By September 20, 2010 0 Comments Read More →

6 Ways Your Teen Is Playing You

Lisa Zamosky wrote an interesting article for WebMD about how teenagers manipulate parents and how parents can regain control of the situation. Because the WebMD website is often offline, I posted the entire article below.

If there’s one thing you can say for teenagers, it’s that they know how to push their parents’ buttons. Instinctively, it seems, they come with an arsenal of tools to get what they want, avoid getting into trouble, or cause their parents to blow a fuse out of frustration… for the pure enjoyment of it.

The teen years can be quite challenging for kids and parents alike. We talked with experts to learn about the six most common ways teenagers play their parents, why they do it, and what moms and dads can do to counteract the manipulation and keep the peace.

Understand the Motivation

Kids manipulate their parents for a number of reasons: to garner love and attention, to cover their butts, to get what they want, and to feel powerful, says David Swanson, PsyD, a child and family psychologist practicing in Los Angeles and the author of HELP-My Kid is Driving Me Crazy, The 17 Ways Kids Manipulate Their Parents and What You Can Do About It. It’s in a teen’s nature to figure out the consequences of their actions and to try different things to see what kind of response they get.

Oh, and there’s one more reason: It works! Although often unaware of it, parents frequently set up reinforcements that don’t work for them, inviting behaviors that fuel many teen/parent conflicts, says Joshua Klapow, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the School of Public Health at the University of Alabama in Birmingham.

1. Steamrolling

Perhaps the most common form of manipulation teenagers employ is steam rolling. Steam rolling can most simply be defined as: Can I? Can I? Can I? Can I? How about now? It’s the never- ending, repeat request intended (even if unconsciously) to wear a parent down in order for a teen to get what she or he wants.

Fight fire with fire, suggests Stacy Kaiser, psychotherapist, author of How to Be a Grown Up: The Ten Secret Skills Everyone Needs to Know, and mother of two teenage daughters.

“Think about what your bottom line is and develop a ‘broken record’ sentence,” Kaiser says. If your teen wants to hang out in the mall with friends, for example, but he hasn’t yet finished his homework, your mantra is simply, “You must do your homework before you go to the mall.” No further discussion is necessary (or advised).

Keep replying with the same sentence and become a broken record. That makes it much more difficult for your teen to knock you off your feet, Kaiser says.

Swanson also offers the “watch method.” Here’s the script: “When I give you your answer if you keep asking me, I’m going to let you know that you’re steamrolling me and if you keep going, I’m going to look at my watch. For every minute you continue to do it after I told you you’re steamrolling, it’s going to be two minutes of earlier bed or video time chipped away.”

Once you’ve explained the ground rules, merely take a 10 second glance at your watch. Your teen will know you mean business. “That’s when the steamrolling stops working against you and starts working against your child,” Swanson says.

2. Lying

“Teenagers think if they don’t tell you the truth, they have a better shot of getting what they want,” Kaiser says.

White lies or lies of omission are common. For example, your child may be upfront about going to her friend’s house, but leave out the fact that her friend’s parents won’t be home and alcohol will be available.

As kids get older, the lies become more sophisticated, and therefore, more difficult to identify. Plus, Kaiser says, teens begin to collaborate with one another on fabricated stories.

“They’ll both agree to tell their parents they are going to Karen’s house when they are really going to Tommy’s,” Kaiser says. If either kid’s parents call the other, their story will be corroborated because they both told the same lie. “Since the friend’s parents back it up, they get away with it,” she says.

Stay vigilant about knowing where your child is going and with whom in order to minimize lying. And when you catch him, strike immediately.

“[Let your child know] that lying is not acceptable and for this offense, [you're] taking the TV away for a day,” Kaiser says. “If it happens again [you] take it for a week. Kids need to know that a repeat offense has bigger consequences.”

3. Retaliation

Many teens provoke their parents by doing something hurtful or simply not following through with things expected of them – like cleaning their rooms – just to even the score for not getting their way.

Although a tempting response, yelling and screaming don’t work in these situations, Klapow says. “You don’t treat your teenager like a toddler, but the same principles apply. Don’t attend to the tantrum.”

As calmly as possible, let your teen know that this kind of behavior is not acceptable. If she persists, it’s time, once again, to reinforce that there is a consequence for such behavior.

Begin restricting what is most important to her – phone, TV, video games, times with friends – and then follow through.

Kaiser offers a tip for parents who have a tendency to give in before the punishment is up. “Send the cell phone to another house,” she advises. “Call a friend and ask them to hold the item. That way you can tell your child, ‘I can’t give it back to you because our friend is holding it until Friday.’”

4. Emotional Blackmail

Ask parents what they most want for their children and many will say “to be happy.” That’s what makes emotional blackmail, i.e. “I’ll be sad until I get my way,” one of the more challenging manipulations for a parent to recognize and combat.

Klapow advises parents to ask themselves a very important question: “Is it my job to make my child happy or prepared for the world? And what will my actions do, depending on which way I go?”

4. Emotional Blackmail continued…

The world is not just about being happy, Klapow says. “It’s your job as a parent to help [your teen] learn. It’s OK for your child to be sad when his behavior impacts the way he lives in the world, or the lives of others,” Klapow says.

Focus on what you’re asking your child to do, while ignoring the emotions. If he tells you you’re ruining his life by making him do homework before he can go to a party, Swanson suggests saying to your teen: “I understand that you think I’m ruining your life because you have to do your homework, but you still need to do it before you can go out.”

If you can consistently keep your poise, Swanson says, over time your child will stop using emotional blackmail as a form of manipulation.

5. Shutting Down

What parents haven’t seen their teen quiet, sullen, and refusing to talk? Kids use shutting down as a strategy, according to Swanson, because they may think if they refuse to respond, the request you’re making will magically go away.

You can let your child know that although she may choose not to speak to you, she isn’t invisible.

To combat this frustrating form of manipulation, establish a schedule around enjoyable activities, such as video games or computer time, and limit them — say, to an hour each night. Let your child know that only after homework has been completed can she log on and that every time you have to ask her more than twice to do her homework, she’ll lose 10 minutes on the computer. That’s when your teen’s refusal to respond to you starts to work against her, not for her.

But it’s important to tune in to the reasons why kids aren’t talking, Klapow says. “Is it manipulation or something overwhelming? Recognize that there are situations when a child needs to process information and that she may need more time.”

If your child is upset about something, acknowledge that and let him know you are there to talk even if it’s three days from now.

6. Creating Doubt

Have you ever heard this one from your teen? “I’ll be an outcast if you don’t let me buy those jeans!”

Parents shudder at the thought of inadvertently placing their child in some kind of social or other peer peril. Kids know this and hope to turn up the volume on their parents’ anxiety.

Become a detective, Klapow advises. “Look at truthfulness of [the statement]. Be a rational observer. Is that true? How true is it?” Ask your child to help you understand why he would get beat up if you don’t let him wear a certain hat and then respond accordingly.

Your teen may have a good point. “It’s not all manipulation,” Klapow says.

But if you find that your teen is using this method to play you and get what she wants, lay down the law. Let your child know that attempting to manipulate you in this way is totally unacceptable and deliver a consequence.

Parents, Stay the Course

The most important thing for parents is to be consistent. “Over time, [consistency] is the difference between success and failure, Klapow says.

“A good, responsible parent who will walk away and feel great about what he’s done is not a parent who avoids conflict with his child,” Swanson says. “It is doing what you know is right, and that is to put safety first, your child’s better interest for the future second, and happiness last.”

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