JACKSON HOLE NEWS AND GUIDE:
Imagine the relationship you have with your child or teen as if the two of you are attached together by a rubber band. Using Vicki Hoefle’s rubber band analogy, you can see that there is no stretch in that rubber band when you are raising an infant. You keep your baby close and make all the decisions for them. Then, as your baby grows into a toddler, you allow that rubber band to stretch just a bit so your child can go out and explore, but you have your hand held tightly around that band so you can yank it in at a moment’s notice if needed to keep your child safe.
In the middle years you allow an ebb and flow in the rubber band as your child gains more skills and you gain more confidence. There is a bit more ease in the relationship and for the most part you trust your child to listen to your guidance and make good decisions, so you allow the rubber band to stretch.
And then puberty hits and children change. Their brains, hormones, bodies and attitude change, and they begin to individuate from us in a way that we are not prepared for. They want more freedom, are wired to take more risks, want to make their own decisions, often prefer their friends over us, are exposed to more in the adult world and may react to us in less than desirable ways. And because we are not prepared and the risks seem so high, we get scared. So what do we do? We yank on that rubber band hard, pull it in tight and treat our kids as if they are toddlers again watching over their every move.
And here is where there is choice. We can communicate openly with our tweens and teens, co-create reasonable boundaries and hold them accountable, tame some of our fears, and begin to trust: we allow the rubber band to stretch. We can learn to stand in this ebb and flow with our teens and get comfortable. If we allow our teens the space, they will return on their own. We stand steady and they will return because we are not grabbing hold.
Or, fueled by our fear, we can yank and yank and yank on the rubber band, and try to keep them close. Our relationship will then become a tug of war with our teens who want to move toward the adult world and discover their own path. And as much as this is hard for us, they want to do it without our constant presence. Here’s the thing: if we hold that rubber band too tight, they may pull so hard in the other direction until the rubber band snaps completely.
Children are born with an innate desire to individuate from us – to become their own people – from the moment they first roll over in the crib. When they learn to walk, we let them fall down and delight in their new found abilities and determination. When they learn to drive or start going to parties we get nervous.
I can hear you say, “the dangers of teenage risky behavior have much higher consequences than a toddler falling two feet to the ground”, and I completely understand the truth to this. The consequences of crashing a two ton vehicle can be massive so of course we need to teach them well, while giving freedom within reasonable limits. If we don’t hold on to the rubber band at all, we lose valuable opportunities for our kids to learn how to self-manage, take responsibility and live a healthy balanced life.
What if we allow the rubber band to stretch within limits and in an age appropriate way; give our kids sufficient responsibilities; trust them to do things on their own; teach them the skills they need and allow them to pick themselves up after they’ve made mistakes; have open conversations with them about all that life can throw their way and listen to their opinions and allow them a say? Then it is highly likely that we have prepared them to handle a fair amount of slack in the rubber band.
I am not saying that you don’t have limits. And I understand that a teen’s brain is not fully developed until their mid 20’s. But as they mature and show they can make good decisions, these limits change. It is freedom with responsibility. And because you have given them this freedom, trust, and sense that they are capable, they will come back to you.
If you have a teen or tween in a rebellious stage, while not always fun or easy, know that this is quite normal development. Remember, they are trying to separate from the very people to whom they were once closely attached and on whom they depended for their very survival. It is not an easy process. What they really want is freedom, autonomy and your trust to make their own decisions. If they don’t feel that they are given this in a democratic way, they will fight, and this is where the rude behavior and power struggles appear.
In my next column I will discuss some specific ways you can work through and perhaps ease teen rebellion. In the meantime, consider how far you have allowed the rubber band to stretch between you and your teen. Is it tight because you are both yanking on either end? About to snap because the tension is too much? Or is there a give and take that you can stand in even if it feels uncomfortable at times? What skills do you need to teach, or conversations do you need to have, in order to allow some stretch?
Raising a teenager in today’s world can be scary at times. It can be hard to know what is the appropriate boundary for your child and how to maintain a close relationship while also allowing for separation. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Talk to family and friends. A quick internet search on “teen rebellion” will lead you to some good resources. And I am always here to answer questions or talk this through if needed. Stay tuned for my next column on July 13 for more on how to work through the stages of teen rebellion.
Rachel Wigglesworth has an M.Ed. in Parent and Family Education and is excited to explore the world of raising children with you!