When I meet with families and teens, the form of family that most often seeks family therapy, the issue of Authority arises pretty quickly. It is frequently The Issue when it comes to teenagers and their parents.
As teens grow and develop their nascent emotional self, they need to take on more and more self control, discipline and choice. This conflicts with their parents’ familiar patterns of control, decision making, discipline and tolerance of conflict, the sense of which has been developed in the family through that child’s life. When children become more autonomous, the adults must flex more while maintaining steady goals for the family.
This isn’t easy, and is generally full of conflict. Now add into the mix of many families divorce, step parents and siblings, shared physical custody and chronically changing schedules. The level of conflict and stress can get very high — and everyone begins to act out their frustration and pain.
Unlike much religious and talk show wisdom on the matter, families and teens don’t need more rigid boundaries, more rules and demands, more over-focus on grades and chores and language and privileges. What I work with families to co-create is a new level of parental Leadership. Leadership that is self focused, flexible, sacrificial and cooperative. A family that has high expectations, but can allow a steady measure of teenage development. A parent system that is talking more to each other about how the family is doing and is less critical of their teens who, I know, are always trying to do the best they can.
Dr. Sal Minuchin, an early pioneer of family therapy, describes what we’re after this way:
“I describe family values as responsibility towards others, increase of tolerance, compromise, support, flexibility. And essentially the things I call the silent song of life—the continuous process of mutual accommodation without which life is impossible.”