Your Adolescent's Worldview
Of course, on one level, your teenager is correct, but on another, he's running a bluff. You may not have direct control over his choices, but you have plenty of indirect influence: his attachment to you, your persuasive techniques, the importance of your approval, the power of your authority, and his dependence on you in a host of material ways.
The Push for Freedom
The push for freedom at this age can be extremely strong, driven by your teenager's frantic need to be out in the world in the company of friends, doing what they want to do. “If I can't be with them, I won't belong!” It feels like there is no time but the present, and the teenager will mortgage the future to free up the present by promising anything later for freedom now. “I'll stay home the whole next month if I can just go to the party tonight!”
Conflicts over timing plague the relationship between parents and mid-adolescent. The teenager feels like she will “die,” feels like her life will be “ruined,” if you refuse her the freedom that her friends are allowed.
When you are having doubts about consenting to a request from your mid-adolescent for more freedom, stall so that you have time to think it through. Question for information, check the arrangements, push to get your demands for safety met, and say no if you don't feel comfortable saying yes.
The Tyranny of Now
Now is all that matters to the mid-adolescent, whereas parents are trying to slow down deliberation by considering how pleasure now might lead to risks or problems later. To this end, parents want time to think — to gather more information, assess risks, consider safety, and require assurances.
Although the teenager doesn't mind delaying on parental requests, having parents delay on a teenager's request feels intolerable to her. So as parents, you have to hang tough: “If you are saying you have to know right now whether you can go and it's now or never, then our answer is ‘never,’ because you have to give us time to think through your request.”
So now the teenager ups the pressure on the next request by adding social extortion to the urgency of getting a decision now. In front of a group of impatiently waiting friends, who apparently have already received parental permission, your teenager asks if she, too, can go. Your teenager is banking on your saying yes to spare her the social embarrassment of refusing her request in front of her friends.
Instead, you say that you and she will have to talk about this alone in the next room, and her friends can either wait for your decision or go without her. And now your teenager is embarrassed. “How could you treat me like that, like a little child, with all of them standing there?” Then you explain, “I won't be pressured or trapped into making any quick decisions by being put on the spot in front of your friends.”
The Game of Loopholes
To get desired freedom, the mid-adolescent will often become deceptive. He or she may play a constant game of looking for loopholes, looking for running room where no parental rule or prohibition has been put into place. After the fact, parents find themselves plugging openings the best they can.
“Well, you never said I couldn't!” innocently protests the teenager as though he didn't know “borrowing” your credit card was against any rules and considered wrong. Catching up with the unforeseen infraction, the parent replies, “Because I never thought you would! But since you have, you need to know that borrowing without permission is stealing. You can't do that in this family, and you will pay me back!”
Taking stronger stands against your teenager's stronger wants for social freedom during mid-adolescence will create more conflict during this typically stormy time. When conflict occurs, be sure to model, and insist on, the quality of communication you want in return.
Decoding Common Communications
Now, parents can misunderstand the teenager unless they can separate what their child actually means from what he's saying.
“I can't help it” can mean “I won't stop it.”
“I don't know” can mean “I don't want you to know.”
“You don't understand” can mean “I don't want you to understand.”
“I forgot” can mean “I decided not to remember.”
“You don't trust me” can mean “You won't let me!”
“I hate you” can mean “I am extremely angry at you.”
“You don't love me” can mean “You won't let me have my way.”
“I don't care” can mean “I care too much to let you know how much I care.”
“Well, it's not my fault” can mean “It is my fault, but I don't want to admit it.”