by Susie Duffy, MFT

During those hot days of mid-summer it can seem as if the school year is miles away. Certainly teens are not thinking about school supplies or new clothes just yet. However, parents whose teens struggled during the past school year still have time to use this critical window of opportunity to help their teen prepare for the next year.

Everyone who has ever parented has made mistakes. That is part of the training of becoming a good parent. There is no exact right or wrong way on how to parent but we all follow some guidelines that we have learned along the way to help us be the best parents we can be. There are actually some identifiable parenting traps, that when identified, can help you avoid making some of those mistakes.

Parenting Trap #1: “Wait until your dad comes home” (or mom, whichever parent may be the main disciplinarian). This is a trap for parents because it gives away your power. You set yourself up as not being able to manage a situation with parental authority. It is a double trap in that it is also a threat. If your child doesn’t believe that you have the ability to manage the situation, the situation further deteriorates by the fact there may be some impending consequence that the other parent will bestow upon them.

Solution: If you are not sure what to do at the moment, make a statement that describes the behavior/situation was not o.k. with you. Let your child know you are serious about handling it with him and you will. This buys you some time to either talk to your spouse or figure out for yourself how you want to handle it. You are not threatening a consequence. It is implied that some action will take place.

Parenting Trap #2: Lack of consistency. We all perform better when we know what is expected of us. Children need consistency and guidance from parents. Consistency lets children know what is expected of them and how they can behave accordingly. Children can be master manipulators. Don’t fall into the trap of teaching your child how to manipulate you.

Solution: Be consistent. Say what you mean and follow through. If your child has chores to do that he doesn’t complete, don’t complete it for him. Set consequences for the behavior and be consistent.

Parenting Trap #3: Too much freedom. In this day and age of unlimited technological advantage, parents can easily fall into trap #3. Internet access, cell phones, text messaging, instant messaging are all vehicles that allow children to explore people, relationships and activities with little supervision. Children need guidance, supervision and your involvement in their daily activities. Information is power and the world looks like one gigantic candy store of opportunity.

Solution: Be aware of the websites your child visits. Have parental blocks and controls on your computer that will protect your child from potential predators. Be involved with your child’s activities and friends. Know who they are communicating with.

Parenting Trap #4: Being a friend vs. a parent. Parenting roles have changed over the last few generations and parents are sometimes too invested in their child “liking” them. This is not your role. You are a parent. Children need guidance, structure and accountability. By providing these basics for your child he/she will respond with respect and trust. I have worked with teenagers who are embarrassed by their parent’s needy approval of them. Teenage girls are embarrassed when their mothers try and dress like them or want to hang out with their friends.

Solution: Be the parent. Set appropriate limits and guidelines for your children. Be aware they may get angry at you for setting limits. Be o.k. with the fact that your child may be angry at you. Remember, you also get angry at your child from time to time, that doesn’t me you don’t love him/her.

Parenting Trap #5: Protecting your child from mistakes or emotional pain. Most parent’s basic desire for their child: “I want my child to have more than I did when I was growing up” “I want things to be easier for my child then they were for me” “I don’t want my child to have to experience pain, loss, sadness, failure, etc. . . . . “ These are all noble desires that parents have, but the trap that goes along with it is trying to protect your child from the feelings that inevitably go along with these things. Making mistakes, having to work hard, being disappointed or experiencing a loss are all part of the maturation process. We all need to feel sadness to experience happiness. We need to experience failure to feel successful and we need to feel loss to experience joy.

Solution: Allow your child to make choices, with your guidance, that may ultimately have a less than desirable outcome. Be there to be supportive when he experiences sadness, loss or other difficult emotions.

Parenting Trap #6: Parental Opposition. The most successful parenting happens when both parents are on the same page with each other. This doesn’t mean that you have to agree with everything the other parent does, it means that you will both support each other as parents and not undermine the other parent’s authority. Let your children know that decisions are made together and you will support what the other parent says. This reduces the opportunity for parental manipulation.

Solution: Work together and be supportive of the other parent.

Parenting Trap #7: Lecturing or dominating the conversation. Children and particularly teenagers want to be talked to, not talked at. Make sure you clearly and succinctly make your point to your child but don’t overdo it with a lecture. Lecturing or dominating a conversation with your child is a sure way for your child to turn you off and not listen to anything else you have to say.

Solution: Make your point and be willing to listen to what your child has to say.

Parenting Trap #8: Power struggle. You want to make your point with your child and you want to listen to your child’s concerns, however, if you argue your point or get in a situation where you are defending yourself, you have just engaged in a power struggle, a definite parent trap.

Solution: Find out the main message of your child’s complaint. Talk about his emotions and what is at the bottom of his problem. Be willing to listen to him; don’t engage in arguing or defending your self.

With awareness and insight, parents can identify and avoid falling into the parenting traps that can ultimately make your job as a parent, more difficult.