Parenting Teens: What To Do When You’ve Made Big Mistakes

by Yafa Crane Luria

Manny writes: I’ve blown it. I know I haven’t done my best as a parent. Now what?

First of all, congratulations on owning up to your mistakes! Already that makes you a winner! I’m not sure how you know you’ve “blown it” but let’s go with two possibilities:

1) Your teen is getting into trouble or is unhappy, or
2) You are aware that you’ve made some unhealthy choices and you want to remedy that.

Let’s start with the first case. Please keep in mind that kids do make their own decisions quite often! Especially with teens, those decisions are the result of being ill prepared to handle a particular scenario. So your job, whether or not you deem this to be “your fault,” is to start over.

Your teens may not be able to handle added responsibility yet

This happens quite often with parents I meet. We assume that when children hit their teens they should be able to handle more freedom and more responsibility. This is often not the case at all. Despite what they might be telling you about being “almost an adult” they are, in some ways, much closer to childhood than adulthood.

So when we’ve given them too much freedom or too much responsibility (you’ll know by the increase in rather “UN-adult” behavior or the decrease in agreeable family moments), it’s time to rein them in.

My mother often quoted Robert Frost who wrote, “Freedom is riding easy in the reins.” I love that quote. The idea is that people need structure in order to know true freedom. All children need rules to make sense of their world. And in understanding their world, there is freedom.

The answer, then, has two parts:
1) create new structures for your family; and 2) communicate them effectively to your kids.
More about that in a second…

On to the second possibility: If you have made some unhealthy choices regarding your own life and this has affected your parenting, you’re in luck! You, too, can start again. In fact, the skill set that it takes to admit your mistakes—willingness, honesty, self-reflection, and humility—are precisely the skills you need to cultivate to be a truly great parent! So you’re on your way!

The Heartfelt Apology

I believe in The Heartfelt Apology (and it scores big points with teens, who are all about integrity).

Here’s my version:
I want to apologize to you. I haven’t been the parent that you deserve. I’ve been afraid that you wouldn’t like me so I’ve made decisions that really aren’t the best for our family. I want you to know that it is my intention to change my behavior and to be a parent you can trust. That means there will be changes in our family. We will have healthier interactions so that you can become the kind of person that you can be proud of. I hope that you will forgive me but if you don’t I’m OK with that. I love you very much and I always will.

The health of your family is paramount to you

That’s the basic version; you can adapt it to your situation. What’s important is that you convey that your decisions from now on will be based on what’s best for the health of the family and for your kids’ futures.

Will there be resistance? Absolutely! (Well, probably). And it will come from you as well as from your family. Your family is a system that has been functioning smoothly (even in dysfunction) for quite some time. You all know how to dance around everyone else’s “stuff.” Now that you’re overlaying a new system, there will be rough patches. The key is not to waver. You are on a Hero’s Journey. Remember, you are saving the life of your family.

It’s odd to think that something you could do would motivate your teens, but it can! What do you think – what do you wish you could apologize for? Just scroll down and share your thoughts in the comments section. I love, love, love hearing from you.

xo, Yafa

Copyright 2016 Yafa Luria/Margit Crane All Rights Reserved

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