As a parent, you are very aware that you are not the only caretaking “voice” in your teen’s life. Teens have several adults who greatly affect how they think, make decisions and feel about themselves. There are moms, dads, older siblings and grandparents, to name a few. In healthy scenarios, you are all on the same page about the best approaches to raise your teen. This is a positive and powerful mix and can be very helpful for the adolescent’s development. But sadly enough, some of the people you parent with will influence your teen toward things that are the exact opposite of what you believe are best.
For example, there are “fun caretakers,” who just want adolescents to feel good all the time and who discourage structure, responsibility and limits. There are “harsh caretakers,” whose unbalanced rules and attitudes are so unloving and strict that they discourage and alienate teens. There are even “toxic caretakers,” who actually encourage disrespect, drinking and acting out, most of the time because that is how they are behaving.
What does a parent do? You can’t remove them from all contact with your teen. But there are ways you can help neutralize these effects. Here are some tips that will make a difference.
Appeal to their love for the teen. In the majority of cases, these people do feel a great deal of attachment and care for the adolescent. They may see things 180 degrees differently from you, but inside their hearts, they want the teen to have a good life. Appeal to this aspect, and say something like, “You and I see things differently, but at the end of the day, we both want what is best for Jill. Can we work on giving her messages that are consistent from both of us so that she isn’t confused?” Often, their emotional care will emerge, and they will be more cooperative.
Be clear about what you want them to say and do. Remember, their worldview may be very, very different from yours. You have to over-clarify for them. It’s not enough to say, “support good boundaries.” You have to say, “When Sam is disrespectful and uses foul language, I need your support that he has a consequence and that you will help me stick with it.”
Get out of your conflict with them. Don’t let them use the teen as a pawn to act out anger against you or to make some
point with you. Tell them, “I know we are having a rough time in our own relationship, but I want us to go beyond our problem, for the sake of our child. I will do that, and I would like for you to as well.”
Be healthy and balanced with your teen. When another caretaker is unbalanced, refrain from compensating to an extreme to balance out their effect. For example, if the “fun caretaker” is affecting things, don’t become an overdisciplining parent. That causes a conflict inside the adolescent, in which there is a “fun and positive world” and a “discipline is mean and negative world.” Instead, be full of love, warmth, structure and healthy limits. Your teen needs at least one balanced person in her life to internalize and learn from.
Quarantine when necessary, as much as possible. When you are getting no cooperation whatsoever, do whatever you can to limit the teen’s contact with that person and minimize the negative influence. You may not have a great deal of control over this for legal reasons or your teen’s age, but whatever you can do that doesn’t totally disrupt your teen’s life may be worth doing. That could be limiting visits, trips and meetings. It means you have to do less repair work yourself.
Parenting is not easy, but it is worth it. Be the advocate for your teen’s growth.