Sometimes we are so busy trying to get our teens to follow a few simple rules and conform to our direction that it is easy to forget that the main goal of adolescents is to actually to do the opposite of what we want. Teens are determined to differentiate themselves from their parents at all costs.
Because teens are trying to separate themselves from their parents, there will always be a desire for distance between the teen and his parents. They have very little motivation to connect with their parents through being the same. Let me explain this – teens want your love but they don’t want to be like you in order to get it. As parents, we like who we are and believe that modelling our lives has some value. We hope that our kids emulate our work ethic and values. But this is the exact opposite of what teens are trying to achieve during the stage of adolescence (and it is just a stage – it will end). Sure, teens still want the love of their parents and will do many things to achieve a connection, but they also want to separate themselves from us as parents in order to create their own individual identity.
“Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.” John F. Kennedy
If they can’t separate in a healthy way, they will do it more forcefully.
Rebellion might actually be in our DNA. Even our nation was founded as a result of rebellion and the fight against conformity with the Catholic Church in Europe. Yet, we have a deep desire to be connected. We want to be known and understood by others. This tension between a desire to be connected and rebellion plays out in adolescence. Teens want to be separate and still be cared for.
How can they separate themselves from you if they continue to listen and follow your direction for life? They will not want to change their destructive behavior if changing means being more like their parents. So we need to be mindful of the changes that we are asking of our kids. We want to give them an escape route – an opportunity to be their own person, but still remain in relationship to us.
So take time to determine with your spouse what you are trying to accomplish as a parent. Don’t discuss these goals with your teen initially, and perhaps never. These are simply larger parenting goals. When it is all said and done, what do you as parents hope happens when your child is in your home? What are your top priorities – faith, safety, education, athletics, or service? What areas of life are you leading them toward? By having larger goals, you might find that you are able to let go of some of the smaller stuff. In fact, the small stuff might actually be getting in the way. For example, I really hope that my daughter leaves home with a strong sense of self and has strong spiritual values. Yet, it seems like I spend a lot of time challenging her to work harder in swim practice, and I spend very little time actually praying with her.
At our treatment facility, we encourage parents to sit down and discuss between themselves what they are trying to accomplish with their child. I don’t think you would be surprised to find that most parents have pretty different views of what should happen with their sons and daughters. Becoming unified as guardians will bring peace to the home and allow you to focus on what really is important. Let go of the small disputes that derail your relationship with your teen and focus on the things that you really want them to learn before they leave home.
In what ways are you training your child?