As I mention in many of my articles, being the parent of a teenager can be like walking a fine line at all times. It is a constant balancing act between wanting to protect your teen from bad decisions and harm and wanting them to make their own decisions and live with the consequences of these decisions. Obviously when your children are younger you can control much more of what goes on in their lives. You can better control their environment and they are very open to your making a lot of their decisions for them. This is clearly not the case with teenagers.
In this article, I will review four parenting styles described in the book Love and Logic. The first three are often used by parents of teenagers but are not considered to be the most effective. The last style is considered by many to be the most effective parenting style for parents of teens.
1. Helicopter Parents
If you think about the role of a helicopter it is to hover, watch, protect and rescue. This is what “Helicopter Parents” do with their teenagers. On the surface Helicopter Parents appear to be very involved and supportive of their teenagers, however, what ends up happening is that they do so much for their teenager that their teenagers don’t get to experience real life, worry, pain or consequences because their parents are jumping in and protecting them when difficult situations arise. Helicopter Parents are very afraid of their children failing so they rescue them out of worry, guilt or because they want to be needed by their children.
These parents are genuinely concerned and love their children, however, they prevent their children from becoming responsible because they are always there as a safety net. Parents who continue to drive their teenagers to school when they repeatedly wake up late and miss the bus or who continue to give their teenagers extra money when they overspend their allowance or money from a part time job are considered Helicopter Parents. The teens of these parents never learn what it is like to have to make up for their mistakes or experience discomfort because they made poor decisions. The bigger problem arises when the “helicopter” is no longer in their lives and all of the sudden they are adults who have no concept of what it means to be truly responsible for themselves.
2. Drill Sergeant Parents
If you think about the role of a drill sergeant, it is to give orders and tell others what to do and to punish those who do not follow exact orders. This is what “Drill Sergeant Parents” do with their teenagers. Drill Sergeant Parents believe that the more they discipline and control their teenagers, the better their children will turn out. Teenagers of Drill Sergeant Parents never learn how to make their own decisions because their decisions are made for them in a demanding and sometimes very controlling manner. Punishment is often used for failure to follow expectations which, in teens, does not typically promote thoughtful reflection – it promotes resentment. Teenagers of Drill Sergeant Parents are not taught how to express themselves appropriately (because they are not given a chance) and never really learn about decision making or consequences for poor decisions because their parents control those aspects or their lives.
3. The Laissez-Faire Parent
This is not technically a parenting style, however, it is something I have seen often enough that it was worth mentioning. “Laissez-Faire Parents” are hands off with their teenagers and generally allow their teens to do whatever they wish to do. These are parents who may act like they are best friends with their teenager. This type of parenting can evolve from a parent’s need to feel well liked and loved by their teenager, out of guilt because they are always working or busy with other things, out of frustration and “giving up” or out of necessity due to emotional or substance abuse problems on the part of the parent. Teens are not able to make all their own decisions and not having guidance from parents ongoing can lead to the development of very poor decision making skills and potentially serious or dangerous consequences for these decisions.
4. The Consultant Parent
A normal part of adolescent development is the shift from thinking in a very concrete manner to being able to think abstractly. Because there is significant development going on in the adolescent brain, it is a critical time to help shape behavior patterns and overall brain wiring. This change in thinking is one of the reasons why parents begin to notice that their teenagers start to question or resist things that were never questioned by them before. Consultant Parents ask questions and offer choices to their teenagers whenever possible. The goal is to have teens engage in the decision making process when possible and in a safe manner so that they can learn and build upon decision making skills. Parents who are in a consultant role use “I” statements instead of “You” statements. For example, “I am wondering what you would think would be a reasonable curfew on a school night when there is an exam tomorrow” instead of “You will stay in and study since you are not getting good enough grades”. In addition to using “I” statements, consultants ask a lot of questions (not accusatory questions but rather curious questions) which foster thinking more than lectures will ever do.