(this blog post is one in a series of posts contributed by students in my graduate family therapy course at Virginia Tech. Please take a moment to comment)
“Mom, Bryn and I want Slurpees. Is it okay if we go to 7-11?”
“Sure, honey, let me just find my keys.”
“It’s okay; we’re gonna walk.”
“You can’t walk!”
“Uh, why not? It’s broad daylight, and the store’s like three blocks from here.”
“Oh no, it’s too dangerous. I really don’t mind driving you.”
And with that, she swoops you and Bryn into the minivan for your 30 second car trip.
Your Job as a Teenager
If this sounds like your parents, you could just sigh and be glad they’re not still trying to buckle you into a car seat. Yes, they’re overprotective. But even though it’s driving you crazy, maybe you feel a little guilty about complaining. After all, they’re just overdoing it because they love you. It’s not hurting you, right?
Wrong. When you were three and thought the boiling water for your macaroni and cheese would be fun to touch, it was a good thing they stopped you. But now that you’re older, you have to learn how to protect yourself from dangerous bubbles (and other things). Learning how to take care of yourself is kind of your job as a teenager.
Don’t worry. We have some surefire ways to get your parents to realize that while you’ll always love and need them, your needs are changing. If your mom or dad is a helicopter parent, try looking at things from their perspective. Once you figure out their motivation, use some of our proven strategies to win yourself a little more freedom.
Reason #1: “You’re too young.”
In their minds: Your parents still see you as their little Baby Bear, scared of thunder and raccoons. When you’re online, they assume you’re googling Pokemon and Hannah Montana.
Good side: Count yourself lucky. Not only do your parents clearly love you,
you have the easiest type of helicopter parent to tame.
Strategy: Pick something small that they won’t let you do now. (good: shop for your own school clothes. bad: go to Rihanna concert with friend’s older brother in another state). The thing you choose is pretty much symbolic, so don’t worry if it seems too small. Tell your parents you’d like to talk to them, and suggest a time. This is going to feel a little awkward, but trust us, it might take some weirdness for them to change their perspective on you.
Once you get them to attend your “meeting,” state your business. Try to sound really mature and grown-up. Hard? Picture someone from TV, like a lawyer in court, and try to act and talk like them. We suggest starting with a compliment to start on a positive note, like
“Every August when you guys get us new school clothes, I really appreciate it. It’s great to start the school year feeling confident. I don’t know if I ever told you before, but thanks for always giving us new clothes.” They’re probably going to be smiling and nodding at you. Now you ask for what you want. For instance, “This year, I was thinking you could give me a budget, and tell me anything you think I should get. Then I would do research and buy the clothes by myself.” If they listened to you, you’re doing great. Now, for your grand finale, give them some amazing proof of how mature you are: tell them you are ready to listen to any feedback they have. Then actually listen. Even if what they say seems crazy, don’t interrupt. Just nod and say “okay” a little. After they tell you their thoughts, you say, “Let me be sure I understand.” Then repeat back what they said in a normal tone of voice. They are going to love this! Parents complain a lot that kids don’t listen to them. So you have obviously just proved that you are the most mature kid on the planet. They’re going to remember that, even if they said no to your idea.
If it doesn’t work: Don’t freak out if they say no. Do have a little phrase ready to go just in case, like “I’m sorry we don’t see
things the same way.”
Don’t interrupt. Do listen to their reasons, even if they seem completely ridiculous.
Don’t leave saying something rude, like “I should have known you would never listen to me.”
Do end the discussion by thanking them for at least listening to your proposal.
See, here’s the beauty of this plan. Maybe you don’t get a shopping spree at the mall, but you might have still won. Your parents are going to notice that you approached this in a very adult way. They’re going to be impressed. Even if it’s just a little, you’ve changed the way they see you. It might even be better if they say no, because they’re going to remember that you stayed calm even though you didn’t get your way. Baby Bear couldn’t do that. But you can. Need more help coping with parents who won’t back off? Check back for
more great tips.
About The Blogger:
Elissa David is a middle school teacher who gets a lot of good ideas from her students. She swears she will remember all their advice if she ever becomes a parent.