Grant: “Why don’t you like your mum?” Matt: “She is always yelling at me to get out of bed.” Grant: “Why does she yell at you to get out of bed?” Matt: “So I will get up and have a shower.” Grant: “Why does she want you to have a shower?” Matt: “So I will wake up and get dressed ready for the bus.” Grant: “Why does she want you to catch the bus?” Matt: “So I can get to school on time.” Grant: “Why does she want you to go to school?” Matt: “So I can get an education.” Grant: “Why does your mum want you to get an education?” Matt: “So I can get a job.” Grant: “Why does she want you to get a job?” Matt: “So I can get paid.” Grant: “Why does she want you to get paid?” Matt: “So I can look after myself, buy things and get a place to live.” Grant: “Why does she want you to be able to look after yourself, buy things and get a place to live?” Matt: “So I am free and can do what I want.” Grant: “Why does your mum want you to be free?” Matt: “So I can be happy.” Grant: “So when your mum yells at you and tells you to get out of bed, what does she really mean?” Matt: “She wants me to be happy.” Grant: “Do you still hate your mum?” Matt: “I guess not” Often arguments and disagreements that teenagers have with their parents are blown out of proportion. We often find ourselves arguing viciously about things that really aren’t all that important.
When teenagers fight with their parents, the fight is not usually about what is happening in the moment, but about the way they are treated in general. This is why huge fights can occur over small and trivial things. Neither person really cares about the small details over which they are arguing, they are using that as an excuse to vent emotions. Have you ever had the experience of seeing a friend get into an argument over something silly, such as a simple chore, with their parents? You might be able to see a solution to their argument easily and wonder why one of them doesn’t just give in and complete the task, often-times to do so would have been quicker than to argue, yet to them the argument is about much more than cleaning a room.
Parents and teenagers argue over many things. In most cases though, the cause of the arguing is that the teenager wants more independence and the parent doesn’t know how to give that independence without feeling like they are being a bad parent for letting their kids do whatever they want. One of the reasons that simple arguments can become so intense is that they seem, to the parent or teenager, like they are about independence when they are not. For example, a parent may ask a teenager to clean their room because it is messy but the teenager might see this as an attack on their personal freedom. They will argue passionately, not because they want to have a messy room but because they believe they should be free to have their room however they like. So what’s the deal with independence and teenagers? Every time I ask the question (in a seminar) “What do you want from your parents?”, one of the first answers is always “more independence”. I use the following analogy with parents, I’ve asked many teenagers if they agree with it and they all have.
If you were to have a flashlight on in the day you wouldn’t see the light or even making a difference because the sun is brighter than the flashlight. However if you were to take that flashlight into a dark room, you would easily notice the light from the flashlight. So what’s my point? My point is – parents are like the sun and teenagers are like the flashlights. Think about it, you probably live with your parents, they probably pay for most things and everything you have ever done or accomplished has been the result of them helping you. Just say you played really well in a sport. My guess is they were there cheering you on, they probably woke you up, they probably ironed your uniform, they probably paid for your shoes and registration fees, they probably drove you to the game. The energy you have is, in part due to the bed they provide and the food they cooked, in fact even the cut-up oranges you eat at half time were probably done by them as well. They will probably drive you home, where you will shower in their shower and then sit down to watch their TV. Your parents are like the sun – in their presence you don’t know how brightly you shine (corny, I know, but true). Independence is about trying to escape the bright sun (parents_ and go into a dark room. (It’s ironic that we want to go out when it dark to places like nightclubs that are dark) to see how bright we shine on our own.
Your parents are like the sun – in their presence you don’t know how brightly you shine (corny, I know, but true). Independence is about trying to escape the bright sun, parents, and go into a dark room (It’s ironic that we want to go out when it’s dark to places like nightclubs that are dark) to see how bright we shine on our own. So why is it that parents have such a struggle giving us independence? I believe the answer lies in the fact that for the last thirteen to eighteen years, they have been used to looking after you. They feel responsible for you and it fulfils their needs, to be needed. Imagine your boyfriend or girlfriend was going away on holiday and they couldn’t wait to get away from you. It would suck. That is exactly how your parents feel. Remember there was a time when your parents were your best friend, they entertained you and the thought of them not being around scared you (you may have been five, but I’m sure there was a time).
The other thing that prevents them from giving you the freedom to run amuck is that they also know what they have gone up to when they were young and they don’t want you to make the same mistakes that either they themselves or friends of theirs made. Remember, like Matt’s mum – all they want is for you to be happy. Arguing (especially about freedom and independence) can become a habit. I went through a phase where as soon as my parents asked me to do any chore, no matter what it was, I would immediately argue. I wouldn’t even consider doing it, I would immediately think of some reason why I shouldn’t do it. Responding like that caused a lot of long, pointless arguments. In lots of cases it would have been easier and quicker for me to have just done what my parents wanted me to, but I lost focus of what I was arguing for and argued just for the sake of it. Many arguments between parents and teenagers fall under this category. It’s an easy habit to break, whenever you begin to get in conflict with your parents, you just need to be aware of why you are arguing and make sure that you don’t bring other issues into the argument. Parents aren’t perfect and often fall into the same traps as teenagers. To have a good relationship with your parents, you need to treat them like friends rather than as authority figures. The important thing to remember about your parents is that they are on your side. Think about it. Surely you have plenty of references that they care about you.
They have done a lot for you (like changing a lot of nappies, and driving you around). They have spent a small fortune on you (around a quarter of a million dollars to raise a child to the age of 18). They have given up a lot (their social life to begin with). How could they possibly not want the best for you? If you find yourself getting angry with your parents, try to focus on what their intent is. Think about what it would be like to be in their shoes. Imagine if you did, for a boyfriend or a girlfriend, all that your parents have done for you and the boy/girlfriend didn’t even appreciate it. This is how your parents feel. You would probably go ballistic too. Your parents will always have a good intent. However, just because they have a good intent doesn’t mean you should miss having your own life and the freedom to see how bright you shine on your own either. All family situations are different but the recipe that my Mum and I ended up creating was a win/win solution. My mum felt respected for all that she had done for me. My mum and I also became best friends, we talked about everything and I told her what I was going through and what I was doing. Because of this she gave me the freedom to do what I wanted in my life.
My part of the deal was to treat her as a friend, to make sure that the light I was shining on my own was one that was OK with both her and myself. Basically, my Mum and I had a relationship of honesty, trust and friendship. So if you want what I had, treat your parents in a similar way, be open and honest about your life. There’s no reason you can’t treat your parents as friends.