The “I’s” of Life as Teens Head Back to School

“Why can’t I out with this guy I like?   You let my older sister date when she was my age!”

“No.  You’re not only too young, but he’s too old.  Besides, he has a tattoo.”

“That’s no fair, you let my sister date at my age.  And the guy had a shaved head!”

“But the guy wasn’t FOUR years older than she was!”

“What difference does that make?”

“Enough difference that you can’t go out with him.”

Slamming of doors.  Daughter steaming in her bedroom.  Mother burning food in the kitchen.

Does any of the above sound familiar?  You can put in your own version, but basically this is a typical mother-daughter refrain as daughter approaches dating age and mother approaches the seemingly never-ending era of “mother of an adolescent daughter.”

Part I:

Kids BEWARE:  When a parent or parents become SCARED, they will erect rules that seem really terrible.

Parents BEWARE:  When kids begin to seek the “I’s” of LIFE (Independence, Individuality, Identity, Ideology, Integrity), they will not quit “testing” just because they live in your house or that you are paying the child support.

Part II:

Message to Kids:  It’s really important that your parent takes the time, energy, hopefully some patience, and especially endurance to provide you with a SAFE way to enter into the “I’s” of Life.  When parents sense that their child (at any age) is not safe or may not be safe, they will do all that they can to protect their kid.  Fear is the usually antagonist in this family drama.  Respect for each other is the protagonist.  Remember, your parent is doing his or her best to keep you safe.

Message to Parents:  It’s really important that your young teenager steps into the “I’s” of Life.  Your task is to create a safety net for your child, not to prevent them from exploring and trying on different roles and tasks.  Motivation for entering the “I’s” is called “growing up.”  Just like their parents, kids are working on conquering their anxiety and fear about how they will survive and thrive as budding young adults.  They constantly need to prove to themselves that they are capable.  That they can make good decisions.  That they can earn the trust and respect of their parents and peers.

Rather than place FEAR and ANXIETY and POWER STRUGGLE at the forefront of almost every interaction, try talking about your own concerns, wishes, feelings regarding the safety net of the “I’s” of Life.  Pick a time when everyone is calm and able to really listen.  Use “I” statements, never telling the other person how he feels or what he wants.  Focus on being the best parent you can be.  Focus on being the best kid you can be.

Be gentle with each other—listening without judgment is always a helpful tool.

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