In Saturday’s Times a feature called How to raise a Happy Teenager read to me like an article which should be called, ‘How to undermine your relationship with your teenage son or daughter’.  Full of do’s and don’ts and littered with language in the form of ‘let them do this’ and ‘don’t panic about that’, it seemed more like an article for a House Master at Boarding school or a Care Worker in a Children’s Home.

The article’s position was of the parent having to be the boss who chooses what is allowed.  Anyone who really understands teenagers or who was one once will know that you can make any rule you like, if the teenager cannot find a good reason to comply with it they will break it blatantly or lie to you about breaking it. Think back, I remember lying to mum about where I was so as to avoid the aggravation.

Lying and breaking the rules is feedback on your parenting skills. If your children are lying to you or blatantly breaking your rules, it tells you that you don’t have enough of a good relationship with your child that can enlist their co-operation. Co-operation cannot be forced or bought. True co-operation comes out of willingness and willingness springs from good relationships. In terms of parenting, the relationship is everything and is the starting point for agreeing boundaries.

That’s what the Times article missed and that’s what most parent fail to realise. Your job as a parent is to help children relate to themselves and others in a way that makes the world a better place for everyone involved. Your relationship with your children is the model upon which they will learn how to be in the world. If the two of you aren’t relating well, you haven’t demonstrated the basis of a good relationship. To then set yourself up as a boss to be obeyed will not get you the result you long for as a parent which is a loving collaborative relationship. By simply adjusting the rules or boundaries without attending to the core relationship first, you simply become someone who misuses authority and changes things to suit themselves or who can be manipulated if enough pressure is applied.

Alfie Kohn (www.alfieKohn.org) is an expert on children and education and I really liked one lesson I learned from him. How important is it to force a child to do something in a moment if it risks the relationship?

So, when I changed from being a ‘boss’ parent to a ‘mediator’ parent, my life and my children’s lives changed for the better. It took me about five years to make the transition. I started to change my ways when they were about 9 and 7 so by the time they were teenagers we were well on the way to a good relationship. By being supportive and not forceful we were able to jointly agree boundaries because I was honest enough to explain that some of those boundaries were about them giving something back to me for my own peace of mind.

The most important question I always ask and I wish every parent would ask themselves is this:

What model of conflict resolution do you want your children to learn? This question applies to every action you take as a parent from setting a bedtime to managing a divorce. I’ve got more to say about parenting because not only do I have a son and a daughter who are now 22 and 20 who I am immensely proud of but I also work in schools and am quite close to some of what is happening for our young people. It would be helpful to know if this topic is of interest to my readers?


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