Control. Who doesn't want it? The more control I have, the more likely I am to get what I want, and what I need, therefore the happier I will be. If I can control my life circumstances, I can predict my future and life outcomes and I can do away with that inconvenient beast called "uncertainty". If I can control my calorie intake I will (SURELY??) lose weight. If I can control the size of my task list, I will feel calmer. If I can control the chaos in my household, I will feel less stressed. If ONLY I could control the children in my household, then I would feel less stressed! And wow, if I could show more self-control I can only imagine the goals I would be kicking.
Control is an interesting concept because it's one of those struggles in life we need to find a balance in (a Wellbalance may I say?!). Control is a good thing. It's a positive thing to strive for order, organisation and calm within our lives. But it's a negative thing when we are so stuck in our need for order, organisation and calm (or whatever else it may be that is driving us), that we cannot be flexible and we must control others to achieve the outcome we need, at all costs.
"Others" are a frustrating concept when it comes to control! "Others" are unpredictable, and they may prevent us from achieving our goal through their rampant desire to exert their own choice - how rude! Best to limit their impact on the equation as much as possible, and how do we do this? How do I do this? Well, for example, if I have a need for order, quiet and tidiness within my home (this may or may not be a hypothetical scenario) maybe I might feel very irritated when someone turns the TV up loud, and maybe I might yell at my boys for their incessant running around and playing (again, how rude of young boys, to be running around and playing?!) or maybe I might feel overwhelmed and grumpy when I walk in and see mess all over the kitchen bench.
Actually, I can admit to being culprit to every one of these. I do have a strong desire for calm, but over the years I have had to learn to ADJUST MY EXPECTATIONS. I am sure you are highly intelligent and quicker to catch on than me, but it took me quite some time, and a few children later, to realise that expecting calm and order in a household where I am also expecting healthy children to grow, is not a correlating formula! Controlling the chaos was not only being unfair to active children, but it was actually impeding my other goal of raising well adjusted kids! Not only could I not have both, I had to acknowledge that my expectations were unreasonable - calmness is not usually the norm for active, growing, learning, loving families - and attempting to control children was and still is, a fine line that I had to learn to walk. Controlling our kids is a MUST at times, particularly when they are young and need our protection and guidance for their own safety. Controlling them as they get older is a constant process of re-evaluation as we gradually release our reigns in order to allow them to take over.
Every self-aware parent walks this fine line. I have coffee with a great bunch of girlfriends most Friday mornings and we are all Mums. This morning we were sharing some of our concerns and worries about our teenage kids. Now; where worry enters, there fear enters also. And fear is a strong and powerful motivator in all of our lives. How much we allow our own fears to impact our behaviour is a conversation for an entire book, but fear is a very common variable when we are talking about formulas of control.
Could there be any more fear involved when we are considering parents and their children? As a parent, I'm not sure what worse thing could happen in my life than something bad happening to one of my children. Fear is a huge motivator when we consider the reasons for parents attempting to control their teenagers (or even young adult children....and fully grown adult children....believe it or not I have seen it). The problem is, that if we allow our fear of "what might happen" to our children to dominate our choices and behaviour as a parent, we would hardly let our children do anything!! This is particularly the case when they are teenagers and actively exploring the world to develop their own sense of identity.
Healthy parents enable their children to build capacity to take more and more control of their own lives by making their own decisions. Healthy parents understand that healthy children (and eventually healthy adults) need to have the opportunity to make good and bad decisions so that they can learn from their mistakes and grow. Good parents aim to develop their children to a point when they are in charge of making all their own decisions, and in their adulthood might rely on Mum and Dad for guidance, but do not receive wilful direction from Mum or Dad (through overt power or covert manipulation). Doing the best for our children means deciding what is SAFE to allow them to make a decision on, encouraging them to make that decision, and allowing them to experience the consequences and learn from those consequences - good and bad.
Determining what is a SAFE decision depends on their age and capacity and the likely outcome ie. if there is a likely bad outcome, that bad outcome needs to serve as a healthy lesson. If the possible bad outcome could be a serious, negative traumatic event, that's our cue as good parents to say "I'm sorry, but I'm the parent, and right now for your own safety, I am taking control."
So what do we when we feel like our urge to control is overwhelming? We need to take a step back and make an assessment of the situation and ourselves and determine 1. Whether this situation warrants us taking control. 2. What is motivating us to want to take control, and 3. What we are likely to achieve by taking control.
Does the situation warrant our control? If there is a situation in your teenagers life where you can see a possible negative outcome, talk to them about it, build their capacity to understand and see the situation for what it is. Build their capacity to identify multiple perspectives, options and outcomes. Take control if you need to and it's possible. If it's not possible, then increase your control through the channels of influence that you have ie. communication, providing information, providing motivation. (Motivation could be through reward OR through restriction of your child's relevant currency. Currency is the "thing" that your child wants/enjoys and either having it or not having it will motivate them to shift their attitude or behaviour.)
What are our motives? Are we motivated by real or perceived fear? If we think the fear is real, is it based in the best outcome for our child or the best outcome that meets our needs? Are our motives to control more deep seeded, and we fear "letting our child go" for the possibility that they may not come back to us in an emotional sense? Do we need to control because that's where we get our sense of security from, and the reality is our dominance is quashing the character development of others? There are many reasons we are motivated. Take the time to consider what you are hoping to achieve and what you fear may happen if you don't take control.
What are you likely to achieve? If controlling intervention is warranted, hopefully you achieve your child's safety. If there are no serious safety concerns, consider what outcomes negative/positive are likely to come from allowing your teen to make their own choices, and how you can go about educating, inspiring or motivating them toward making good choices. If you do restrict and suffocate them, not only will you cause likely rebellion - which could then lead to increased safety risk - you are also limiting their potential to learn and grow into a functional adult.
Aim to raise a functional adult who has had the opportunity to learn, and who loves and respects you for who you are, and wants your opinion because they know it comes without obligation and strings attached because you love them and want the best for them. Please don't raise kids who allow you to control them because they feel scared, obligated, guilted or manipulated into pleasing you and meeting your needs.
Here's to healthy relationships and healthy teenagers!