Reasons Why Using Guilt is Not a Good Parenting Strategy

Parents of teens have a difficult job. We are somehow supposed to encourage open communication with a person who rolls their eyes, slams doors, and generally acts like we don’t know anything. It can feel difficult to know what to say or how to say it. In fact, communicating with teens can be so overwhelming, at times, that parents will try just about anything to get their kids to comply with their requests. One favorite go-to for parents? The Guilt Trip.

Unfortunately, using guilt is one of the least effective parenting strategies according to experts. Although guilt trips might work in the short term, it can have long-lasting negative effects on the parent-child relationship and the child’s development, including low self-esteem and anxiety.

Here’s what you need to know about guilt trips, why they are ineffective parenting strategies, and what strategies you can use instead.

What Is Guilt Tripping?

Guilt is a normal feeling that occurs when we have done something wrong, such as cheating on a test or stealing. This type of guilt helps all of us to learn right from wrong and, in the case of teenagers, helps lead them to become healthy adults if they are taught how to take responsibility and make amends for poor behavior.

Guilt-tripping, on the other hand, is a form of manipulation used to change the behavior of someone by causing feelings of guilt or shame. Parents might blame a child or encourage feelings of shame in order to convince the child to do something or to comply with a request. People tend to use guilt trips when they don’t have the skills or language to communicate their own needs, wants or feelings or when they don’t feel like they have control in a situation.

Consequences of Guilt Tripping

There are a number of negative consequences that occur when parents regularly use guilt trips:

  • Child may struggle with low self-esteem or self-confidence or feel like they don’t measure up.
  • Child may be more vulnerable to peer pressure.
  • Child is more likely to engage in unhealthy friendships and dating relationships.
  • Child may learn to use manipulation in their own relationships.
  • Child is more likely to become a people pleaser and/or more prone to take responsibility for things that are not theirs to own.
  • Child may look to others for validation, approval, or to determine whether their actions are good or bad.
  • Guilt erodes trust and creates resentment. Using guilt trips to gain compliance will put a strain on the parent-child relationship.
  • Child might withdraw from the family and are more likely to be emotionally absent in the relationship with his/her parent(s) as an adult.
  • Persistent guilt can worsen anxiety and/or depression.

As parents, we want our teens to become confident and develop into responsible members of our community. Unfortunately, guilt won’t accomplish this goal. There are positive alternatives to guilt-tripping our children, so try the strategies below instead.

Alternatives to Guilt Tripping

Establish good communication skills with children. Use healthy communication with your children. Be honest and respectful. Avoid judgment or criticism. Ask open-ended questions and try to understand your child’s point of view. Listen more than you talk. Parents that use this type of healthy communication style generally have good relationships with their children and do not need to rely on guilt as a parenting strategy.

State expectations clearly. Instead of trying to make our children feel bad for not choosing something we were hoping for, we should just be upfront about our wants and needs. When parents focus on having a healthy dialogue with their children, as described above, and leave guilt out of the equation, they can communicate their desires or expectations without shaming or blaming their child in the process.

Set limits. Teens need realistic rules with clear consequences for not following them – as opposed to not knowing what you want from them or what will happen if they break the rules. Teens get very frustrated when they get into trouble for something they didn’t understand was wrong. You should have house rules that are understood by everyone in the family. Equally important is that you role model the behavior you expect.

Follow Through with Consequences. Once you have established firm rules with consequences, you must enforce them every time an infraction occurs. Consequences must be followed through or the rules lose all meaning and you lose authority. If you are a parent that tends to give in before the punishment is up, try setting up the restriction in a way you can’t break.

Be Consistent. When we are inconsistent in what we say and do, it leads to arguments, broken rules, hurt feelings, lack of trust, and a poor relationship between you and your teen. Family rules are made to ensure the safety and welfare of each family member and the family as a whole. When rules are change often or inconsistently enforced, family members do not get along.

Accept feedback. If you have used guilt trips a lot in the past, it will take a long time to rebuild trust in the relationship with your child. You might need to hear how your guilt trips impacted your teen and how you can improve your relationship in the future.

Make amends. If your child has truly done something wrong, then help them understand how their actions hurt or inconvenienced others and encourage them to make amends in some way without focusing on blame and guilt. This allows teens to take responsibility for their actions without ruining your relationship or breaking their self-confidence.

Final Thoughts…

Guilt trips are really just manipulation. Try to build a healthy relationship with your teen so you don’t need to resort to guilt trips. If your teen’s behavior is especially difficult, and you don’t know how to gain their compliance without using guilt trips, consider seeking professional help, such as a family counselor, who can help you identify health strategies for improving the family’s communication.

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