still knowing when to push and when to pull is really an act. It is regulating my own emotions to a point that feels unrealistic. It is allowing him to be, but also creating boundaries because at the end of the day, nothing I do truly controls my teen any longer. It is all about setting the stage so that he wants to choose to do what I am asking. It is my acknowledgment of his control that allows our balancing act to continue and keeps us both on the seesaw a little while longer.

Love and Light!

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