Dr. Ron Taffel’s recent book Breaking through to Teens explores I think an important new way to change a parent’s communication and relationship pattern with their adolescent. I continue to see in my practice the ongoing struggle parents have with setting and holding limits with their adolescents. We have all heard it before — adolescents challenging curfews, refusing to turn in homework at school or go to school, and hanging out with the wrong crowd.
Often I see parents who are held hostage, by their own fear to show their true authority. Parents often report if they hold the line and take away the phone, etc… their adolescent won’t talk to them again, will become more oppositional etc… Taffel believes that parents really need to first identify what they are really afraid of in order to really develop an authentic authority within your family.Some parents report they have fears that their teen won’t go to college if they are not doing well in school, or will die in a car accident or will be harmed if out past their curfew.
By sharing these fears with your teen, Taffel believe that you express your authentic self — thus showing teens you have feelings/fears too. Parents are then seen as less of the rule maker, but more a 3 dimensional self. A real person with feelings. Shocking I know. A teen may be more willing then to share their fears with you.
Adolescents have fears as well — some very intense — but often they worry about their standing “online”, how they are in “second family” — their friends and their academic success. The second family — their peer group — is very important to adolescents.
What usually happens in families is an ineffective pattern develops around the two fears. This pattern does not solve any issues and can actually damage the relationship. By identifying the pattern, talking about fears, where they originated, a new dance can be constructed and a relationship saved. In therapy, I help teens and their families understand where the family is stuck. This is the difficult part, but necessary to seeing where the communication is ineffective. I agree with Taffel that parents should talk about rules with adolescents, but with the addition of expressing feelings and fears behind them. Parents might be surprised at the outcome.