Mom with megaphone tries to get through to teen

We recently received this tough question from a frustrated mom:

How can you parent a child who, absolutely no matter what the consequences are, refuses to or is simply unable or unwilling to listen to a single word you say and does not care at all what you think – a child who will leave the house if you persist in trying to communicate, and you can’t call the police because they go to another relative who refuses to support you in your efforts to parent since they like being the child’s “favorite” – and others say to simply “let that child go” even though it means allowing them to behave in ways you find completely unacceptable. Answer that. 

I’ve titled this scenario “HELP!” for several reasons:

  • The parent sounds like they are at the end of their rope;
  • The parent sounds like they would not trust any answer;
  • There is an underlying attitude of defiance (on the part of the parent…)

Granted, this situation is a tough one; I don’t mean to make light of what you are going through here…

Let’s start with the last bullet point. I had a huge awakening when, as a young teen, my son said to me, “Mom, you think you’re such a great listener, but you cannot listen with your mouth open.” When I thought about this, what he was saying to me is that I always wanted to fix things for him. He’d tell me how he felt about something, and I’d dispute his feelings (“Oh, you shouldn’t feel that way”…).  I truly was not a good listener, because I was thinking of my response before he even finished talking.

We have to look at what it is about us which makes our kids not want to hear us; they may not listen to us (I view hearing as different from listening…), but we have to communicate in a way that builds trust in them. I hear many families say “We need to communicate better.”  The reason most families don’t communicate is that there isn’t a deep trust that “I will be heard” or “I will be understood.”

Secondly, if there is an attitude of defiance in the parent, there is probably an attitude of defiance somewhere in the child. Our children get their attitudes from us. So look at where you can change any defiant attitude you have and hopefully that will begin to change your child’s attitude as well.

Thirdly, have you tried talking to the other relative you mention, the one you say wants to be the favorite?  Try to have a conversation with this relative about what you’re trying to teach your child, the principles you want to model and inspire in him, and where you’re coming from when you talk to him. Any chance the two of you could get on the same page regarding what’s best for this child in the way of character development?

Remember always that “you are the parent.” After looking at the above three ideas, if things don’t change and the attitudes driving the behavior are still completely unacceptable, you may have to let go more than is comfortable or even fathomable. The benefits of family membership come with a price tag; that price tag, in your home, will be the principles that you’ve decided are important to model and teach to your children.

Good luck; I’d love to hear how it goes…