Parent-teen relationship destroyersWritten by Mark Gregston
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I have never had a mom tell me, "I want my daughter to be perfect," or had a dad say, "I want to have absolute authority over my son." Certainly, no parents have ever announced "We want to be judgmental."
But I have heard hundreds of girls say, "My mom wants me to be perfect," and hundreds of young men have said to me, "My dad rules our home with an iron fist." And, thousands of teens have told me, "My parents are the most judgmental people I know."
As parents, we want a strong relational bond with our teens. But sometimes, despite our good intentions, we can be doing the very things that destroy these relationships.
So what are the primary culprits that break our connection with our kids? Here are the four "most wanted" relationship destroyers.
#1: Demanding perfection
At a recent parenting seminar, I asked each mom and dad to pull out their cell phone and text this question to their teen, "Do you think I expect you to be perfect?" After about five minutes, every phone in the auditorium started beeping with replies. About 95 per cent of the teens said they did believe their parents wanted them to be perfect.
As parents, we want great things for our kids. That’s why we try so hard to push them towards excellence. But there’s a line between encouraging excellence and creating unreasonable expectations. When we place unattainable standards before our kids, we always risk raising expectations so high that our kids just give up.
Your teenager might show that he has given up in a few different ways. Some kids will begin to rebel to prove they are in control of their own lives. Others will become hyper-aware of the high standards and turn to drastic measures in order to achieve them (like the ballerina who becomes anorexic to increase her chances of being cast in the leading role). We need to balance between wanting the best for our teens, and setting up expectations that are impossible to reach.
We know that perfect people don’t exist. But if you have never shared your personal flaws with your kids, they haven’t had an opportunity to see what it’s like to live with imperfection. Instead, they think that faultlessness is normal. The first time they sprout a pimple they’re ready to freak out! By admitting your flaws, you give your kid permission to make mistakes and be imperfect, and you allow your teen to connect with you in a deeper way. Plus, as your kids see your own successes and failures, they’ll understand that it’s possible to have a good life even when they’ve messed up and fallen short.
#2: Having a judgmental attitude
This relationship destroyer is sneaky. I’ve witnessed parents using voice inflection, body language, and even Bible verses to make a valid point to their son or daughter – but the child only hears a harsh judgment being given. When you take a stand on issues like marijuana, homosexuality, religion, or even movies, your child may interpret your words as unfair criticism. Now, it might sound like your teen is putting words in your mouth. I mean, you’re not a judgmental person, right?
But let me ask you: have you rolled your eyes when your daughter came out wearing certain outfits? Do you use Scripture as a way to enforce rules and requirements in the house? Have you withheld hugs or signs of affection when your son disappointed you? We’ve all been there at one time or another. The problem is, these actions can be seen as coming from a judgmental spirit, and teens pick up on that quickly. It’s okay to voice your concern or disappointment, but be careful that you don’t belittle your kids or look down on their friends when you do so.
Display grace in your actions and attitudes. And take time to listen to your son or daughter with a caring heart. You don’t have to offer your opinion to every conversation. But if your teen does ask you to speak into a topic, preface your thoughts with, "I don't want you to think I'm being judgmental, but these are my feelings."
#3: The need to control
As parents, we want to protect our kids. It’s part of the job description. But our desire to protect can morph into an unconscious habit of control. And that habit crushes relationships!
Do you want to control your son when he’s twenty? Of course not! How about eighteen? I would guess "no." So what about when he’s fifteen? You can see where I’m going. When do you start to let go of those reins? If you don’t want to be controlling your children when they’re adults, the teenage years are the best training grounds for slowly and carefully making that handoff.
When teens feel like mom and dad control every aspect of their life, that’s when they start to act out. Rebellion is an effort to take back decision-making power, even if the resulting decisions are very poor ones. There was a sweet girl who was staying with us at our Heartlight campus and she was fond of piercings, but her parents were not. For this teen, piercing her body was a way to take control back from her parents who (with good intentions) maintained tight control over her life. Once the parents started to let their daughter make more decisions on her own, guess what? Somehow, those piercings started to disappear.
If you’re still trying to train your teens for life by controlling their lives, now is the time to make the transition and get rid of this relationship destroyer.
#4: Constant negativity
Try this little exercise this week – start counting the times you say, "You need to . . ." "What you should've done . . ." (or phrases like these) to your teen. You may be surprised how many times those types of comments come out of your mouth. A foolproof method to get your kid to shut down is to speak more negative than positive words into their lives. If you spend more time criticizing than encouraging, judging than training, condemning than approving, you’re slowly eating away at a relationship with your child. Be intentional about finding positive behaviours, actions, and attitudes for which you can praise your child.
No one wants to spend time with people who are consistently negative, let alone listen to what they have to say. Don’t get me wrong – kids need constructive guidance. But they also need consistent love and support. Stress the positive about your child, and watch your relationship grow.
I realize that these words are tough to take. It’s not easy to hear that something we may be doing as parents is destroying our relationship with our kids. We can all readily admit that we don’t have parenting down perfectly. We can always work a little harder to grow as moms and dads. To build great relationships with our kids, we have to be willing to evaluate our attitudes and actions, and continue building strong and healthy ties with our teens.
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host and the founder of the Heartlight residential counseling center for struggling teens. This article originally appeared in Mark Gregston's blog post “Power Parenting" at Parentingtodaysteens.org.
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