Wait a second…you fight with your kids? I was under the understanding that all teenagers enjoyed honoring their parents and submitting to their authority. They don’t? Your kids sometimes yell? It may be time to send that one off to military school.
In all honesty, I know that you and your kids fight. How do I know that, besides my incredible intuitiveness and keen insight into this generation you might ask? I follow many of them on Twitter, am friends with quite a few on Facebook, and see their temper tantrums when you tell them they can’t go see some R rated movie with the person they’re “talking” to.
One problem that we have as parents is that we don’t really know how to have conflict with our kids in a way that both honors God and honors our kids. It is easy for us to put our foot down and say the time-honored line of “It’s my house, my rules.” While that is a true statement, as parents we don’t actually ever have to go to that line to get our point across while in the trenches of conflict with teenagers. Unfortunately, lines like “while I still pay the bills, I get to make the decisions,” only serve as conversational crutches as we cripple along in the muck and mire of our confrontations.
When we as parents rely on old-faithful arguments, our kids feel like they are living in a dictatorship, because they never get to hear our heart, and the thoughts behind why we make the decisions that we make. Far too often we are putting our foot down when all our kids are asking for (albeit in the midst of irrational teenage hormones and anger) is an explanation on why we are telling them the things that we do.
Right now if I tell my 19month old that she needs to stop playing with the fire she might turn around and ask me why? I can very easily give her a diatribe about all the many reasons that fire is harmful. First, it burns. Second, when it burns our hair there is a smell that should only be reserved for Dante’s 7th circle of hell. Third, if you get burned I will probably go to jail for child neglect. Fourth, it burns.
Now, my daughter is probably going to then go ahead and throw whatever she had into the fire anyway. Why? Because she’s a toddler and literally has no idea what I just said to her. Teenagers are different. Many times they ask us why, and we respond with “Because I said so” and “I am the parent.” You did say so, you are the parent, but that doesn’t necessarily answer anything for your kids. Sometimes they need to know why you make the decisions that you make, because it will help them be okay when your decision doesn’t line up with what they wanted in the first place.
Lets use another example. Say your 16 year old really wants to borrow your car to go on a date with his girlfriend, because his 1985 Jeep Cherokee doesn’t have a heater and its 18 degrees outside. You say no. He asks why? You respond with “because I said so.” This will inevitably lead to a heated argument with your teenager leading the charge of “everyone else’s parents let them borrow their cars” and you ending with “I’m not everyone else’s parent, I’m your parent, and my car is staying in the garage tonight!”
That whole scenario could be eased by you explaining to your love-struck son that no matter how bad he wants to take his girlfriend out on a date, there are many reasons for him to not borrow your car. First, his car is worth about $50, and that is just to tow it to the junkyard. Your car is brand new, and therefore much more expensive to replace. Second, he leaves your car dirty every single time he borrows it. Lastly, you were planning on taking your wife out on a date that night, and there is no way that you were going to drive his old clunker.
If we could learn to begin communicating with our teenagers like they are adults, we would see our conflicts with our teenagers take a completely different, less angry tone. Sure, they are still teenagers and will probably disagree with every decision that you make, but at least they may understand where you are coming from when you make a decision. So much of a marital relationship is dependent on good communication, and a parent-teenager relationship is much the same.
I am not saying that you as a parent have to back-up every decision that you make. You have every right to continue the authoritarian parenting style. It works. I just want something more for you, something…radical. Communicating well with our teenagers is a radical idea, because for generations parents have treated teenagers like completely irrational (true), hormone filled (true), rebellious (mostly true), overgrown children. While most of the above is true, there is an area that I think we, as parents are faltering; we sell our teenagers short. We think the worst things about them far too often. We think that the decisions they make are solely to frustrate us. We think they are absolutely not trying hard enough. We take their “why” questions as rebellion, when many times they are really just asking why?
When we put our foot down and say “because I am the parent” we don’t give our kids the chance to understand why we make the decisions we make. They will still rarely like it, but they will understand. Therefore, their understanding may begin to ease the constant, exhausting, and frequent bouts of conflict we have with our teens.
Make sure you check out Part 3 of the “Lets Fight” series. In it, we will be looking at your teenagers’ conflicts with others, and how we can walk them through Godly conflict.