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The science is in.
People don’t like to be controlled, as if we needed to see the studies.
In research on counseling with people with drinking problems, counselors’ efforts to convince clients to quit drinking led to—ta-da—more drinking.
Sticking with science a bit longer, we can see that if someone is controlling us, then we are tending to do what is best for them and not for us—which is not evolutionarily advantageous. Therefore, humans have developed the ability to sense when we are being controlled and to react by resisting, or even rebelling.
We will even cut off our noses to spite our faces. We can’t help ourselves sometimes.
All of this brings me to teenagers and brings us to the end of the science and the start of the art.
Influentia is a word from medieval Latin that means “fluid flowing off of the stars that affects character and destiny.”
From years of parenting as well as from teaching and counseling high school students, I have come to some insights about how we influence our teenagers.
Here are some ways we can rethink our ideas around parenting a teenager:
We most influence when we least try to influence.
Mostly, our influence flows over our child through who we are in the daily activities and interactions of living and in the open, respectful conversations we have about life. Trying to influence them has a negligible effect compared to the influence we exert through the person we are and the open-minded conversations we have.
One of the most critical efforts we put into our relationship with our child is not an effort on them but an effort on ourselves—attending to our own soul, mind, and behavior so we can be a model for living. As a result, the family atmosphere envelops our child in certain values, and so we can embody a style of conversation where we are not trying to convince them of anything.
We least influence when we most try to influence.
The more effort we make to attempt to input insight into our teenager, the more likely it is to be shut out. If we pretend to have an open, respectful conversation but instead are trying to control them or are too irritated, we create resistance and reduce our influence while our child is contemplating aspects of their life. If they sense that we are trying to control them or persuade them in a particular direction, they will instinctively rebel against that control.
Teenagers are skittish creatures, especially around their parents, and they want freedom just like all of us. It requires from us a certain way of “being” rather than of “doing” for them to allow us to be more involved in their life.
We have little direct influence.
Our teenager has an individual soul with its own motivations and inclinations, and, therefore, they themselves are their major influence.
Most of us have the experience of being different than our family members in many ways. This is no different with our child in comparison to us. They have their likes and dislikes, talents and weaknesses, fascinations and blind spots, which will greatly influence their lives.
Part of a parent’s role is to perceive, accept, and allow their individuality. Parents don’t have a choice about whether an adolescent will express their individuality because an adolescent will express their individuality whether a parent likes it or not. The question is, Can we appreciate who they are so they can better accept that individuality?
In addition, we should not even try to influence.
We should not interfere with the individual soul of our child. It is critical to perceive and honor their individuality because it contains the talents they have brought to the world and the motivation to follow their calling.
This blessing gives them more confidence to accept who they are, and it strengthens the relationship that we have with them. Therefore, we influence by perceiving and encouraging them for who they are, which can aid them to have the courage to live their own life.
I say all this with the caveat that at times we have to intervene. At times, their actions or potential decisions are such that we have to do something. However, the intervention is likely to go better and our relationship maintained if we have built this strong foundation: a level of trust and connection that helps our relationship weather this storm.
When this happens, we have not been regularly interfering in or commenting on their life, but only step in or make a statement when it is very important. They haven’t felt hassled by us, but have been allowed the autonomy to live their life—so they are much more agreeable to temporarily giving up their freedom when it happens rarely.
Also, by seldom intervening, the interventions we do make have more impact and cause our teenager to take them more seriously. Less is more.
Mostly, we should let life provide its natural consequences. If life provides the consequences the vast majority of the time instead of us intruding, then our teenager will also be more open to talking about life’s consequences with us.
In this situation, we are working together to deal with their life instead of having a power struggle over control of their life.
Want to read more? Mike Chapman’s newly published book, Dancing to Nirvana, is available here.