“Which Would You Rather Be: Your Child’s Parent or Friend?” Lyris Bacchus Steuber, LMFT

"Who first introduced you to cigarettes and marijuana?” I asked. "My parents," reported Jake, a fourteen year-old client of mine. This might sound shocking to you but can be on the extreme of what parents are indulging their kids in today. One of the most common questions I get from parents who bring their troubled teens to therapy is, “What can I do to get my son or daughter to like me again?" This often comes from a parent who has been on the receiving end of statements such as "I hate you”, or “you don't understand me." So in an effort to get their teen to "like them again" parents will often become over-indulgent and too permissive to the extreme of indulging their teen in every video game system or designer handbag.

If you are a parent struggling with wanting your son or daughter to like you, you need to first give up that notion that they should. Teenagers like celebrities, sports cars, movies and video games. Teenagers should respect their parents. Yes, they should love them too but they may not always express it during the period in their life when they are questioning their parent’s values and searching for their own identity.

What teens need the most are values, acceptance and boundaries. Does your teen know what are your family's values, what are the social causes you champion, and whom you admire? If they do not it is time you start sharing these with them. Teaching values takes intentionality. When watching Entertainment Tonight take the time to ask you daughter what message might the current 20-something celebrity be sending teens by wasting away to 98 lbs or checking themselves into rehab after months of constant partying and drinking. You also teach values by practicing what you preach. If you don't want your son to start smoking then seek help for yourself to stop smoking. Let your teen see the struggles you may face when trying to conquer this addiction. In the end, he or she will be proud of you.

Second, teens need acceptance. Do you remember the music you listened to as a teenager and clothes and hairstyles you wore? For me it was Bon Jovi and Calvin Klein Jeans. Your teen may be experiencing the same thing as they are searching for acceptance in today's society. Give them the opportunity for healthy self-expression while at the same time helping them think critically about their choices. Don't freak out if they are wearing their hair long or are listening to music of which you only hear noise. Have them tell you the rationale behind their choices. Ask them if they would rather spend $80.00 of their allowance on the latest basketball shoes or be able to keep the gas tank filled in the car for them to use on the weekends.

Boundaries are one thing teenagers will never admit they want but it’s something they all need. Boundaries are like fences. They keep things in and keep things out. Ask yourself what things you don't want your teen exposed to and from what things you want them protected. In a 2003 study on teenage drinking funded by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, Joseph Califano shared that a third of sixth to ninth graders obtain alcohol from their homes. If you suspect that your teen may be indulging in behavior that may lead to dire consequences tell them to stop. If not, you have to let them experience natural consequences. This may include suspensions, traffic tickets or going to drug court. The law will ultimately hold you responsible for your teenager's behavior and in some cases have fined parents or have taken away their rights.

If you think your teen might start rebelling once you start requiring changes in their behavior you are correct. Your will needs to be stronger than theirs. Don't give up. When many people reflect back on their teenage years they are often regretful of what they put their parents through. If you are strong enough to be your teen’s parent and not their friend, you can know that your they will come out the other side with a healthier view of the world and themselves.

Written by: Lyris Bacchus Steuber, is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist who specializes in helping children and adolescents cope with divorce, family violence, abuse, grief, school problems, depression and anxiety. Access more counseling and coaching resources from The LifeWorks Group (407.647.7005) by visiting their extensive posting of blogs and special reports designed to save you time by strategically solving problems at www.LifeWorksGroup.org

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