Teens Manipulating their Parents: Why, How and What Can Stop It

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December 5, 2011 by middleearthnj

Manipulation is learned by children at a young age. Toddlers realize they can control their parent’s behavior by screaming loudly, and it progresses from there. Manipulation can provide children with a sense of power because it gives them the exciting reward of causing another person to perform a desired behavior. As we develop into adults, we become more aware of the needs of others and the realization that not everything can be controlled, so we learn to balance our own desires. Teens have not reached this stage of development yet, plus they are struggling with a strong desire for independence while experiencing surging hormones. Let’s just say that the needs of their parents don’t often enter their minds.

Types of Manipulation Teens Employ and Ways to Deal With It

Steamrolling. The most frequently used form of manipulation that children of every age employ on their parents is the never-ending, repeated request. “Can I? Can I? Can I? Can I? How about now?” Teens reason that if they wear a parent down enough, they will eventually give in. Two can play at that game. The best response to the repeated request is a repeated answer. Decide what your bottom line is and develop a “broken record” sentence, such as “You must clean your room before you go to the party.” Do not engage in any further discussion, but simply reply with the same sentence.

Lying. Teens generally assume that if they don’t tell you the truth, they have a better chance of getting what they want. Omitting key details is the most frequent type of lie from teens. For example, your teen might truthfully tell you he is going to be hanging out at Jane’s house, but “forget” to mention that Jane’s parents won’t be home. The real problem is that teens’ lies become more sophisticated and they will work with their friends to create a fabricated story that will check out with other parents. You should insist on knowing where your child is and whom they are with to minimize lying. When you do catch them in a lie, there should be an immediate consequence with the understanding that a repeat offense will have a larger consequence.

Retaliation. Revenge… who doesn’t have that urge occasionally? So, you didn’t let your teen go to the mall, and now your teen has decided to even the score because they didn’t get their way. Many teens provoke their parents by saying something hurtful or not doing chores / activities expected of them. As calmly as possible (walk away and count to 10 first, if necessary), let your teen know that this kind of behavior is not acceptable. If your teen persists, the parent must establish and follow through with a consequence.

Emotional Blackmail. Every parent wants their child to be happy… which is why parents often don’t recognize or don’t know how to fight the “I’ll be sad until I get my way” manipulation. The best way to combat emotional blackmail is for parents to always keep in mind that their ultimate goal is to prepare their teen for the adult world. If you change your perspective from “making my child happy” to “making my child responsible so that they can make themselves happy,” you will be better equipped to handle this manipulation. Ignore the emotions, stay poised, and answer simply: “I understand that you think I’m ruining your life because you can’t go to the party, but you still need to do your homework before you can go out.”

Shutting Down. The silent treatment. What sullen teen has not tried the strategy of refusing to talk? They hope either the guilt will get you to give in or you’ll forget you asked them to do something. The key is to make your teen’s refusal to respond work against her, not for her. For example, say your child likes spending time on Facebook, and you allow her online every night for one hour after she has completed her homework, but she is refusing to respond to your reminders to get started on her homework. The consequence is that she loses 10 minutes on the computer for every 10 minutes she has not started her homework.

Creating Doubt. Teens are very perceptive about what causes their parent’s anxiety, and they will use it against you. For example, perhaps a parent worries over their child “fitting in” a social circle, then your teen may employ the “I’ll be an outcast if you don’t let me ____!” Parents must become rational observers.  Are those statements really true? Ask your child to justify these statements with facts.

Preventing Manipulation

Dealing with manipulative behavior wears on a parent. However, there are ways to improve the situation. Giving your teen less opportunity to manipulate you will make both of you feel better and strengthen your relationship.

  • Be consistent. This is arguably the most important tool in a parent’s pocket and will ultimately decide your success or failure. You must develop firm rules with consequences that will be enforced immediately and every time an infraction occurs. It usually helps to sit down with your teen (they should have input, too) and develop a written document that details boundaries, expectations, and consequences. This written document leaves little room for misunderstanding, substantially reducing your teen’s opportunity for manipulation. Consequences must be followed through or the rules lose all meaning. If you are a parent that tends to give in before the punishment is up, try setting up the restriction in a way you can’t break. Take your teen’s video game to your friend’s house and tell them to hold it until Friday – then you can’t give in!
  • Communicate openly. Don’t just interrogate your teen. Spend time with your child, telling them about your feelings and actively listening to their hopes and disappointments.
  • Be honest. Teens are very good at knowing when you’re being truthful. Create an environment of trust in your home. Recognize that idle threats are “lying” because everyone knows you aren’t going to follow through.
  • Withdraw from the heat. It’s easy to respond in the heat of the moment with something you’ll later regret. Instead, refuse to get engaged in a battle and simply say that you need time to think. It’s a good way to buy yourself time so that you can think of an appropriate response that will make you feel good.

Final Thoughts…

Parents who can feel good about themselves at the end of the day are those that do what they know is right even when it’s hard. They will put their child’s safety first, their development for a successful future second, and their happiness last.

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