I thought for the next three blogs, I would do a primer on the three major parenting styles, kind of like those quizzes you can take in magazines. Rate your marriage or your sex life, or are you a half -full or half-empty kind of person? You know the ones where you get a "1" for the answers that make you sound the most sane, and a "5" for the ones that make you sound crazy. I don't know why but I love those quizzes. I think because I am always looking for ways to evaluate how I am doing in life. Am I OK? yes! phew!! Or, oh god, is it really that bad, oy vey!
Understanding your parenting style might help you to understand your relationship with your teen. Parenting a teen is not the same as parenting a younger child. It requires a different set of skills: an ability to be flexible, but not too flexible; understanding, but not a push-over; willing to take a stand and set limits, but not like a marine sergeant. Let's see how you roll.
Lets start with the "authoritarian" parenting style. You might hear things from this parent like the old favorite: "it's my way or the highway", or "my house, my rules", and lets not forget, "if you don't like it, then get out." Clearly this is a parent who likes to be in control. When you are this type of parent and you have young children it works well. Young children love rules and structure. They love to please mommy and daddy, and are all around lovely little beings to have around. The problem occurs in adolescence when your teen is not so motivated to please and follow your rules. Since they are biologically driven to start to fend for themselves, being told the what, when and how to do things goes against the natural order of the developing teen.
If you have parented this way in the past, you will have a rude awakening. Things can go badly in two possible ways. First, if your teen is somewhat passive, quiet in nature, or has a really good understanding that you need to be control, they will tend to yes you to death, looking like the pleasing child they have always been, and fly under your radar by excessively lying. Rather then incurring your wrath they will try to avoid it. They learn some valuable lessons here in manipulation. They learn just how to play you so that you feel the illusion of being in control, but basically have figured out to do exactly what they want to do, just behind your back. The worry here is that your teen never comes to you for help because they anticipate that you won't really want to listen. The danger is that they could be in an unsafe situation and rather than come to you will risk themselves rather than risk getting in trouble with you. Not a great gamble.
The second scenario with the authoritarian style of parenting occurs if you have a teen who is feisty in nature. Now that they are bigger, and they think smarter than you, they will fight you every step of the way, which often becomes all out warfare. "You can't make me, and you aren't the boss of me" are daily mantras. In this situation, you have run out of ideas. You have taken away everything you can, phone, computer, car. You have grounded them for months at a time, but rather than taming the beast that has become your teen, it has enraged him/her, like King Kong being assaulted by all those airplanes. The danger here is that your teen now has nothing left to lose, the relationship is damaged. In this situation, the teen is feeling their power. Their ability to challenge your authority, and drive you completely insane is intoxicating. The balance of power in your relationship has shifted, and they are loving it.
Give yourself a 5 if this is your style of parenting. Stay tuned tomorrow for part 2: The Permissive Parent.