Ask an Expert: My kids say I’m very easy going but should I be tougher?

I describe my parenting style as ‘love them to death and hope for the best’. My kids say I’m very easy going and they love me for it but should I be tougher? I don’t want to be one of those parents that says “no” for the sake of it and so I always try and accommodate their wishes where financially possible but I’m worried they won’t know how to deal with disappointment. How can I toughen up?

The dilemma you face is very often described by parents I see. Parents seem to constantly be second guessing themselves and the way they parent their children: “Was I too strict?”, “Should I be more lenient next time?”, “Did I give her too much autonomy?”. However, it’s actually a really good thing to be aware of how you parent and what impact this may have on your children.

The trick is that both ends of what can often appear to be opposite ends of the parenting spectrum can be true. Yes, you may be too lenient at times and too strict at others. Yes, you may be holding on to your teen a bit too tight but at the same time allowing too much independence. Yes, you can be trying your hardest as a parent but still have room to change and improve.

Dealing with these dilemmas is coming to an understanding that there is no one right way. When parents box themselves into ‘either-or’ type thinking then they will never be happy with the way they parent. I try to encourage parents to have ‘both-and’ thinking where multiple things can be right and helpful at the same time.

The key to parenting teens is finding a middle ground with these dilemmas, so it’s not helpful to say ‘no’ for the sake of it (as you described), but similarly allowing your child to have everything they ask for will not equip them for what they will face in life. The most common dilemmas for parents of adolescents seem to be:

  • being too ‘loose’ vs. being too strict. To find the middle path with this dilemma, you need to have two goals in mind: 1) have clear and consistent rules with your children and 2) be willing to discuss and negotiate on some issues
  • not taking problem behaviours seriously enough vs. making too much of typical adolescent behaviours. To navigate this dilemma it’s important to have an understanding of normal adolescent boundary pushing and what behaviours cross a line. Talking with friends, teachers and your partner is critical in determining what is expected and what may be problematic.
  • holding on too tight vs. forcing independence. I think this is probably the most common struggle for parents of teens. You want them to grow into independent adults but you’re still their parent and feel yourself wanting to hold on to them! Aim to give your child guidance and support to work out how to be responsible while slowly giving them increased independence.

Parenting teenagers is by no means easy. It can sometimes feel like a constant balancing act but to find the middle path for your family, remember that you need to simultaneously accept the great parts about how you parent while also thinking about areas that need change.

Stefanie Schwartz, Child and Adolescent Clinical Psychologist, www.groupworx.com.au

Our Ask an Expert Week panelists are all qualified professionals in their field. However, advice given on The Kids Are All Right website is not a substitute for direct, personal, professional counselling or psychological care, medical care and diagnosis.

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