Parenting older teens and young adults can be both a real challenge and a real joy. Often, when we need our kids to step up to the plate and demonstrate responsibility it results in a power struggle. So how do we forge a way through? According to Family Counsellor, Emma Holdsworth, the key lies in mastering Interdependence.
In my work, the things I hear most often by parents of this age group are: ‘”My child hates me and doesn’t listen to a thing I say”, “I am worried about their future,” and “They have no respect for me, or my home.”
While all of these concerns are very common and some would say a normal part of parenting, It doesn’t have to be (or stay) this way!
Interdependence is when two or more people work together on a common activity or toward a common goal. It’s about sharing responsibility and therefore sharing power.
Throughout early childhood, children are seen as dependent on their parents for most of their needs, although the bid for autonomy and independence begins early (when they learn to walk and say NO!).
As our children move through childhood, gaining more autonomy as go, we can make the mistake of feeling like the only options are dependence or independence.
We see that as our kids move through their teen years they seem dependent one minute (“Where’s my dinner?” or “I forgot my lunch!” or “Can you drive me?”) and independent the next minute (“I can do it myself!” or “I don’t need your help!” or “You can’t make me!”).
It can be confusing and often creates conflict and difficulty in maintaining strong relationships.
So, what if we worked on fostering a culture of interdependence with our teens (or even younger children)? How would this impact our relationships with our kids later in the picture?
Interdependence is when two or more people work together on a common activity or toward a common goal. It’s about sharing responsibility and, therefore, sharing power.
It is never too early to work on developing an interdependent relationship with your children. And the lasting positive effects make it well worth it, for both your kid’s resilience skills and your relationship with them.
If all else fails, hold your ground
Of course negotiations won’t always run smoothly. Your young person may become belligerent, avoidant or angry about having to negotiate or follow rules. In this case, it is important to stand firm (with love and understanding). Use your leverage to get your young adult to ‘come to the table’.
Remember the right to use the car, be taxied, have phone bills paid, or have unlimited access to the internet (the list goes on) are to be earned by co-operation.
The way to build resilience, respect and interdependence with your ‘big kids’ is to stop rescuing them: Let them learn, include them in negotiations and be clear about your boundaries while keeping the lines of love and communication open.
The child’s needs are taken in to equal consideration as the parents and solutions are reached by negotiation.
Case Study 1A negotiation with a 13 year old
Molly has a 13-year-old son, Jed. Jed loves his sport and wants to play both football and soccer in the winter months. Molly would prefer that Jed played just one sport and focussed some more time on his school work. Jed doesn’t love school, he finds learning difficult and struggles to see how it will “help his future” as a sports star.
So how can Jed and Molly achieve interdependence here? Molly and Jed sit down for a chat, Jed expresses what he wants and Molly expresses what she wants.
Molly tells Jed that she relies on him to get his homework and his daily chores done each day after school. She reminds Jed that he needs her to drive him to practice at 5pm, 4 days a week. Molly askes Jed what he thinks would be fair to both of them. Jed says “If I make sure I do my homework, my daily chores and get myself ready by 5pm, then you could drive me to practice?”
Molly agrees but very clearly lets Jed know that she is relying on him to show responsibility for his part of the bargain and that she will not be driving him to practice if his tasks are not done.
Case Study 2A negotiation with a 17 year old
Debbie and Geoff have a 17-year-old daughter, Jess. Jess is about to turn 18 and has been talking about how she is going to be an adult and can do whatever she likes.
Jess is very excited about the prospect of being independent and free. She has just finished high school, has no job and is not planning on doing further study just yet.
Debbie and Geoff sit down with Jess for a chat about how things will change when she becomes an adult. Geoff has been reading a lot about brain development and knows that the ‘planning’ skills in Jess’ brain still have a long way to go before they are fully developed, and that she might need some help with that side of things.
Debbie and Geoff let Jess know that the house rules continue to apply to everyone in the house, including adults. They let her know that as an adult in the house, she will have more freedom but also more responsibility.
Debbie and Geoff ask Jess what she plans to do to contribute to the running of the household as an adult. Jess says that she could pay rent when she gets a job.
Debbie says that while that sounds fair, she wonders how long an adult should live in the house rent-free. Geoff offers to help Jess come up with a job search plan, and all three agree that Jess can continue to live in the house rent-free as long as she follows the house rules and keeps up with the job search plan.