Ahhh adolescence. A time when kids become less responsible (you’re not imagining it – research shows it’s true!) and start dishing out the attitude.
You’re desperate to guide them well, but the strategies you’ve come to rely on just don’t work as they used to.
One day your daughter tries to turn a tank top into a dress, and it’s time to set a boundary.
“You’re not leaving the house dressed like that!” You lay down the law.
“I can wear what I want. It’s a free country!” Defiance from your sweet little girl.
“Not while you live in my house, young lady!”
Hello POWER STRUGGLE.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
Rules work well for very young children, but are questioned – if not despised – by teens. By adolescence, kids want to know the reasons behind the rules, whether those rules apply to everyone else, and where exactly the loophole might be hiding.
She’ll argue for an hour about feminism and what her friends are wearing and how you’re just trying to ruin her life before she stomps off to her room and slams the door.
There is another way.
A better way.
Instead of stating your rule, set a boundary by talking about your feelings.
“Woah. I’m really uncomfortable with you going out dressed like that.”
“I can wear what I want. It’s a free country!”
“Hmm, well, I’m still really uncomfortable with it.”
Eyeroll. “That’s not my problem. Don’t be a prude.”
“Treat me like my feelings don’t matter, and I’m going to be really hurt.”
“Aw, come on, Mom, you’re totally overreacting.”
“Maybe. But I’m still totally uncomfortable. This doesn’t feel good to me.”
Do you see the difference? Respond with “I” statements, not “you” statements. Instead of controlling her, share her impact on you.
If she continues to argue, keep talking about feelings. A rule can be argued with, but your feelings can’t be. Your child loves you and wants connection. Keep talking about feelings and you’ll get through to her.
This is a really important skill to model for your kids.
Your daughter needs to be able to tell her friends and her romantic partners when she’s uncomfortable, and she’ll need to stand her ground. Isn’t this exactly what you’d want her to do if a romantic partner was pressuring her to do something she wasn’t comfortable with? By watching you model this skill, she will learn how to do it, too.
Stop having power struggles and start modeling good boundaries. Let go of rules and embrace emotions. Allow your connection to guide the relationship.
Want more help with transforming a destructive power struggle into modeling healthy boundaries? These destructive cycles really can be broken. Grab a spot on my calendar. I’d love to help.
In support of you,
P.S. For more help with parenting your adolescent, take a peek at the Preteens & Puberty and the Parenting Teen Sexuality video series. They’re full of expert advice and practical tips that you can stream anywhere and anytime. Check them out!
I really like this, Anya – “Respond with “I” statements, not “you” statements. Instead of controlling her, share her impact on you. If she continues to argue, keep talking about feelings. A rule can be argued with, but your feelings can’t be. ” and appreciate how you connected it to teaching my child how to set good boundaries in her own life. I often say the same things to both clients and friends (as well as my own children) – talk about how you feel rather than judging what’s “true”. I’ll be sharing this.
Thank you, Kassandra!
I disagree. This comes over to me more like emotional blackmail and manipulation. I would say something like “you look great in that dress, but if you don’t want to send out the wrong message by showing everyone your knickers, please put some leggings on underneath”.
Thanks for your comment, Joanna! I spruced up this article, adding a picture, a few sentences here and there, to convey my idea of healthy boundaries as clearly as possible. Would you please look again? I’m curious if the updates change the tone at all for you, or if you still feel like this is “emotional blackmail and manipulation”.
Maybe you wouldn’t mind your child going out dressed like the photo, but I would! I’d need to set a limit, and the statement you suggest seems like mixed messages to me. “You look great” and you’re going to “send out the wrong message” seem contradictory. Plus, I’m not willing to give her the choice implied in an “if” statement.
I fear I’d really dig a hole for myself if I went the “wrong message” route. The last thing I want is for my daughter to blame herself if she is sexually assaulted, somehow believing that she brought it upon herself. Perhaps you feel more confident about this than I do! If so, I’d love to learn how you’d handle it. What would you reply if she asked, “What do you mean by ‘wrong message’?”