Communication Expert’s Tip of the Month – January

Conquering Controlling Parents (Part I)
by Professor Joe Martin

As I travel speaking, teaching, and touring from college to college, high school to high school, and city to city, there’s only one question I get asked more than “What’s up with Britney Spears?” and that’s “How can I stop my parents from treating me like a child?”

First of all, I neither have the expertise nor the endurance to adequately explain Britney’s erratic behavior. However, I am quite confident I can shed some light on the prison warden tactics used by many parents.

Although I’m a parent myself, I can understand the pain and struggle teenagers and young adults have with parents they deem as controlling, overprotective, and paranoid. I won’t try to defend their behavior, but I will try to explain it, so you can better understand 1.) why they do it, and 2.) what you can do about it. This month, I’ll just address the WHY behind most parents’ behavior. And next month I’ll teach you how to effectively respond to each one.

Basically, parents who demonstrate an irrational “I don’t want you going there-I don’t want you hanging around them-I don’t want you doing that” behavior, operate from a position of fear. I know, I know, your parents call it “love,” but trust me, that’s only one small part of it.

Unfortunately, most young people can’t relate to their parents’ fears because they don’t fully understand them; because they’ve never been a parent of a teenager or young adult. So allow me to quickly outline the three most common fears shared by parents, so you’ll gain a better understanding of why they do what they do and say what they say:

1. The fear of you having to struggle or make “life” mistakes.

Think about it. Most parents don’t want to see their children make the same mistakes they have. And most parents will go to almost any length to prevent their child from suffering. Of course, this attitude is unrealistic and a source of stress in any parent-child relationship. Just recognize this is a fear almost every parent shares.

2. The fear that you will become dependent on them (or others) in order to survive and be self-supporting.

As much as your parents love you, they DO NOT want you to move back in the house with them after you graduate from college. If they do, they have some deeper issues that may require some intense counseling by a family therapist. Parents want to see you become the responsible adult that will stop costing them money. They will go to any length to insure this.

3. The fear that you will not succeed in life, and they’ll get blamed for it.

I call this the “secret fear,” because most parents won’t ever express it to you. This is probably the most debilitating of all the fears and is usually at the root of most communication breakdowns and conflicts. Almost every parent wants their child to succeed. However, almost every parent is afraid of being called a “bad parent” if their child doesn’t.

This is just a brief overview of the fears. But next month I’ll teach you some strategies on how to diffuse each one of these fears, so you can reduce the “Mama Drama” and “Daddy Dilemmas” in your life.

~ Joe Martin

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