“The teen years tend to foster fear: fear that our child will fail, over-experiment, embarrass us [and] become depressed,” according to John Duffy, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and author of the book The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens.
So naturally it’s tough to figure out the best way to navigate such a seemingly tumultuous time. (By the way, the belief that teens are a nightmare is exaggerated. While the years aren’t easy-peasy, Duffy said that they’re rewarding and filled with growth.)
But parenting from a place of fear rarely works. It leads to poor parenting decisions, Duffy said. Below, he shares his insight on outdated approaches, why they don’t work and what does.
1. Lecturing. “Parents still think they can lecture kids into submission, or at the very least compliance,” Duffy said. But it can backfire, because teens may just “blow their parents off.” Lecturing might’ve worked a generation ago, but it doesn’t today, he explained. How come? Today’s teens are “more worldly and savvy.” And “As [teens] grow up more quickly in this media age, they question authority more readily than we did, and require more two-way, respectful communication.”
2. Micro-managing. Take the example of homework, Duffy said. Parents “hover and pester and check” assignments, but this has the opposite effect. The more control parents exert, the less likely teens are to complete their homework — or anything else, for that matter. (Think of it like anxiety. Keeping a tight grip on angst only fuels it.) According to Duffy, “many [teens] have told me that they find themselves repelled by [micro-managing] so much that they are sometimes willing to let their performance drop in spite.”
And it’s not good for your kids either. Micro-managing “disempowers” teens. “By unwittingly doing and planning for them, [you end up] robbing them of the opportunity to prove themselves capable and competent to themselves.” Quitting micro-managing may not be realistic, but it’s important to keep it in check.
3. Coddling. It begins with the best intentions. But coddling deprives kids. For instance, parents might “do an assignment for them [or] call them in sick for school when they are not.” It teaches teens that they can’t do things on their own and discourages them from taking responsibility for their actions. Similar to micro-managing, overprotecting kids from making mistakes means they’ll “never know what they’re made of,” Duffy said.
4. “Iron-fisted” parenting. Duffy defined iron-fisted parenting as “driven primarily by punishment and consequences.” It’s “fear-based, controlled, controlling and closed,” Duffy said. Such an authoritarian approach doesn’t allow teens to think for themselves and can lead to anxiety and withdrawal.
This parenting style is different from pure reinforcement, which Duffy said can work well. In his book, The Available Parent, Duffy encourages parents “to draft annual contracts with their children, so that reinforcements and consequences are clear from the outset.”
Duffy encourages parents to become available. In another article on Psych Central, he said that being an “available parent” means parenting “less from a position of fear, judgment and ego, and more from a place of calm, connectedness, and acceptance.” He also said:
Being an available parent…has many perks. Parents and kids enjoy their relationship more. Teens also are more engaged and more likely to listen to a parent’s point of view and heed it, he said. Available parents will “be seen as an advisor and ally, as opposed to the adversary so many of today’s parents are considered by their teenaged children.”
Here’s more about available parenting.
Overall, Duffy encouraged “parents to remember that there are elements in their children’s lives that they cannot control, so [it’s best to] let go of those things, and enjoy your time with your child more.”
You can learn more about psychologist John Duffy at his website.