Let The Start Of School End Your Control Battle


The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 156 · Duration: 00:16:15

Let The Start Of School End Your Control Battle

How do you start an online school year with a daughter who’s hard to motivate and has been on her phone all summer?

Today we’re hearing from Mandy in Los Angeles. Mandy writes:

Our question is about getting back to school given that school will be at home. We’ve been pretty lax this summer with fewer things to do we’ve allowed our difficult to motivate 15-year-old daughter to sleep late and be on her phone a lot. She avoids chores, and doesn’t do very much productive; she mostly spends her time on social media. She’s generally done pretty well in school but we’re concerned that the bad habits of the summer will spill over into her school year. What can we do to avoid that?

Let The Start Of School End Your Control Battle

Thanks for your question, Mandy. I’m sure a ton of parents are facing similar challenges.

As you must know, I talk about Control Battles a lot. You have one going on in your home with your daughter and most likely have for quite a while. Why do I say that? Well, what you are essentially saying is that you were lax to avoid the battle getting your daughter to be productive. Anticipating negative interactions and avoiding them demonstrates the power of Control Battles. So what I’m going to advise you to do is use the restarting of school to push reset and end your Control Battle.

Addressing the Control Battle

Mandy, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: when I say "let’s end the Control Battle" or "Starve the Beast," a very simple way of thinking of it is that we are establishing or re-establishing benevolent parental authority. Families are not democracies. Parents can’t be voted out of office. Since I don’t know you, I’m not sure how your benevolent parental authority was lost; too much benevolent perhaps, maybe too much authority without the benevolent being obvious. Maybe your delightful 15-year-old is very intense or very sensitive, these can all be contributing factors, and most often, there are several contributing factors. Your daughter can be intense, and you might tend to be conflict-avoidant. You could both be intense, and interactions escalate.

Whatever built or supported your Control Battle or fed the beast, we’re going to be done with it and show up with a ton of benevolent and clear authority. School starting up is a great time to start since it offers a mandate for a change anyway.

Before we go to how to hit reset and end your Control Battle, let me speak to why Control Battles are so common in adolescence and how to avoid them. We can have Control Battles with our children before adolescence for some of the above reasons, but adolescence is a petri dish for Control Battles.

Here’s why. The parent/teen relationship from 13 to 18, where young adulthood, the last stage of adolescence, begins is a gradual handing off of responsibilities for youth functioning from parents to kids. Essential self-management functions including general hygiene such as tooth brushing and showering, homework management, sleep hygiene, healthy food choices, and physical activities or social activities, informal or hanging out, and formal such as involvement in musical, leadership, athletic, religious, or performing arts. These are all functions where the responsibility for managing shifts from parents to youth. It involves a constant renegotiation, sometimes unspoken, sometimes discussed, and sometimes fought about.

The parent/teen relationship from 13 to 18, where young adulthood, the last stage of adolescence, begins is a gradual handing off of responsibilities for youth functioning from parents to kids. This stage can breed control battles.Click To Tweet

An excellent way to avoid Control Battles is to openly discuss this process with your teenager. Include where they are managing well independently, and where they require oversight and support. That way, each issue can be seen in terms of personal growth, maturation, and progress. It can be empowering and reassuring for kids to know they’re not supposed to have it all together at 14, 15, or 16 and that they are making progress that’s recognized by their parents.

If they want more independence, they can focus on the responsibilities that go along with that independence. Here’s an excellent tool to put in your pocket. When kids want a privilege that by virtue of their age or lack of maturity you aren’t comfortable with, avoid using the word "no". Instead, use "yes, when...". That way, you are helping them see that you are not against their independence, but support it in a planned way.

Adapting the Principles

Now back to Mandy’s situation with her 15-year-old. Mandy, let’s start with being clear about the behaviors you want to see, and then we can start them with your daughter now in anticipation of being ready when school starts, not have the shock of dealing with everything when school begins.

  • Let’s say you want her to get up by 7:00 AM since school starts at 8:00 AM,
  • Eat less sugary snacks and healthier meals,
  • Get physical exercise every day,
  • Clean and organize her room and have a plan to keep it that way,
  • Limit her time on social media,
  • And have dedicated study and homework time.

Now going from where you are now to all of this is going to be a bit of a shock to your daughter’s system, so we’ll need to use a version of “The Talk”, that’s in the chapter Making The Big Shift in my book Ending the Parent-Teen Control Battle. The Talk is designed to create changes in youth's behavior by changing the narrative, clarifying the standards, and establishing accountability to those standards with parents projecting benevolent authority.

“The Talk”, outlined in my book Ending the Parent-Teen Control Battle, is designed to create changes in teen's behavior by changing the narrative, clarifying the standards, and establishing accountability with parents projecting benevolent authority.Click To Tweet

I’m going to call your daughter Leanne.

Mom: Leanne, we need to talk about getting ready for school next week.

Leanne: It’s just going to be online so there isn’t much to do.

Mom: Actually, there’s a lot to do. Let me explain. Dad and I have backed off of setting limits and standards with you since the virus hit last spring. It’s our bad, but we’ve let you hang out in your room on social media without getting any exercise, keeping your room clean, or going to sleep and getting up at a reasonable hour. There are activities you could have participated in, but we didn’t want to get into arguments and we let you have a summer of downtime.

Leanne, you are a smart, talented kid, and right now at least, you don’t seem motivated to bring your best. Being motivated and bringing our best is something we all need to do so learning to do it sooner rather than later is important for you and we know that when you accomplish that, you’ll kick some serious butt. But for right now, some structure from Mom and Dad is in order.

Leanne: I do okay in school.

Mom: Yes you do. But that’s because you’re smart and you mostly do your work. But you don’t bring your best or work hard and you don’t help out at home. So starting today, we are ending the summer slumber and gearing up for an amazing school year.

Leanne: This semester is going to suck because it’s just going to be like the end of last year where we just had busy work.

Mom: The school is putting a lot of work on how to do effective online instruction. But that’s the school. They’re in charge of the teaching, but you’re in charge of the learning, and if you are an active learner, and bring your creative best, you’ll get a lot out of the semester. During this period of limitation, if we sink into lethargy, we’ll all be depressed so here are the things we want to see.

School starts at 8:00 AM so you need to get yourself up at 7:00 AM and get yourself awake and have some breakfast, teeth brushed, and your appearance pulled together.

Leanne: I don’t need a whole hour.

Mom: How much time do you need?

Leanne: 15 minutes.

Mom: That's not enough time to get ready and have breakfast. Let’s see how 7:30 AM works and if you hustle, that will work but if we need to struggle with you, we’ll go to 7:00 AM.

You’ll need 8 hours of sleep so what time will you need to go to sleep?

Leanne: I don’t need 8 hours. I can’t go to bed early, I just lie there and don’t sleep.

Mom: If you’re not in the habit of going to sleep early, that is true. It may take a while. On school nights, I want you to give us your phone at 10:00 PM and give yourself a chance to wind down. You can read in bed and try to get to sleep by 11:00 PM.

Some other things we need to work out are:

  • Eating healthier meals and snacks. I want some help cooking dinner so you and I can do some planning and cooking together.
  • A plan to get physical exercise every day.
  • Clean and organize your room and have a plan to keep it that way.
  • Very limited time on social media. We can decide that when we see how well you’re doing with everything. For now, as long as you’re cooperative, you can have an hour a day.
  • And we expect you to have time every day that’s dedicated study and homework time; not YouTube time. Remember, we expect your best.

Leanne: I don’t get why you’re coming down on me.

Mom: I can see how it feels that way because we’ve let our standards for you slip too low. I’m truly sorry about that and no, we’re not coming down on you, we’re supporting you in bringing your best and improving your health. As you take over the job of bringing your best and making healthy choices, we’ll give you more room to do it your way. Let’s work together on this and when the virus is contained and there is more opportunity for independence, you’ll be ready to be more independent.

So folks, let’s not let the opportunity offered by the start of school to slip by. It’s really tough on a lot of kids, not to mention how tough it is for all parents. Some parents are being put in a really difficult position.

Now is the time to support kids in bringing their best and making progress on their development and maturation. When we teach our kids to bring their best under really difficult circumstances, we are giving them a gift that someday, they’ll thank us for. Just don’t tell them that.

When we teach our kids to bring their best under really difficult circumstances, we are giving them a gift that someday, they’ll thank us for.Click To Tweet

Thanks for tuning in today everyone and special thanks to Mandy for asking the perfect question.

During this time of profound disruption, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Your local mental health resources are very much there, mostly using video platforms, and that works just fine, phones work too, and sometimes you can be seen in person as well.

If you're looking for a resource to help keep you productive at home while also helping you become a better parent, I've prepared a free gift just for you. It’s called Parenting Through Your Child's Second 12 Years. I know you’re thinking, "What the heck, 12 more years of parenting?" Adolescence neurologically, socially and emotionally, and often financially goes to around age 24. Yes, parenting your 20-year-olds is different than the teens. Download my gift and read and learn about the different stages of adolescence and critical strategies parents can use to avoid control battles and best support their adolescents’ quest for happy successful independence.

If you are a therapist who works in a behavioral health treatment program and would like to talk with me about improving outcomes in your program, come on over to my website neildbrown.com and shoot me an email or give me a call. I’ll be happy to talk with you.

Please, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.

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