Parenting Adolescents — 25 July 2012
Managing disapproval of your teenager’s relationship

Some parents are uncomfortable with their teenager’s dating choice. Yet, they are aware that their opinion may not be well received or heeded. How can parents still guide their children without being disregarded or alienated by their child?

The quest for autonomy, self-sufficiency and independence is a healthy human drive. Young children take pride in accomplishing developmental tasks that mark their maturation. Parents aid and praise their youngsters as they do so. Yet, this process often entails some struggles. Youngsters need guidance but resist it when they perceive it to be excessive or lacking recognition of steps that have already been mastered.

Adolescence exacerbates the strain between young adults and their parents as the teenager forges toward individuation and starts to date. The steps required to find a steady relationship are anxiety producing since they evoke doubts about one’s desirability and appeal. Once one finds a boyfriend/girlfriend – happiness reigns.

No teenager is likely to be receptive to any less than enthusiastic response from his/her parents. The adults, on the other hand, often view their guidance as imperative to the healthy development of their child and fear the potential impact of the un-vetted “rival” on their youngster.

How can you manage disapproval of your child’s chosen girlfriend/boyfriend if you doubt the suitability of the match or the nature of the new temporary addition to your family?

Lectures, speeches, criticism, doubts and advice regarding the new date are likely to fall on deaf ears, or worsen your child’s openness to your opinion. Teenagers can detect your hidden agenda even if you coax your words carefully.

Dr. Andrew Whiten describes the “Theory of Mind” as the human ability “to infer the full range of mental states of beliefs, desires, intentions, imagination and emotions by listening to another person’s narrative,” Adolescents are well equipped in doing so as well.

Parents are unwise to use criticism, disapproval, restrictions, warnings or threats to attempt to end their youngster’s relationship with a boyfriend/girlfriend. The only method that may be effective is what I term as “Ask – Don’t Tell”. Using kindly stated questions about the child’s feelings or observations may be the most helpful way to activate his/her self-reflection and healthy decisions.

Example: A mother met the new girlfriend and noted that she spent most of the time talking about herself and expressed an embittered view of men. When her son asked for his mother’s input she described some positive traits and offered two suggestions for her son. 1.“ After a date with her ask yourself whether you feel better, worse or the same about yourself than you did beforehand.” 2. “What percentage of the time does she talk

about herself, asks about you or discusses other matters?” A short time later the son discontinued this relationship without explanation.

To help your teenager assess his/her relationship:

¨     Avoid demeaning or criticizing the date or restricting and punishing your child.

¨     “Ask – Don’t Tell” and be patient and loving.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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