Why Teens Reject Parental Authority (Part 1)
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Why Teens Reject Parental Authority (Part 1)

It's true that parents have a special position of authority over their children. But whether or not parents enjoy that position in the eyes of their teens is another matter. Here are some of the reasons kids reject their parents' authority.
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The concept of parental authority has changed in our society. Many parents can remember when the end of any argument used to be, "Because I'm your father (or mother)." Today that view of authority has changed. Our position as parents does not automatically invest us with authority, from the teen's point of view. Today authority has to be earned, not just demanded.

It's true that parents have a special position of authority over their children. But whether or not parents enjoy that position in the eyes of their teens is another matter. You may be interested in several studies that have been done about the long-range effects on teens who have very authoritative parents. An authoritative parent is one who doesn't give much support to his children, but who exercises very rigid control over their behavior. The research says that the parent who demands obedience to his authority, and is big enough to get it, will get short-term compliance, but long-term rebellion. The authoritarian parent feels like his kids are "toeing the mark," but they're really just biding their time until they can do everything the parent detests. So, while it may look like the parent is succeeding, the true test of what's been done as a parent is what kind of men or women the teenagers become. Generally speaking, the studies indicate that rebels come from homes where there has been a very authoritarian climate.

Here are some of the reasons kids reject their parents' authority:

1. "I don't feel respected." If a young person doesn't think you take him seriously or that you don't respect him as a person, he probably won't respond with respect. Teens are best taught respect by being shown respect. So if you're not enjoying respect from your children, ask yourself: "Do I show them respect?"

  • Respect their friends. Perhaps the most important choice in a teenager's life is his choice of friends. If you don't respect his choice of friends, even if you're not wild about them, you have basically said to your teen: "I don't respect your right to choose or your choices." You will have more clout in your teenager's life by making his friends feel special than by rejecting the friends you don't happen to like or appreciate.
  • Let them make decisions. Give them time; give them space. Ask questions; give guidelines. But don't panic if they don't immediately see things your way. Give them room and the right to make some of their own decisions.
  • Respect their privacy. One of Billy Graham's daughters said that one of the great memories she has of her dad is that he never entered her room without knocking. Say, by your actions, "I respect your privacy, your mail, your room, and your conversations."

2. "They don't really hear me." Kids reject parental authority because they don't feel their parents really hear what they're saying. The reason why many teens don't talk to their parents is not because they aren't looking for someone to talk to. They usually do their share of talking, but to one or more of their friends - which is a little talking to somebody mired in quicksand about how to get out of it.

The reason teens prefer to discuss their problems with their friends is that they usually get better results (from their point of view) than they get when they talk to their parents. They feel that when they talk to their friends they've been heard, not had. If your teens don't talk to you it may be because they feel you don't really know where they're coming from, and therefore don't have the right to tell them how to run their lives.

How can you encourage them to talk? Ask for their advice. Let them know that you value their ideas and suggestions. Spend time with them. Go to their games and to other events that are important to them. Try to be with them in formal settings too, where you are forced to talk to one another. Ask a lot of questions before you respond to them or try to unload your point of view. There's a tendency for us as parents to fire off an immediate response to our kids' first sentence. Ask God to help you control yourself and to realize that unwise and hasty responses on your part may close the door to future input from them. Try rather to say: "Oh, I see... Now, how do you feel about that? Tell me some of your reasons." Or, "What do your friends think about that?" If you ask a lot of questions before you respond, you'll end up responding with greater authority in the eyes of your teens.

When you do listen to your teenagers, be sure that you're not preoccupied. If you aren't able to talk with them at the moment say: "Listen, this isn't a good time. But I really want to hear what you have to say, so give me a half hour, and then I'm all yours." And be sure that you give them those "all yours" times.

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Comments (2)

Very good points. I don't think a lot of parents lead by example these days either. They tell their kids not to smoke or drink and they sit there and do it right in front of their kids. It is easy to understand why some teens don't have respect for their parent's authority.

Respect is so important, as is leading by example. I can't count how many parents I have overheard "coaching" their kids to lie to us lifeguards about their ages because kids 5 and under need to be within arms reach, but if a child is 6 the parent can watch them from the warm whirlpool spa while the child swims in the main pool. I always say I can't wait, because those parents will get their payback when the kid is a teenager--now that they've taught him to lie to avoid following rules!

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