Tuesday, May 1, 2012

We Get It: Determined Teens

Are you like me? I am the mother of a very determined and inquisitive 13 year old. Some have described her as head strong, stubborn, and disobedient. I have been given lots of advice on how to “deal” with her. I have been told that I should “make her obey” or I should “show her who is boss.” Even the less direct advice has been some variant on the theme.  Well meaning people have given me the advice that I should force her to obey, crush her spirit,  bend her to my will to mold her into a docile and well behaved young lady, or to somehow force her to be less than who she is. I confess, at times, I second guessed myself. I wondered if I were doing enough for her. But whenever doubts are raised, she does something remarkable to remind me that she was wonderfully made just the way God intended her to be.

My daughter is very determined. While it can be challenge to manage this as a parent, I have found that determination is a helpful coping skill.  She tries and tries and tries again to do what she is passionate about. She lets failure roll off her back like water off a duck. With every disappointment, I think, “Is this the one? Will this be the time she throws in the towel? Will this be the one that stops her from putting herself out there?" But each time, she dusted herself off and tried again. Thank God, I never crushed that determined child. Thank God, I never taught her to accept the final word, or blindly obey.  At 13, she has more backbone than I could ever have, and that will take her far in life.

My daughter is very inquisitive. She asks tons of questions. This can be especially difficult to deal with when she questions something I have instructed her to do. If I ask her to clean her room, and she asks me ,“Why?” or “Does it have to be right now?”,  it can feel like disrespect.  My daughter has taught me that questions aren’t always bad. A little negotiating may even be okay. 
One evening we had a discussion about room cleaning. It went something like this…
“Why can’t you help me clean my room?”
“Because I have the rest of the house to clean, and laundry to do and dinner to make.”
“If I helped you do all those things, you could get them done faster.”
“Yes, I could.”
“And if you helped me, I could get it done faster.”
“Yes, you could.”
“So let’s help each other.”
The result was a lovely afternoon spent with my daughter. We worked together, laughed together, and talked about school and boys. By the end of the day, the house was clean, the laundry was done and dinner was made, and I spent the afternoon with my child.

Having a child who doesn't automatically follow directions can seem challenging, but it shows that she has her own thoughts and feelings about matters. It means that she is not easily persuaded and not easily pushed around.
Last year, she told me of a boy who was being picked on at school. One of the people picking on the boy was a friend of hers.
“What did you do?” I asked
“I told her to back off!” She said, “I told her that if I ever heard her picking on that boy again that I wasn’t going to speak to her anymore.”
In the words of Albus Dumbledore, “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends.”
My strong willed child will be less likely to bend to peer pressure. She will be less likely to lose her inner voice in an attempt to impress others. She will be less likely to allow herself to be mistreated by a romantic partner. She will approach life with passion and zeal.

Do you have a strong willed child? Here is my advice.
  • Be mindful of why you want your child to follow your directions and obey. Are you trying to impress others? Are you afraid it will reflect poorly on you? Try to let go of all that to see the bigger picture.

  • Avoid power struggles. You will both just end up tired and exhausted and unhappy. If your child is young, try to rely more on routine. If a child knows what to expect, there will be less conflict. Anything new will probably be met with resistance.
  • Don’t make your child work for your approval. Avoid commentary on what they do, positive or negative. Their triumphs can’t earn your love, any more than their failings will lose your love. Don’t make them feel that it is the case by over doing it with praise or criticism. Allow them to be self motivated and make sure they know that you love them regardless. (some might disagree with me on this, but your attention and unconditional love will build your child up much more than empty praise ever could.)
  • When something is not negotiable, take the time to explain your reasoning. Try to be patient when they ask why.  Avoid phrases like, “Because I said so” or “That is just the way it is.” Imagine yourself in their place. If your spouse was asking you to do something, how would you like to be asked? If you had questions, how would you like them to be answered? How do you expect to be spoken to by someone who loves you? Are you speaking to your child that way?
  • Remember, your child is a person too. They will have their own feelings about things; they will have their own reactions, fears, frustrations, and even their own plans.  Respect their feelings.  Don’t ever try to squash them. 
Thank you for joining this week's We Get It: Support for Difficult Childhood Behavior. Every Tuesday in the We Get It series you will read about a challenging behavior and find advice on how best to handle that behavior.

Up coming topics 

May 1st -Determined Children @ Sense of Wonder

May 8th - Night Terrors
May 15th - Self Centered
May 22nd - Perfectionism
May 29th - Jealousy
June 5th -Strong Willed
June 12th - Clingy
June 19th - Anxiety
June 26th - Toy Gun Play
July10th - Temper Tantrums
July 17th - Anger

Contributors to the Series

Host: The Golden Gleam 
Mama Smiles;  Hands on as We GrowCreative with KidsNo Time for Flashcards ; Glittering MuffinsAngeliqueFelix.comMommy LabsAwesomely Awake ; Sense of WonderJDaniel4sMom The Educators' Spin on ItSmiling Like Sunshine ; Kitchen Counter ChroniclesChildhood Beckons


  1. Excellent post! Well said! I plan to pass it on! Thanks!

  2. love this - i have a three year old but this really applied to us - i let him develop independence very early (I'm a kindergarten teacher) and at times, i question this. he is passionate about everything (true to the age) but very smart and i adore this about him. i can see this post applying for years!

  3. It is interesting that what some see has a bad thing of deficit, others can see as strengths or an asset. I am the mother of three grown daughters, and 6 grandchildren (and counting). I have also worked with youth and families for over 30 years. My daughters were taught to be strong and determined, to ask questions, to speak your mind (when appropriate)respectfully, and to defend those who cannot defend themselves. My middle daughter backed 2 of the BMOC's of her class, into a corner, telling them to stop picking on a younger boy, who was a member of our church's youth group, and had some learning issues. Tiffany had witnessed the incident and proceeded to tell them what she thought. Both boys went and apologized. A teacher also witnessed everything. He told me later that he was about to step in, but decided Tiff's reprimand would be much more effective, and it was.

    Today they are a Teacher (Tiff), a Nurse and a Social worker....Still determined, still speaking their minds and still defending the defenseless.

  4. What a wonderful story, thank you for sharing. I think that too often children are taught to stifle their inner voice for the sake of being well behaved. And as parents we shush our own inner voice telling us to honor and respect our children for the sake of appearances. I truly believe that if we want to raise children who respect others we have to model that respect ourselves. We have to model it when we talk to others, about others and when we talk with them. @Malavoy You are right, I think this applies for younger children as well as teens. Thank you so much for your comments!

  5. Great tips for children of any age!

  6. Kristin,
    I'm speechless - I can't believe that every single thought that you've shared - I resonate with loud and clear! What a wonderful article, my dear, written with so much honesty, empathy, clarity and good intention.

    I totally agree with that if we keep crushing their voice, opinion and individuality for want of 'obedience', we are not going to help them be self-motivated, independent and creative. Worse, we would be stealing away their dignity at the cost of OUR own self-respect. The self respect, which is not demanded but is earned.
    Going to share this on my facebok page...
    PS: Love your writing style :-)

    1. Thank you Rashmie! You are right. Any thing that we force on them, we deny them the opportunity to discover it themselves. And we deny them the pride and dignity that comes with that.

  7. Dear Kristin,
    What a beautiful and thoughtful post. It's great to read this about a teenager, tor ead that she knows what she wants in life and that she can take care of that and herself.
    Thank you for sharing, I will spread the word!

  8. What a wonderful post! My daughter is determined. Around her we call her confident. She is so confident that she doesn't care what people say or think. (Even me most of the time.) It can be challenging because she knows what she wants. I learned very early that life is much easier if she has choices (even limited choices). Whenever I start to feel frustrated or wish she would just say yes to my request I remember exactly what you are saying. She has more confidence at 5 than I have ever been able to muster. If I'm lucky a little bit of that confidence might rub off on me!


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