Parenting Teenage Girls – Aim For Parental Influence, Not Control

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When you’re parenting teenage girls (or, for that matter, teenage boys) your goal or aim as a parent is to exercise your parental influence, not necessarily control. Trying to control your teenager, even if she isn’t particularly strong-willed, will not work and isn’t healthy for her, either.

The topic of parental influence vs. control is one I had to struggle with myself, as I was brought up with a parenting style that fit more in the “dominator” than the “partnership” model and I didn’t want to repeat that pattern with my own kids. I grew up in the sixties and seventies and my mother was definitely controlling. I think the combination of being a recent immigrant who was wary of the new culture in which she was in, her own strict upbringing and biases, and wanting to protect her children resulted in a not-so-healthy family situation. Growing up in an environment where my every move seemed to be watched, where it was not okay to have an opinion different from her own, caused confusion and increased my depression as well as my anxiety level. My depression and anxiety followed me into my twenties; I spent part of my mid-twenties and beyond trying to undo some of that damage and becoming comfortable with being my own person.

Even though since then parenting styles have changed parents still often make the mistake of trying to control their children. So what is a healthier way to parent? What’s a healthy medium to strive for? Rather than thinking that you have lost control of your teenager and that you must somehow regain control, aim to influence your teenager instead. Looking at it this way may help to reduce your anxiety, and it will make you a more effective parent as well.

If you have a strong-willed child (as I do), most attempts you make to try to control her will result in her trying to prove that she cannot be controlled. In other words, it’s very likely that she will rebel and she will keep rebelling until she is sure that you’re not trying to control her. You can reduce this power struggle by letting her know that you are well aware that you do not control her. You can let her know that she is her own person with her own likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses and that her uniqueness is something that you delight in. She is the captain of her own ship and you’re there to help her steer her ship, not to control it.

Influence Not Control

Okay, so you may not have control over your teenager but you do have a great deal of influence. In fact, you are the most important role model for your children. Strive to live your life as a good example because your kids are always watching, even when you think they’re not. Teenagers learn more from what they see their parents do than what we tell them to do. Your teenager will learn more from you than from anyone else, if you’re there for her. For example, even though my kids have been complaining that I haven’t yet achieved the success they would have liked me to achieve, they are learning the importance of determination and persistence when it comes to fulfilling your dreams (through my actions more than my words). They are also learning to be patient, and I know they will be far more appreciative of success once it does happen.

I know I am not alone in this. I know of a Dad (of a couple of teenagers) who’s been working on a medical device for over ten years now. His device has evolved over time and he is getting closer to making his dream a reality and is about to test his device in a clinic. His kids are well aware that fulfilling your dreams often takes hard work, determination and time.

Influence and Motivate Her

You can strongly influence and motivate your children by what you do and say to them. Your words of love and encouragement as well as positive and negative consequences for their actions are the keys to influencing and motivating them.

Children are often willing to change their behavior and work for the things that they want, especially if there is an immediate reward involved. If your daughter wants something she will be motivated to do what is required to get it. You can influence her behavior by controlling the things that she wants.

Of Course! …  As Soon As

For example, saying, “Of course, I will drive you to your friend’s house as soon as you pick up the dirty laundry from your bathroom floor” or “Absolutely, you can watch an hour of television as soon as you have completed your homework” will often result in the child rushing off to get her work done. (The words, “Of course!” and “Absolutely!” and “as soon as” can work like magic sometimes; remember to use them!)

The distinction I’ve been getting at in this article is this: You control things and when your child gets the things that she wants; you do not control the child. So be firm with boundaries that are important for her safety and well-being but allow her some freedom to express her individual preferences. Ultimately, we can’t control our teenagers’ choices but we can sure be a big influence on them.



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