3 False Parenting Assumptions That Push Your Teen Away

Here's how to work WITH your teen, not AGAINST them

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: 3 Parenting Assumptions That Push Your Teen Away

Written by: Cameron (Dr. Cam) Caswell, Ph.D

I was talking with a mom the other day who’s struggling to connect with her two teenagers…

She’s heartbroken. It seems like yesterday her kids told her everything and actually wanted to spend time together as a family. Now they barely came out of their bedrooms and when they do, they keep their distance and offer one-word answers with little eye contact. 

She’s angry. She does everything for her kids. She makes them breakfast every morning, helps them with their laundry, drives them to all their practices, games and rehearsals, volunteers for school events, helps them with their homework, takes them shopping, plans all the family vacations, and never lets them leave the house without giving them a hug. Instead of being grateful, her kids just complain.  

She’s exhausted. No matter how much she does for her kids, it never seems to be enough. When she says “no,” her kids beg and whine until she eventually caves in just to save her sanity. But when she asks them to do anything…they fight her tooth and nail. And, no matter how hard she tries, everything is always her fault. “If you didn’t make me eat breakfast, I would have had time to study for that test and I wouldn’t have failed.” “It’s your fault I don’t have many friends. You never let me go anywhere… you never let me do anything!”

She gives and gives and gives.

Her kids take and take and take.

She can’t help but wonder… how did her kids become so entitled, disrespectful and helpless?

Answer: They didn’t.

Sure, from this mom’s perspective, and from most of ours reading this, it might be difficult to see it any other way. That’s because it’s based on three common, inaccurate assumptions. Here are three false parenting assumptions that push your teen away.

3 False Parenting Assumptions That Push Your Teen Away

 

Assumption 1: I Know What My Teen Needs

Parent Perspective: Everything I do is for my kids. I want to make sure they have everything they need to live up to their full potential. I just wish they’d give me the appreciation I deserve.

Teen’s Perspective: My mom tries to control everything. She’s always telling me what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. She doesn’t think I do anything right and she’s always correcting me. I’ll never be good enough for her. I’ll never meet her high expectations, so why even bother?  

New Perspective: Heads up, parents, if you’re not getting the gratitude you feel you deserve, then there is clearly a disconnect between your efforts to help your teen and their view on the receiving end. That should be your cue to sit down with your teen and have an open, honest discussion with them about your expectations and desire to help them reach their full potential, their changing needs, and how you can both adapt moving forward.

Assumption 2: My Teen is Trying to Be Disrespectful and Mean

Parent Perspective: My kids are nasty to me for no reason. I don’t know why they treat me with such disrespect. 

Teen’s Perspective: I’m stressed out and need some time alone, but she won’t back off. She’s constantly trying to pile more on my plate and when I try to tell her I can’t or I’m too tired, she yells at me for being disrespectful. Even when I try to hide in my room to chill out, she’ll barge in without knocking, tell me I’m lazy, and yell at me. All she cares about are my grades, my messy bedroom, and whether I emptied the garbage. She doesn’t care about me.

New Perspective: Conflict is often a sign that there’s a need for change. If you and your teen are constantly arguing and they “fight back” or get defensive every time you ask them to do something or offer advice, then it’s time to switch gears and make a change.

Ask yourself, “Why is my child acting this way? What are they trying to communicate to me? What am I missing?” And then… sit down with your teen and ask them these questions. Get into their head and find out – calmly, compassionately, and inquisitively – why they’re behaving the way they are. Your teen is dying to tell you… listen. Sometimes, in parent/teen relationships it’s necessary to hit the “reset button” and adopt new rules so you BOTH can move forward with honesty and respect. 

Assumption 3: My Teen Would Fail Without Me

Parent Perspective: If I don’t step in my teen wouldn’t do ANYTHING. They’d sit around all day playing video games, scrolling on their phone, or sleeping… and they’d fail.

Teen’s Perspective: My mom makes EVERYTHING more stressful. She accuses me of not trying when I am. She’s always trying to take over my schedule, my plans, and my life. She thinks she’s helping, but she’s not. She doesn’t think I can do anything. I give up.  

New Perspective: If you want to teach your teen self-reliance, responsibility, problem-solving, and good decision-making, you need to give them as many opportunities to practice those skills as you can. That means letting them figure out how to do things for themselves – even if it means them forgetting a homework assignment, missing a practice, or failing a test.

As parents, we’re doing our kids a huge disservice if we hold their hand every step of the way. We won’t be there to catch them when they fall when they venture off to college or start a career – they need to learn how to become independent before then. We can still offer guidance, praise when they get it right, and support through it all, but they need to learn to stand on their own two feet.

Final Thoughts

What our kids needed from us when they were little changes dramatically when they become teenagers. We have to stand willing to accept those changes and change and grow right alongside our kids.

When they were little, they wanted us to hold their hand and stay close by. Now they need autonomy. That means stepping back, respecting their space and privacy, slowly loosening our grip, and trusting them to make decisions, even if they are different from the ones we would make.

When they were little, they happily did as we asked and followed our rules with (for the most part) little pushback. Now they’re fighting to do things their way and want to call the shots in their own life. That means not criticizing their choices, not questioning their every decision, and resisting the urge to tell them “This is how you should do it.” 

When they were little, they needed us to swoop in and save them every time they fell. Now, they need to feel capable of saving themselves. That means watching from the sidelines, cheering them on, and watching them fail from time to time – all while giving them the reassurance that we’ll always be here for them and we’ll always have their back. 

The teen years can throw us for a loop. Everything we came to know and expect changes. But by keeping our eyes, our minds, and our hearts open, we can grow with our kids instead of against them.

About Cameron (Dr. Cam) Caswell, Ph.D.

Cameron (Dr. Cam) Caswell, Ph.D., “The Teen Translator,” is an adolescent psychologist and parent coach, TEDx speaker, host of the Parenting Teens with Dr. Cam podcast, and co-author of Improving School Mental Health: The Thriving School Community Solution. Dr. Cam is the mom of a teen too, so she not only talks the talk, she walks the walk!

 

 

If you enjoyed reading, “3 Parenting Assumptions that Push Your Teen Away,” you might also enjoy reading:

10 Ways to Adjust Your Parenting in Your Kid’s Teen Years

Biggest Parenting Mistakes to Avoid with Your Teen According to Experts

9 Signs You’re Parenting Your Teen Right – Even if You Question Yourself

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