If you have tweens or teens, as I do, you’re sure to find this guest post from Clinical Hypnotherapist, Master NLP Practitioner and author Caroline Cavanagh interesting. I must admit, there are times when I am convinced that my two take great delight in doing the exact opposite of anything they are asked to do. And, as Caroline explains, I’m not alone.
Why does my kid always go left when I ask them to go right?!
For parents of teens, this is a common reality – to the point that I know I have actually asked my teen to do the opposite of what I wanted in the hope that they would do what I did want!
But for many parents, this is a course of much friction as all those values and beliefs you have spent years developing in them appear to go out of the window. And also, especially for mums, it can lead to huge anxiety as they see their precious baby pulling away from them and wanting little contact.
I don’t think many people would say that parenting is easy but sometimes, little insights into why they are doing what they are doing can help you ride that storm!
From a therapy perspective, there is a psychological process that goes on during adolescence that takes kids from dependent children through to becoming independent adults. That progress, however, is far from linear and what tends to happen is, as children start breaking away from being dependent, they make a quantum leap and go for full independence leading to that behaviour that many parents of teens will recognise – doing the absolute opposite of anything you ask of them!
We often put this down to belligerence but it is all part of this process – the subconscious desire to be independent goes into overdrive and rather than doing what is ‘right’ they will do the opposite of whatever the parents ask to prove that they are no longer dependent or ‘controlled’ by their parents.
This process is not just tied to puberty (although that will have an influence) but more readily influenced by maturity and a subconscious realisation that they now have the skills to start making that journey to independence – even though as parents, we know that there are still many lessons to learn!
My advice to parents trying to weather this storm covers a number of angles – no one is best, they are all tools that you can pick on depending on the situation.
- Acknowledge this is happening with your teen and agree (ideally with their input) some parameters that allow them to have independence whilst you look after their safety. For example, when my kids started secondary school they wanted to go into town with friends and come home later. My answer was that they could but if they missed the bus then that would suggest to me that they did not yet have the maturity to be responsible for managing their time and therefore we’d have to wait a while until they could demonstrate they have that skill. They never missed the bus! And so a later bus became allowed, followed by a trip further a field etc – each time with the parameters of what they needed to do to prove to me they were independent enough to manage their independence!
- Talk to your teenager about choices. As dependents their exposure to cause and effect is more limited but as they go out into the world, that exposure heightens but often they don’t have the experiences to determine what the effects of their actions may be. By positioning things as choices, you can help them increase their awareness’s of implications whilst still allowing them a perceived freedom of independent choices as to which route they take.
- Help educate your teen by talking of your own experiences. My teen daughter is showing an increased interest in alcohol. I know that if I tell her she should not drink it, we may well head down the ‘turn right when I want her to go left’ route! So I have shared stories with her about my youth – like when I woke up aged 15 on a lawn having no recollection of how I got there! Whilst she found this quite funny, her instant response was, “I would hate not being in control.” Bingo! The message hit home.
- Keep communication channels open. One of the biggest challenges during these teen years is the ‘grunting’ period where teens appear to lose their ability to talk (unless it involves arguing!) It therefore lies with parents to do what they can to keep communication channels open. The easiest way I have found to do this is create opportunities where there are minimal distractions and you avoid eye contact. These can include; walking the dog, journeys in the car, and lying on the bed with them at night when it is dark. And accept it may take more than one attempt before they open up. If I sense my son is in a bad place, when I go to say goodnight to him, I will lie on the bed with him for a bit. Sometimes he will just start talking, at other times, I may need to do this for several nights before the conversation starts. And then it is all about listening.
- When that conversation does start, avoid solving the problem for them – as this flips them straight back into dependency. This is where you can deploy the “I remember something like this when I was 15 and I did XYZ and it was a disaster! If I could talk to that 15 yr old me now I’d tell her……..” strategy. Or ask them what their thoughts are on options and guide them to see the pros and cons of each option – they are doing the problem solving, you are leading them along the road.
Be assured though that they do get back to that point where your right is also their right too and whilst they will not share all of your beliefs and values, many of those they adhered to when they were in those dependent years, will have weathered the storm and remained strong!
If you have a teen (or nearly teen) and are interested in being part of a community where we talk about teenage anxiety and other things teen-related, then please come and join us in a closed facebook group called teenstress 101 which you can find here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/TeenStress101/