Community Voices

Beyond the Classroom: How to create a less combative environment with your adolescents

Mother-daughter bonds are known for being fraught with tension, and experts say these conflicts are beginning earlier than ever — as young as 10 — because girls are starting to go through puberty at younger ages and are being exposed to greater social pressures and the influence of hyper-connected social media. Moms may also be going through hormonal shifts of their own.

At the root of the tension: The mom often sees her daughter as an extension of herself, while the daughter is trying to develop a sense of self and become independent.

According to therapists, mothers want to protect their girls from the mistakes they themselves made, and they want them to have opportunities they never had. Additionally, they want their daughters to like them, and be like them. But during adolescence, teens see themselves as individuals and want little to none of this vicarious mumbo jumbo. The protection offered is perceived as controlling.

Adolescents are like a multi-stage rocket. It launches as a whole — the capsule, the cargo and all the engines. After its jettison, one by one, the engines separate and fall away until there is nothing left but the capsule and cargo. Inside that capsule is the love and knowledge instilled by the parent. At the helm — heading out to space —is the individuality of the astronaut.

To create a less combative environment, experts suggest that moms:

▪ Be self-aware and not push their agenda onto their child.

▪ Reframe arguments instead of allowing the situation to escalate. Negotiate together.

▪ Allow the daughter to share her feelings instead of simply telling her what to do/what not to do.

▪ Be responsible for understanding the feelings that are being triggered and for not reacting negatively.

▪ Should offer five compliments to their daughter to counterbalance every one critique

Worldview and misperceptions

A number of studies show that parents can conjure up misperceptions of their own kids. In the Psychology Today article, “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” Nick Friedman says that many parents think their kids are going to be future baseball All-Stars, Hollywood legends or Nobel Prize winners. Is it their fault, or is misperception a natural parenting phenomenon? Does this build self esteem, or foster an acute case of denial?

Experts say that parents see their children and their children’s futures as they want to see them. The origins of this practice often lurk in the mirror — humans are egocentric creatures. While some individuals are more empathetic than others, as a whole, we maintain our own worldview. In most cases, that view is skewed toward ourselves. After all, who do we know best?

It is human nature to believe that we are special, that we have special traits and characteristics. But we end up making assumptions and judgments about others based on those beliefs, especially our children.

Psychologist Judith Harris, author of “The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do,” says “the self-serving bias gives people an exaggerated sense of their own uniqueness.” In one aspect, these positive illusions promote optimism and give us more of a sense of control over our future. And parents extend these positive illusions on to their children. I’m special, you’re special!

If the kids turn out well, they attribute the outcome to something they think is unusual about their child-rearing methods, when in reality, it’s nothing different from the families down the block.

Biology

Are our kids as smart and good looking as we think they are? Probably not.

But biology plays a powerful role in parental bias. We are compelled, from an evolutionary perspective, to reproduce so that we pass our genetic line to future generations and avoid extinction. Our offspring represents our biological investment and our behaviors are driven to protect that investment.

Below are five common parental misperceptions:

▪ 1. My child is a chip off the old block: A misperception about child development and the limited amount of control parents have over that process. In reality, a child’s home environment is only one of several factors that influence whom he or she will become. It is incorrect to presume a child will become the parent’s clone. But, as is human nature, parents notice the matches between their kids and themselves more than the mismatches.

Real life chips and blocks occur because parents do exert some influence on their children. They do pass on certain psychological and physical characteristics. And environmentally, they can provide children with influential training and experience.

▪ 2: My child is gifted: Evolutionary psychologist Jennifer Hahn-Holbrook says one of the reasons there is a high rate of helicopter parents is linked to the fact that we have fewer children. From an evolutionary standpoint, having fewer eggs in the family basket can lead parents to be more vigilant to ensure their survival.

Also, many of today’s parents raise their children without the guidance they once received from elders. They also have less experience observing other children’s and parents’ behavior. So they can end up drawing conclusions about their kids based on a very limited sample base.

▪ 3: My oldest is a slacker: Because they have higher expectations for the oldest to excel and set an example, parents may see their oldest child as a slacker. In reality, on average, oldest children tend to outperform younger siblings academically.

When asked about the consequences of bringing home a report card with lower grades, parents said they would come down harder on their oldest child and supervise him or her more closely than they would the others.

This apparent first-born bias and trickle down discipline sends a message to younger siblings that their parents are in charge and that there will be consequences for academic slacking. The way parents choose to discipline their children depends on their own priorities, but studies find that kids are treated differently depending on their position in the family birth order.

▪ 4. My child’s weight is healthy: There is a common misperception about what overweight means.

More than half of all parents of overweight or obese children underestimated their child’s weight, especially parents of toddlers and preschoolers. This is especially concerning because overweight children in that age group are five times as likely to be overweight at age 12.

The media may be partly to blame for the misperception. Parents do not have an realistic idea of what a healthy weight looks like, and it is common for childhood obesity media reports to focus on extreme cases.

There may be an added layer to the misperception — parental denial. Parents of overweight children do not want their child labeled or stigmatized and parents themselves may want to avoid the negative feedback they perceive for allowing it to happen.

▪ 5. My child couldn’t be a bully: Studies have shown that parents fail to recognize both when their children are being bullied and when they’re acting as bullies. Social psychologist Debra Pepler says this is due in part to the fact that children rarely tell their parents either that they bully or are being victimized.

Bullying is another issue that may be exacerbated by the modern state of parenting without a support system. Parents may see their children through rose colored glasses or simply deny problems.

Sweat the small stuff

Lifehack writer Erin Kurt says that kids remember and cherish the small things their parents did.

Many moms today feel as if they are not good mothers unless they are racing around, shuttling their children from activity to activity. Similarly, children today are involved in so many activities they are losing touch with themselves and their families.

Kurt compiled a list of things that kids around the world remembered and loved most about their parents.

1. Come into my bedroom at night, tuck me in and sing me a song. Also tell me stories about when you were little.

2. Give me hugs and kisses and sit and talk with me privately.

3. Spend quality time just with me, not with my brothers and sisters around.

4. Give me nutritious food so I can grow up healthy.

5. At dinner talk about what we could do together on the weekend.

6. At night talk to me about about anything; love, school, family etc.

7. Let me play outside a lot.

8. Cuddle under a blanket and watch our favorite TV show together.

9. Discipline me. It makes me feel like you care.

10. Leave special messages in my desk or lunch bag.

Laurie Futterman ARNP is a former Heart Transplant Coordinator at Jackson Memorial Medical Center. She now chairs the science department and teaches gifted middle school science at David Lawrence Jr. K-8 Center. She has three children and lives in North Miami.

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