Q: Our 17-year-old daughter is an honor student who has been accepted to three colleges. She has not been a risk taker, except with boys. Her most recent boyfriend is a wonderful kid, but they both resent our rule that a parent must be home when either of them is visiting at the other one’s home. They’ve reluctantly gone along with it, but we found out that they’ve been texting about sneaking out in cars to be alone. What should we do?
A: Your question makes it clear to me that the two of you have fallen into the trap of micromanagement. Your daughter is a senior in high school, an honor student, and a generally sensible person whose only “crime” is wanting to be alone with her boyfriend. Her request sounds reasonable to me.
Micromanagement is the attempt to control someone who either cannot be controlled or has demonstrated the ability to exercise reasonably good self-control. For micromanagement to work, both of those conditions must be false. If either one is true, then micromanagement will not work, and the anxiety-driven attempt to make it work will create a wagonload of problems.
There will be times in a child’s life when micromanagement is both feasible and necessary—during infancy and toddlerhood, for example. But as a child matures, the need for micromanagement decreases.
Some people argue that some teens, because they’ve demonstrated a serious inability to make good decisions, need to be micromanaged. However, the very teen who needs it won’t submit to it, and the teen who doesn’t need it won’t submit to it either. Therefore, micromanagement does not work with teens. Period.
Your daughter has obviously demonstrated the ability to exercise reasonably good self-control. Thus, your attempt to control her is going to cause lots of problems and solve none. In fact, the attempt is likely to result in the very problems you’re trying to prevent. With the best of intentions, you’ve become your own, and her, worst enemies.
Invariably, micromanagement results in four problems: deceit, conflict, communication problems, and disloyalty. You’ve discovered that your daughter is on the edge of trying to deceive you. One down, three to go. You and she are having conflict concerning your rules. Two down, two to go. Deceit and conflict go hand-in-hand with communication problems. Three down, one to go. From here, it’s a short step to disloyalty—the possibility that your daughter will reject the values that you’ve worked for more than 17 years to instill in her. That’s all four down. Is the price worth it?
I strongly encourage you to say something like this to your daughter: “We admit we’ve made a mistake. We’ve been acting like you can’t be trusted when, in fact, you’ve given us no reason to believe that’s the case. We’ve made our values and expectations perfectly clear to you. You’re a smart person. You understand the consequences of violating them. Therefore, we trust you to do the right thing where this boy is concerned. From now on, we’re going to stop trying to control your relationship with him. We’re convinced you’re capable of controlling it yourself. We love you!”
Does this approach guarantee that no problems will develop? No. No one can guarantee that. But these two young people are far more likely to do what you don’t want them to do if you keep doing what you’ve been doing. So, the solution is quite simple: Stop!
Family psychologist John Rosemond is the director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, North Carolina. For information about his talks and workshops, contact Tracy Owens-Jahn at firstname.lastname@example.org or (817) 295-1751.