In our rapidly changing world, the idea of control has begun to change quicker than anyone can imagine. A metamorphosis of unparalleled proportion is taking place and many parents feel that they are unequipped to deal with the challenges that it will demand.
Not too long ago, parents could maintain a fair amount of control by limiting their children’s access to the outside world. For example, when I was young, a teenager had to watch TV or go to a movie theater to see the latest show. However, with the advent of home videos, teens could choose their own movies and watch them when their parents were out or asleep. Then the Internet came along. For the first time, children of all ages could choose anything they wanted to see or hear. Some parents chose to fight back by purchasing Internet blockers that filtered out inappropriate content. But what happened when their child was visiting someone else’s home and wasn’t being supervised?
The story doesn’t end there. Suppose parents can control what their children watch at home and with whom and where they play until they’re adults. Until recently, that might have worked. But now with the latest wireless technology that enables rapid transfer of sound, pictures, and movies, the power of control has been taken away from parents and given to teenagers who can watch whatever they want, wherever they want. As communications become faster and more portable, parents can find themselves losing more and more control every day.
Parents wanting control will have to change their strategy. In order to maintain equilibrium (and their sanity), parents need to shift into a new mode – a mode beyond the traditional understanding of control and enter the world of Relationship Theory.
The second C of Relationship Theory reminds us that in order to have more emotional impact, parents need to moderate the way they control their teenagers. This necessitates a shift from using direct control to influencing behavior through indirect control.
Direct control, or what Dr. William Glasser in Unhappy Teenagers: A Way For Parents And Teachers To Reach Them, calls “external control,” is an attempt by parents to impose their will. For example, if a child refuses to do homework, a parent who uses direct control will say, “If you don’t do your homework, you will not go out with friends, receive an allowance or be allowed any more treats on Shabbos.” Direct control is a powerful mechanism used by parents to get what they want regardless of the emotional effects of their actions.
Indirect control, or influence, however, can be achieved by parents looking into why their teenager isn’t doing homework and trying to address the cause and not merely the symptom. It’s all about addressing inner needs and being less focused on a teenager’s accomplishments.
As Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D, explains in his book Successful Relationships At Home At Work And With Friends: Bringing Control Issues Under Control, “Everyone may have the need to wield control, and there are many relationships which may indeed require control. Exceeding an acceptable amount of control invites trouble.”
Parents who aim to wield too much direct control are often viewed by their teenager in a negative light. Most teenagers would say that a controlling parent is manipulative, destructive and unable to relate to them in a meaningful way.
People, including teenagers, suffering from a controlling relationship are likely to hold one or more of the following illusions:
- They are stuck with another person’s definition of them.
- They do not have the right to their own opinions.
- They can earn love and acceptance by abdicating control to another person.
- They are “successful” if they fulfill another person’s vision, even when it does not in any way support their own.
- They must obtain permission to act in matters that are, in fact, their own business.
Controllers struggle to shape the lives of others and often destroy the relationships that they want most to preserve. They usually don’t realize the senselessness of their own behavior.
Most parents don’t believe that they are controlling. This is because they are used to wielding a considerable amount of control over what their children do, so it seems normal. Control to that degree was appropriate from birth to around age nine or ten, when children need healthy borders and to be pointed in the right direction. But troubled teens need something different. They feel that they have grown beyond their parent’s control and that their controlling parents are living in the past.
When direct control is released, parents may experience a different kind of relationship – one that seemed to have been lost a long time ago. Some parents even report that giving up direct control was like giving birth to their child for a second time. When you give up control, you are actually giving life to a more mature and meaningful relationship.