When You Stop Controlling,
You Gain Control
Even though it doesn't seem this way to you, it is no more difficult to get along with your teenager now than it was when he or she was younger. Why you can't is the result of how you are both choosing to behave. He's behaving differently because he's older and feeling his oats. His challenging behavior is normal.
Unfortunately, your choice to do what parents have done
for generations when challenged by a teen, your retaliatory or controlling behavior, is normal, too. What I will explain in this book is what I believe you were already sensing before you started reading. What you are doing or thinking about doing hasn't worked in the past, it isn't working now, and it won't work in the future. Still, you keep choosing to do it. You could record your last argument and when the next one starts, say, "Why don't I just play the tape of our last row. It'll save us time and energy and the result will be the same."
As I will explain in this book, as much as you try, you can't control an adolescent's behavior when you're not with him and can control only very little when you are with him. What you can control is your own behavior. In fact, as I will explain over and over in this book, yours is the only behavior you can control, so it makes sense to stop doing what doesn't work and start doing what does.
Almost everything I explain will lead you to deal with your teenager differently from the way you now believe you should do. By doing so, instead of seeing your relationship with him deteriorate, you will not only keep whatever closeness you may have now, you'll most likely grow even closer. And as you do, you will be pleasantly surprised by the change in both of you.
Everything I suggest you do in this book is based on choice theory, a theory I've created and have used to solve problems like yours since I began to counsel parents and teenagers many years ago. What I've learned is that everyone like you, who can't get along with your teenager (or with one or more of the other important people in your life) is best described as unhappy. This familiar state of mind is present in your teen or any of the other people with whom you are not getting along to the extent you want.
Actually, I believe that, barring grinding poverty, incurable illness, or living under tyranny, unhappiness is the only human problem. Even though I am a well-known psychiatrist, since I've developed choice theory, I have given up thinking of human unhappiness as some sort of a mental illness caused by something mysterious going on in the brain.
None of the parents or teenagers in this book has anything chemically or physiologically wrong with their brains. The problems I discuss are caused by the way either the parent, the teenager, or both choose to deal with their unhappiness. I encourage you to think of the simple, clear, and understandable concept of unhappiness. To become happier, I suggest you use choice theory to improve your relationship with your teenager. You will know when you succeed because you and your child will be happy. You will feel much better because we all know the difference between being happy and unhappy.
When we are unhappy our first thought is that we have to
do something about it. For a parent unhappy with a teenager, this almost always means trying to do something coercive to make him change. Threatening, punishing, or bribing will be your most common choices. You may try to find someone like a counselor to help you change your teen's behavior. There is also the remote possibility that you will try to change your own behavior in ways that will, even in this moment of trouble, get you closer to your child. This book will try to persuade parents to change that remote possibility to a strong probability by using the choice theory I'll teach here.
But before I start to explain choice theory, I would like to point out the difference between happiness and unhappiness. When we are unhappy, we are unsatisfied and try to do something about it -- for example, to change our own life or, more often, to change someone else's life. When we are happy, we tend to be relatively satisfied with our life. But then, to feel even
better, we may concentrate on doing something more. For
example, we may try to widen our circle of relationships or
widen our range of achievement, often both. When we are
happy our life tends to expand; when we are unhappy our life tends to contract.
As soon as you become unhappy with your teenager, you
tend to stop doing things with him and start doing things to him, things that I will soon describe as the seven deadly habits. As long as you were happy with your teenager, you did more things with him and encouraged him to do more things for himself. The happier you both are, the more you do with each other. I'm not saying that you have to do the same kind of things with a teenager that you did with him as a preteen but it helps to talk, listen, and share on a different level with this more mature person. Even if you don't do more with him, it seems as if it's
more because you feel comfortable when you're with him.
The goal of this book is to help you to change your behavior. This is not a haphazard process. You accomplish it by learning choice theory, the theory of getting along well with people and using it to replace what I call the theory of external control psychology, which is the theory that most of you have been using in your life and that leads you to do things to people that
harm your relationships with them. It is the theory that unsuccessful parents use with their teenagers and that has led them to their present unhappiness.