Be a parent who guides, teaches and comes alongside. Don’t be controlling.
What is the difference?
A controlling parent is one who uses guilt and other manipulations to get what he wants. A controlling parent says things like, “After all I do for you, this is what you do?” A controlling parent subtly derides his child’s choices. Teens who have controlling parents often hear about how their choices in friends aren’t really the best, or their decision to stop playing a certain sport is “giving up,” or that taking every AP class is more important than exploring an interest via a certain elective class.
My cousin grew up with a controlling mother. She pushed him incredibly hard and was extremely restrictive about how and with whom he spent his time. She chose his university for him, even though she would say she didn’t. Of course he’s the one who signed the letter of intent, but there was a quiet pressure that he dared not cross. Even as a small child he wasn’t permitted to make a mess in the house. There would be an angry flurry as things were picked up. Shame and guilt were used liberally. She honestly had his best intentions at heart, and loved him a lot. However, she raised a boy who learned to have an extremely passive attitude in life because as he grew up it was never worth giving his own opinion. When he went to college he came unhinged with all the new freedom. Without someone micromanaging his life he drank, partied, and didn’t do homework. He was the product of a controlling parent.
Clearly this isn’t the outcome in every situation. The one thing I do notice though is that parents who are controlling have a parenting style driven by fear and anxiety. They feel fearful the child they deeply love will make a costly mistake. This fear becomes intense enough that it produces anxiety. The anxiety is only kept at bay by controlling the child’s every move. Unfortunately though, this isn’t very good for the child learning to recover after a mistake, learning to fail gracefully, learning to think independently, learning to self-motivate, or learning to be decisive.
Instead of controlling out of fear and anxiety, allow yourself to realize your child isn’t yours. Your teenager was given to you for a short time by God’s good grace. This means you have been entrusted with someone who will go on to live a life, possibly raise a family, have a career, make mistakes, suffer and succeed, and influence other people. You aren’t fully responsible for this outcome. All you can do is teach and guide. Allow your child to fail, and then teach him how to recover. Permit your teenager to make decisions and experience the good and bad consequences of those choices. Be extremely patient because each day is only a snapshot, but your teen’s life is a long movie. Realize you are a steward of your teen’s early years, and that’s it (Steward is an old fashioned word that refers to the person who managed a wealthy person’s estate and affairs. You are a steward of your child’s early years because you aren’t their owner, just there to help your child manage properly for the first 20 or so years). Don’t fix your errors through their life, meaning don’t force them in a direction you wish you’d taken in terms of career, sports, and dating. Just listen, advise, discipline when necessary, reward when earned, and love always.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT