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6 Ways Your Teen Is Playing You

How to stop the manipulation and rebuild your relationship with your teen.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Teenagers know how to push their parents' buttons. Instinctively, they come with an arsenal of tools to get what they want, avoid getting into trouble, or cause their parents to blow a fuse out of frustration. How do you prepare to parent all of that?

There are smart ways to counteract the manipulation. Here's what the experts have to say about keeping peace in your family, not to mention your own peace of mind.

Understand the Motivation

Family psychologist David Swanson says kids have plenty of reason to manipulate their parents. They do it to garner love and attention, to cover their butts, to get what they want, and to feel powerful. And the main reason they do it is it works.

Swanson, the author of HELP-My Kid is Driving Me Crazy, The 17 Ways Kids Manipulate Their Parents and What You Can Do About It, says it's in a teen's nature to figure out the consequences of their actions and try different things to see what kind of response they get.

And parents, Joshua Klapow, University of Alabama School of Public Health clinical psychologist, says, are often unaware of how their own actions invite behaviors that fuel many teen-parent conflicts.

1. Steamrolling

Perhaps the most common form of manipulation teenagers use is steamrolling. Steamrolling can best be defined as: "Can I? Can I? Can I? Can I? How about now?" It's the never-ending, repeated request that's intended (even if unconsciously) to wear down a parent so the teen can get what she or he wants.

Fight fire with fire, says psychotherapist and mother of two Stacy Kaiser. Kaiser is the author of How to Be a Grown Up: The 10 Secret Skills Everyone Needs to Know. She says parents should think about their bottom line and develop their own "broken record" sentence. If your teen wants to hang out in the mall with friends, for example, but he hasn't yet finished his homework, your mantra is simple: "You must do your homework before you go to the mall."

There's no need for further discussion. Just keep replying with the same sentence and become your own broken record. That makes it much more difficult for your teen to knock you off your feet, Kaiser says.

Swanson also offers the "watch method." Here's the script: "When I give you your answer if you keep asking me, I'm going to let you know that you're steamrolling me. And if you keep going, I'm going to look at my watch. For every minute you continue to do it after I told you you're steamrolling, it's going to be two minutes of earlier bed or video time chipped away."

Once you've explained the ground rules, take a 10 second glance at your watch. Your teen will know you mean business. "That's when the steamrolling stops working against you and starts working against your child," Swanson says.

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