Scenario: I am dealing with a very disrespectful teenager who looks at me as the enemy. I'm so worried he is going to get himself in trouble. He hides everything from me. I've caught him lying to me. He doesn't have any respect for me. He is respectful to teachers and getting good grades, but it's like he looks to his mom as his worst nightmare. I don't know what happened to my sweet young boy who once got along with me so well. It's really upsetting me and I don't know what to do. I'm worried he is going to get into drugs or get into the wrong crowd as time goes on if I don't get it under control now. He's 15 and will be driving soon, WOAH -- even scarier! We argue, I ground him and it only makes things worse. He argues back... how can I start reversing this and become his friend? I want him to trust me and confide in me so I can know what he's up to, trust him and feel better about making sure he has all the tools he needs in life.
I reached out to an expert on this one, Miguel Brown, the owner of Miami Teen Counseling. He has great reviews, credentials and specializes in this kind of thing. I knew he was perfect to talk to. He was happy to help and I think you're going to find a lot of value in this post!
Take it away, Miguel!
This problem is very common. The short answer is kinda tough for parents to hear. But it's this: Your sweet little boy is gone. You have a young man in the house now who will resist any attempts to reinstate what things were like in the past. He doesn't not want to feel like a child who needs his mommy and daddy. A new way must be forged which includes you seeing and treating him differently, not trying to recapture the past.
A part of this has to involve you coming to terms with a difficult reality. Which is this: You can no longer protect your son from trouble, pain, failure, disappointment or any other negative experience in the way you could when he was young. And you cannot be sure that you have done enough to prepare him for what's to come and inevitably you will see gaps in the effectiveness of your earlier parenting. Some things just did not sink in and have to be learned on their own. Allow yourself to grieve this.
Your son is at an age and has a certain temperament that produces a strong desire to learn life lessons through direct personal experience. This in a way reflects well on your earlier parenting. It means you have raised a young man who can be strong and unafraid. Who is not paralyzed by anxiety. Someone who is willing to fight for what they believe in and not simply allow themselves to be lead blindly or against their will. These are positive qualities in a man. Remember that!
This way of being is like a strong wind. Do not resist this tendency. Go with it so that you don't break. Let your son know he is responsible for his decisions, that he is free to make mistakes and learn from the consequences and he is strong enough to take it. Society backs you up here. We give teenagers a pass in many ways and it is useful for him to be in this situation while still in the house and having regular access to you.
Your role as a parents has to change during this time. Implement firmly but gently consequences for mistakes made. But, do not try to prevent the mistakes themselves from being made. Transition to more of a consultant role. I'll hear you out. I'll help you talk it through. I'll give you my opinion. But, this is up to you and I will not force you to take a certain way anymore. This is good training for adulthood.
It is very helpful to know that when you try force a kid like this to go against putting his judgement to the test he will react defensively as a matter of course. The more time he spends defending this or that position the more he will identify with that position and the less amenable to change or modification it becomes. Victory over you because sweeter and more important. If you make your advice short and sweet, if you can refrain from excessive unsolicited advice then you make it more of a precious resource. Something that has to be sought.
If you were right about something but there wasn't a fight associated with trying to push its adoption then its easier for your son to think, "Man she was right about this. I thought it was different but I really ended up messing things up. She knew though." Then it's easier for him to come to you. Know if you're right and you force a way on him, even if it works out, it comes with a sense of defeat for your son because he was not allowed to find his own path through. Don't sour good your good advice in this way.
Remember that he needs to make his own mistakes and you're a safety net right now. This is good practice for adulthood.
Research shows that a good quality relationship between child and parent is the most powerful protective factor against risky behaviors like drug use, sexual acting out and criminal behavior. This is more important than the parenting style you use to respond to his transgressions. Prioritize this. Be willing to put all of your worries to the side for a while and simply enjoy your son's company, his point of view, take in the kind of person he's become without feeling the crushing weight of having to do something about it.
Nobody likes to share details of their life with someone they don't feel accepted or respected by. You have to find a way to enjoy him as he is now, not as you'd like him to be. This in fact is a common complaint with these kids. "My mom wants me to be different from what I'm really like and perfect. She can't appreciate me for me. Whenever I tell her something it turns into a lecture. I want to talk to her but I'm tired of feeling like everything I do is wrong." and in this way they feel alone on the road to maturity which necessarily goes through immaturity.
He's on that road no matter what. And if he's not talking to you then undoubtedly he is learning and experiencing and maturing in way you are not aware of. The decision to let you in can only be made by him and you don't get it just because you're his mom. This has to be earned by you.
Part of treating him differently entails you being more honest with him about the effects in you of his disrespect. Stop protecting him from your emotional reactions to the way he treats you. Inform him of these things without demanding a change. "When you speak to me like that I feel so disrespected. It makes me sad and angry with you. It makes me not want to be around you." Leave it at that. Drop the "and from now on I expect you to..."
Let him decide what that information means to him and what to do about it. This does not mean falling to pieces in front of him. Maintain your composure. This invites him into the world of adult relationships and allows a change in the parent-child dynamics to a more parent-young man stance. Adults discuss things directly, honestly and respectfully to come to resolutions and they do not get anywhere with power struggles.
This change is here and needs attention now. It will happen one way or the other and it tends to cause more relational damage and risk if we wait for moving away to college to take care of it for us.
Settle into this new way and learn to enjoy the crazy and wonderful ride of watching you little boy turn into a man!
About Miguel Brown, M.S. Ed, LMFT
Miguel has been part of the South Florida community for over 19 years. He received a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy from the University of Miami and has been working with both English and Spanish speaking teenagers and their families for 10 years. Miguel has always had a gift for connecting with teenagers and as a local South Floridian he can relate to them. Miguel prides himself on being able to provide a sanctuary for teenagers and families who are ready to start making positive changes in their lives.
To learn more about Miguel and his credentials, click here.
To visit Miguel's website to learn more about services he provides, click here.
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