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How to Trust Your Teen: An Interview with Psychologist Charlyne Gelt Ph.D

 Psychologist Charlyne Gelt Ph.D. wants parents to understand the difference between control and trust in your relationship with your teen and has some tips about what can be done to create a mutual, trusting relationship.

WT: What do you think makes parents controlling in their parenting style?

CG: There are many issues that affect how we parent, especially in this area,†says clinical psychologist Gelt, who also holds an MFT, “If, for example, when the parent was a teenager s/he did not have a mutual, trusting relationship with their parents, controlling patterns they were subjected to are likely to raise their feared, loathsome head again with their teens. When parental needs are left unmet, the parent often uses the child to get those unmet needs met. This means the child’s normal developing needs are again left abandoned. The pattern gets repeated over generations. It breeds inappropriate entitlement, or discouragement and anger. The teen gets the message that his/her value is only as an extension of the parent.

Teens live within a family system. That system either teaches belonging, and inclusion or exclusion. Lack of inclusion breeds anger, resentment, and misbehavior. Such outbursts of misbehavior result in further cycling of even greater parental control and lack of trust.

A teen’s primary need is to belong within the family but in today’s world wants and needs often get confused. The focus of attention tends to be on their children’s achievements and the acquisition of material goods rather than the child’s emotional stability. Fewer parents are home tending the emotional needs of their developing child thus making it more difficult to create a healthy family unit to which the teen can belong, resulting in the erosion of parental figures that offer structure, boundaries, and a sense of identity and self-worth.

Busy parents often use technology and material objects to control the teen’s behavior. Getting something for doing something is not the same as a when/then approach that balances freedom with responsibility. Things aren’t appropriate substitutes for belonging. They offer little feedback to the teen’s value within the family.

Without that sense of belonging, the emotionally hungry child becomes a teen needing immediate gratification junkie that develops into a pseudo-mature adult without a sense of identity. The divine, true self is drowned in a “sea of things,” led astray by the pied piper god of material goods.

WT: What type of impact can a controlling parent have on their relationship with their teen?

CG: Fighting for control of the relationship between parent and child specifically and the family dynamic in general, leaves everyone a looser; arguments are based on hurt and a sense of inadequacy. It is an ineffective role model that reinforces helplessness, violence, and even bullying. These are top dog, under dog relationships that lead teens to act-in or act-out behaviors: discouragement, withdrawal, and lack of real communication, or resentment, angry outbursts, drugs, and even addictions. Mutual respect, reciprocity, and cooperation, not competition, gives the teen the emotional attention he/she needs.

WT: What can a parent to develop a mutually trusting relationship with their teen?

CG: Love may be given unconditionally but children and teens need to earn trust. Teach the teen through parental example; how to manifest his/her own potential: let them see how hard you work to achieve your goals; spend focused time with them and help them do the same. Spend time helping them and validate their own sense of self worth. “You must be proud of yourself†sends a clear message of encouragement that builds self-esteem, and earns trust within the family. “I am proud of you,” sends a silent controlling tone because the teen learns he/she must meet parental expectations to be loved. Love then is conditional. They feel judged for what they do and what they achieved, rather than who they are. “You must be proud of yourself” lights a loving fire for respect, trust, and belonging.

Charlyne Gelt Ph.D, (PSY22909) MFT received her doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the Pacifica Graduate Institute in California. She is in private practice in Encino.

For more information on Dr. Gelt: www.drgelt.com

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