Q: My son is 17 and has been dating a girl from school for the last year. She is very negative and not a very good influence on him. If I say anything, he gets very defensive and tells us that he loves her and that is all that matters. I don’t want to push him away, but I would like for him to find someone more encouraging. I could use some advice.
A: This is a tough dilemma for many parents. Our heart goes out to you!
It’s obvious that your concern is for your son’s well-being. You love him and you want what is best for him. But is this the message he hears when the subject of his girlfriend comes up? Or does he feel like you’re simply attacking her—and by extension, him and his choices? It’s true that many teens become combative despite their parents’ best efforts to broach a controversial subject peacefully. But to the extent you’re able, make sure he knows that your concerns are motivated by your love for him, and not out of a desire to control his life.
Dr. Greg Smalley, and his father, Dr. Gary Smalley, surveyed 5,000 parents about what they considered to be “fair fighting” between parents and teens. Here are the top 10 answers that emerged from their survey:
- Listen for understanding.
- Avoid yelling, verbal threats, or abuse.
- Maintain an honouring, respectful, and loving atmosphere.
- No name-calling.
- Use open communication.
- Don’t bring in past “garbage.”
- Keep the focus off the person’s character.
- No violence.
- Avoid accusatory language (e.g., “You never … You always …”).
- Make sure only one person talks at a time.
That’s a pretty good list. You might want to write it down, and the next time this issue arises, make sure that you, your husband, and your son all abide by these rules. Remember, too, that your son, like most men, desires respect (which is not the same as agreement) as he assumes more maturity and independence. He’ll be more likely to listen if he has the assurance that you respect him, and that you are clearly hearing—and understanding—what he’s saying.
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