Ways to Handle Teen Manipulation

Children can be excellent manipulators, especially with their parents. Some teens use it like a weapon to cover their mistakes or avoid punishment. Others use it to get what they want or gain attention. Manipulation can provide teens with a sense of power.

There are many forms of manipulation, but here are a few of the most common:

Repeated Request. The most frequently used form of manipulation that children of every age employ is wearing their parents down. If they keep asking “Can I? Can I? Can I? Can I? How about now?” many parents will eventually give in. The best response to the repeated request is a repeated answer. Decide what your bottom line is and develop a “broken record” sentence, such as “You must clean your room before you go to the party.” Do not engage in any further discussion, but simply repeat the same sentence every time they repeat their request.

Lying. Teens generally assume that if they don’t tell you the truth, they have a better chance of getting what they want. Omitting key details is the most frequent type of lie from teens. For example, your teen might truthfully tell you he is going to be hanging out at Jane’s house, but “forget” to mention that Jane’s parents won’t be home. When you catch them in a lie, there should be an immediate consequence with the understanding that a repeat offense will have a larger consequence.

Emotional Blackmail. Every parent wants their child to be happy… which is why parents often don’t recognize or don’t know how to fight the “I’ll be sad until I get my way” manipulation. The best way to combat emotional blackmail is to always keep in mind that your ultimate goal is to prepare your teen for the adult world. If you change your perspective from “making my child happy” to “making my child responsible so that they can make themselves happy,” you will be better equipped to handle this manipulation.

Creating Doubt. Teens are very perceptive about what causes their parent’s anxiety, and they will use it against you. For example, perhaps you worry about your child “fitting in” a social circle, then your teen may employ the “I’ll be an outcast if you don’t let me ____!” Parents must become rational observers. Are those statements really true? Ask your child to justify their statements with facts.

Preventing Manipulation

Dealing with manipulative behavior wears on a parent. However, there are ways to improve the situation. Giving your teen less opportunity to manipulate will make both of you feel better and strengthen your relationship.

  • Be consistent. This is arguably the most important tool in a parent’s toolkit and will ultimately decide your success or failure. You must develop firm rules with consequences that will be enforced immediately and every time an infraction occurs. It usually helps to sit down with your teen (they should have input, too) and develop a written document that details rules, boundaries, expectations, and consequences. This written document leaves little room for misunderstanding, substantially reducing your teen’s opportunity for manipulation. Consequences must be followed through or the rules lose all meaning.
  • Communicate openly. Don’t just interrogate your teen. Spend time with your child, learn about their interests, and actively listen to their hopes and disappointments. Creating open communication will strengthen your relationship and encourage more honesty and respect.
  • Be honest. Teens are very good at knowing when you’re being truthful. Create an environment of trust in your home. Recognize that idle threats are “lying” because everyone knows you aren’t going to follow through.
  • Determine the root cause. If there are any specific issues that you think may be causing your teen to act out, try to bring this up in a validating manner when you are both calm. Perhaps your teen simply wants more of your time or attention.
  • Withdraw from emotion. It’s easy to respond in the heat of the moment with something you’ll later regret. Instead, refuse to get engaged in a battle and simply say that you need time to think. It’s a good way to buy yourself time so that you can consider an appropriate response that will make you feel good.

Final Thoughts…

Parents who can feel good about themselves at the end of the day are those that do what they know is right even when it’s hard. They will put their child’s safety first, development for a successful future second, and happiness last. This type of perspective will protect you from falling victim to manipulation.

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