Child Parent Conflicts

A classic situation in my practice…a parent calls me, asking for therapy for a 16 year old child, who is “acting out”.  In session, I learn the adolescent is yelling at their parents, coming in consistently after their curfew, looked at porn or called a girl a “bitch” on facebook, perhaps was caught drinking at a party, is endlessly provoking their younger siblings, and is very irritable despite parent spending alot of money on their car or prom dress.

I further learn, that while the parents reach out to their son/daughter, i.e., “How was your day?”, “How did you do on that math test?”; they also text their child multiple times when they are out, asking what they are doing, what they will do next, when will they be home. I learn the parent’s are constantly checking their kid’s grades on the school’s website and going over missing assignments, questioning/urging/threatening them for not turning in homework.

How do I see this? First, I assess the kid’s involvement in the drinking/drug and porn use.  If it seems to me to be the typical adolescent experimentation/exploration of such and that proper consequences were put in place, I then approach both the parents and adolescent as a developmental issue….meaning the adolescent is in the process of becoming an adult and the parents, ready or not, are in the process of letting go (A process that takes much time, effort, attempts and failures with occasional successes, on the part of BOTH, the parent and adolescent.).

I praise the parents for providing a good home and reaching out to their child but tell them to back-off on the texts. Praise their monitor grades and homework but tell them to stop hounding the kid about such. Make it clear you expect them to pass with good grades but that school their responsibility and if they fail, they will have to take the class/grade over. Explain your values (without drama) about such things as porn use or drinking/drug use and give them consequences when they violated such but also empathize with them about how powerfully alluring these things are. Take their “screens” when they are antagonizing, again, without drama, tone or sarcasm.

With the child, I empathize with the “hit” their self-esteem takes when the parents constantly checks on them but challenge them to understand they will always have a boss in their life, in one form or another and learning to work with such people is essential. I’d remind them that their spending money may still come from parents and if they have been a pain (in the a**), do you think mummy and daddy will be willing to give them money for them to waste. I’d talk about how unfair their parents SEEM to be and then relate ways life seems unfair to me at times and how blessed I am at other times.