Getting your parents OFF YOUR BACK
Chores, allowances, curfew changes, going-out privileges, whatever, should be discussed during times of good feelings, a family therapist says.
By EDWARD M. EVELD
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It's universal and timeless. When parents and teens come together, whether during the casual days of summer or the hopped-up schedule of the school year, things can go south in a hurry.
"Why do you keep nagging me about that?"
"Nagging? I'm not nagging."
Jeff Herring, a family therapist, spends a lot of time counseling parents about why teens say and do what they say and do and how best to deal with youngsters in the throes of adolescence.
Lately, though, Herring has turned the psychological tables, counseling teens on why parents say and do what they say and do and how best to deal with adults in the throes of parenthood.
"These are things kids can do for the care and feeding of their parents," said Herring, author and nationally syndicated columnist based in Tallahassee, Fla. Herring, who used to live in Overland Park, Kan., has a counseling Web site at www.jeffherring.com. "Basically, I'm telling them that if you want your parents off your back, here are some strategies to do it."
Directing advice toward teens rather than parents isn't something you hear much about, said Stephen Sirridge, professor of psychology at Avila University. But it's a great way for young people to learn how to get more of what they want, he said.
"It's teaching them how to negotiate," said Sirridge, co-author of a new book, "The Land of Odds: Parenting the Teen Tornado." "These are life skills. They learn to assess not only what they want but what other people's needs are and the circumstances of the situation."
Sure, asking teenagers to tune in to their parents is a tall order, Sirridge said. But the oft-used teen strategy, wearing parents down to get their way, has only spotty success and creates mounds of bad feelings.
"If you're obnoxious enough for long enough you may get your way, but ultimately it backfires," Sirridge said. "You've learned how to push people, but in the long run it creates resentment. It'll blow up."
One of the most important strategies for taming parents is recognizing when conditions are ideal for negotiating or rather when they're not ideal. Discuss chores, allowances, curfew changes, going-out privileges, whatever, during times of good feelings, Sirridge said. Teens shouldn't demand a later curfew while heading out the door or try to renegotiate room-cleaning duties in the middle of a parental lecture.
Pick low-stress times for a discussion, Sirridge said, after a good meal, for instance, or on the way somewhere when it's just teen and parent in the car. And teens should know their family's values well enough to realize that some things aren't negotiable.
If you find yourself complaining about nagging parents, ask yourself these questions: How long have you known your parents? Based on those 15 or so years, can you kind of predict what's important to them and what's going to bug them?
"Contrary to popular belief, parents don't stay up at night thinking, 'How many ways can I nag them tomorrow?'" Herring said.
Pick a thing your parents nag you about. Get ahead of the situation and do it or fix it before they even say anything. Enjoy the shock and confusion on their faces.
In your eyes, you're all grown up. In your parents' eyes, you're the same person they once held in their arms. In other words, understand that it's wonderful but also hard for your parents to see you grow up. If they treat you like a kid sometimes, realize the perspective they're bringing to the situation, then negotiate.
Also, their advanced years inform them in ways you can't know yet. Consider the helicopter analogy: When you're 15, you view the world from a helicopter 15 feet off the ground. When you're hovering 40 feet off the ground, things look a lot different.
"This is probably the hardest one for kids to get," Herring said.
This should be easier: Your parents are not the enemy. In fact, they are loaded with information. Pick their brains about any number of topics, from getting along with certain people to getting your first job. Plus, you make them feel good just by asking their advice. Who doesn't want to feel as though they have some wisdom to impart?
Your parents are interested in you, so you know it's going to happen: They will ask you about your day. If you handle it the wrong way, the conversation will go like this: How was your day? Fine. What did you do? Nothing. Oh, you must have done something. Aaugh!
Don't have that exchange. Instead, pick out one thing from your day and tell them all about it. That will satiate them for a while. During school it's OK to remind them that you've just been through six or seven classes and need some downtime.
When you're heading out to be with friends, you already know the details your parents must have. Where are you going? What will you be doing? Who will you be doing it with? When will you be home?
Don't consider this an intrusion. It's actually your ticket to freedom. Consistently -- and honestly -- supply this information and the more your parents will let you do. Some teens have a form they fill out with blanks next to the W's, Herring said. They fill in the blanks and avoid the interrogation.
You want to be more and more in charge of yourself, and guess what? That's what your parents want, too. Nobody wants you living in the house at age 30. The more you show you can be trusted, the more freedom you will have.
Ask yourself a question: Is what I'm doing something that will build trust or something that will break trust?
"In a family, trust is a commodity," Herring said. "The more you earn, the more you will be in charge of yourself."