When your spirited teen won’t listen and you know they’re going to do what they want anyways, use these tips to help keep them safe.
Sometimes you just know in your gut that even though you’ve explained the risks to your teen and told them you don’t want them to do something, they’re going to find a way to do it anyway.
When I was a (spirited) teen in the ‘70’s, I got grounded or punished for disobedience–which only fuelled my resentment towards my parents and made me even more determined to find a way to do what I wanted. Because I felt misunderstood and unable to confide in them, there were times when I got into difficult situations and had no “wiser adult” whom I trusted enough to share my struggles. I felt alone, and often was awake during the night with anxiety. I turned to my peers which felt okay at the time, but years later when I finally met an adult who could hear my struggles without judgment, it was a balm for my heart and soul.
Our teens, even when rebelling, never want to be totally alone, and I wanted things to be different for me and my son.
Here are some tips and principles that I’ve found most helpful, for you to keep in mind the next time your teen wants to do something that you feel is too risky (e.g., go to a party where there will be substance use and possibly no parent supervision).
- Acknowledge the experience they’re having and the need they’re trying to meet (e.g., “I’ve noticed how important your friends are to you and I know it’s important for you to feel included when your friends are doing something. I get it.”) When they feel understood, you’ll stay connected
- If you think they’re going to do it anyway, say “yes” instead of “no”, and then add something that limits the risk (“e.g., I’ll pick you up at midnight at the end of the driveway–you don’t have to say your parents are picking you up, you can just tell them that you have to go”)
- In general conversations, provide information about how to stay safe (e.g., eat before drinking alcohol; there’s a delay between ingesting and feeling a response so go slowly; people often can’t judge how drunk or stoned they are until they look back on it the next day–use your logical brain to set a limit before starting and stick to it)
- Have ongoing discussions about how to stay safe, and let them know you’ll always give them a ride, no matter what. And if they get into trouble, they can *always* call–no questions asked, and they won’t be in trouble.
- Always use non-judgmental language when talking about their desires, feelings, choices, and their friends.
These are some of the key things that have helped me support my son to be safe. At 17, he’s doing less risky behaviour, however, recently made a decision to try something and ended up feeling a bit scared–and he *actually* called me. It felt like a ‘win’ moment amongst a lot of anxiety-ridden moments I’ve had through his teen years. And I have less anxiety now knowing that he’ll call me if needed.
To summarize, focus on connecting, minimizing risk and putting safety in place where you’re able to, because they can *feel* when you’re trying to control their behaviour, vs. when you’re letting go, but still engaging with them in a way that lets them know that their safety is truly your greatest concern. They feel your “realness” and your authenticity.
And if you’re interested in checking out a group for parents of teens in the fall—for tips, and to feel support and camaraderie, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org My experience as a parent of a teen is that support from other parents of teens has been a lifeline. When I hear from other parents of sensitive, spirited teens like my own, I feel relieved and strengthened knowing that I’m not alone. I get fresh ideas and feel a renewed sense of hope. It’s helped me to stay the course of being the parent I want to be, instead of dissolving in an anxiety-ridden wreck who tries unsuccessfully to control my teen’s actions so I won’t feel anxious, or who says things I regret later and fractures our relationship.
If this resonates for you, I’d love to hear from you, and if I get enough interest, I’ll get back to you in the fall to see if you’re still interested and provide more details. My intention is that it would be a balm for *your* heart and soul, and also a place to get practical tips.
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