When Teenagers Refuse to Accept Parental Influence

You have been there, most of us for the 2nd time around.  A parent offers a lifetime of experience, knowledge, and observance of others, and their teenage child refuses the knowledge, insight, suggestion, direction, or invitation.  Let’s explore how this plays out in families, and how we can approach these situations differently.

I know for myself, I was that teenager.  At the time, I felt like I needed to figure it all out on my own. My parents didn’t know my life, my situation, my perspective.  How could they get what I was going through, let alone provide accurate or helpful support?

I now find myself as the parent of three teenagers, and feel as though I see them clearly, and have excellent advice, support, and direction for each of them.  Of course I would, I am a therapist, however, my children refuse my support and suggestions on a frequent basis.

What’s really happening here, and what can we do about it as parents?  Although I cannot provide suggestions for every situation, I will propose an invitation to consider these dynamics from a different perspective.

First of all, we need to consider what relational process encourages the stance of resistance.  As parents, we want to feel valued in our role. We want to improve the next generation, and most likely, prevent our children from some of the difficult, painful, and regretful experience we have had in our life.  However, we typically deliver them in a manner which only reveals the constraints of though, belief, and action, rather than exposing the confusion, pain, and suffering caused by our previous and current actions in life.  

How would your teenager respond to you differently if they were afforded the opportunity to hear what those experiences were truly like for you.  Most teenagers will find it difficult not to get sucked into listening to those kinds of disclosures from their parents. Imbedded in these life accounts are lessons which they can then choose to interpret and implement in their life as they see fit.

Once we get around our teenager’s resistance, we then gain access to mentor, teach, and influence.  Do not take this as control over their decisions, as you are extremely limited in your ability to control your children’s thoughts, believes, and actions.  However, when your teenagers have no reason to resist, what are they left with? Its like engaging in a tug of war, and one side lets go of the rope. If there is no resistance, the attempt to pull on the rope becomes obsolete, and a new perspective of interacting becomes necessary.

I challenge you to attempt to do this in your own way with your teenager. The sooner you attempt to approach them differently, the more likely you will be successful in shifting your teenager’s resistance to your influence and create opportunities of connection which will influence them for the rest of their lives.

by Anthony T. Alonzo, DMFT, LMFT, CFLE

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