Teenagers have got knowing how to push their parents’ buttons down to a fine art. When all is said and done, a manipulative teen is just an older version of a manipulative toddler. The only real difference is that as a toddler he/she wasn’t conscious of what it was they were doing, whereas as a teenager, they are in full recognition of the tools in their armory.
As toddlers, youngsters come up with ingenious ways of getting their own way. It’s a wholly natural process, and they aren’t even aware they’re doing it. Be that as it may, it quickly wears down a parent’s reserves to where they just cave in. Of course, as the child gets older, an awareness begins to form, and those “natural” actions turn into real, conscious, manipulative strategies.
It’s your teen’s job to try and manipulate
As annoying as it is to you as a parent or guardian, when your child or teen finds ingenious ways of getting what he or she wants, it is no more than a way for that youngster to try and exert some influence in the adult run world. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you have to concede. However, it is important to understand that this is a usual and appropriate development.
No child or young teen has adult power, at least not yet. It means that most youngsters are not able to make major decisions. Their drive, initiative, and ambition are very useful forces that any teen will need in later life. So, they mustn’t be blunted. The key is to get them to use their decisions making processes in a balanced way with self-restraint while respecting boundaries.
Another way of looking at it is that it is your kid’s job to actually make demands and try and get them accepted one way or another. Your job, however, is not to let it get under your skin, and not to give in to it either. You have to approach the challenge in the right way, and this is where learning to outmaneuver is essential when dealing with a manipulative teen.
Manipulation versus manoeuvring
Manipulation is a term that often has negative connotations. In the context of this article, those connotations relate to trying to make someone do something they would rather not do. Maneuvering, on the other hand, is more of a management tool that is used to avoid unpleasant situations and change a teen’s perspective on looking at certain things.
Manipulation is much more of a blunt tool, whereas maneuvering is much more subtle.
The phenomenon of gaslighting
Manipulative teens are not a new phenomenon. It is a problem as old as the hills, and many books have been written about it. One author, in particular, Stephanie Sarkis, wrote a book that included a section on emotional manipulation, aimed at what she called gaslighting parents. It is well worth a read.
In this book, Stephanie explains how parents should go about handling emotionally manipulative teens. She also extended it, however, to partners and ex-partners. In addition, she also outlined her strategies for preparing teens to be able to deal with other emotionally manipulative people that they may come across in their own, adult lives.
We shall borrow Stephanie’s expression “gaslighters” for our own purposes here in this article. The fact of the matter is that so-called gaslighters are usually extremely charismatic people. They use flattery and tell you how clever you are. They then move on to trying to isolate you from your peers by telling you not to trust them and that you could be unsafe without the gaslighter being around to look out for you.
You have a duty towards your teen
Under normal circumstances, the right thing to do when you come across manipulative people like this is to avoid them. Sever any connections with them, including blocking their emails, phone calls, and any comments made on social media. But when the gaslighter is your teen, you cannot, of course, do that, and this is where you need to become an expert in maneuvering.
Maneuvering your teen or your kid is about indicating that the youngster has made a bad decision. But more than that, you have to demonstrate why it is so. Generally speaking, there is one reason, in particular, that can bring about poor decision-making, and it is something that is known as the framing effect or the framing bias.
Bringing new options into the scenario
In this instance, framing is not about setting someone up to look as though they’re guilty. The framing effect or bias that we are referring to in this article relates to the fact that people can make widely different decisions based on how given choices are framed. This is an essential and fundamental part of learning to maneuver your teen into making right decisions.
Research has shown us that when contemplating a decision, only one-third of teens think about the options. They usually only consider one. Now to you as a parent, that may sound somewhat surprising, but when you stop and think about it, teens typically have a one-track approach. But as you know, as an intuitive parent, how can you possibly arrive at a decision having considered only one option?
Developing the brain’s decision-making cortex
The sort of things that teens will ask themselves include, should I go to the party, and should I hang about with that particular person, etc. The manipulation that then takes place to try and get you to agree is based on a very confined view.
The fact of the matter is that the adult human brain normally resists making decisions until all of the options have been considered. In a teen, however, the decision-making portion of the brain has not yet been fully developed. This means that they can have difficulty in seeing that there are actually more possibilities.
Developing your teen’s mental strength
Your job as a parent is to use the framing bias to influence your teen’s decision-making – to maneuver them and make them aware of the available options in order to arrive at the correct decision. The criteria can be framed in terms of losses versus gains, risks versus rewards, desires versus fears, et cetera. You will, in effect, be helping to develop the mental strength of your teen.
By giving your teenage son or daughter more options to consider, you are potentially canceling out their need to manipulate you by taking these appropriate maneuvers and waiting for them to arrive at the right decision in their own time. You are, in practicality, allowing them to make the right choice themselves, thereby avoidong with the “not invented here” syndrome.
Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of talkingtoteens.com, ghostwriter at WriteItGreat.com, and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.