Do you or your teen have a mistaken identity?

Thursday, 8:07 am
Boulder, CO

“And you know something is happening
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mr. Jones?” Ballad of a Thin Man – Bob Dylan

Good morning,

Today’s post is about… mistaken identity.

Many of the teens I talk with have a mistaken identity. For one reason or another they behave in a way that is not who they truly are. They party because they want to be cool, even though they don’t really like to party. They avoid doing their homework because they don’t want to look as if they care about grades and doing well in school, even though they really want to got to college and change the world. They lie because it is the only way they know how to overcome the challenge of not getting to do what they want, even though deep inside they want to tell their parents the truth.

If repeated often enough a teen, your teen, begins to believe that this mistaken identity is who he or she really is. She begins to believe that she is a “party girl”. He begins to believe that he is “stupid”. And both begin to believe that they can’t get what they want in this world without lying.

Many parents fall into the same trap. They assume a particular parenting role and then get stuck in that role. In The Total Transformation Program, James Lehman identifies seven ineffective parenting roles: 1) bottomless pockets; 2) over-negotiator; 3) the screamer; 4) the ticket puncher; 5) the savior; 6) the martyr; and 7) the perfectionist.

He also goes onto identify three effective parenting roles: a) training and coaching role; b) problem-solving role; and c) limit-setting role.

Just as irresponsible kids can become locked into a single pattern of behavior, ineffective parents can become locked into a single parenting role. It doesn’t matter if it is an ineffective or effective parenting role. Whenever our approach is one dimensional we struggle to get the results we want.

Whether a parent is a screamer or a limit-setter, an over-negotiator or problem-solver, or a perfectionist or trainer or coach, if he or she locks him or herself into a single role the result will predominately be frustration and misery.


Because the world is not one dimensional. Our ability to be flexible and to change our approach based on the situation at hand is how we best overcome the challenges we face in life and in raising children. How does the saying go? “A broken watch is right twice a day.”

If you typically approach your child’s behavior the same way, with the same parenting role, then every once in a while you feel successful, but the rest of the time you feel frustrated and miserable and are left wondering what you are doing wrong.

To be effective it is important to be able to switch between roles. You may favor one over the other, or may be better at one more than the other, but to have a balanced parenting approach you need to move from one to the other as the situation dictates.

This requires that you be present with the situation rather than think, “here we go again!”

Sometimes you need to be a coach and trainer, like when your teen is learning to drive a car. Sometimes you need to be a problem-solver, like when your teen is not getting along with a teacher or friend. And sometimes you need to be a limit-setter, like when… well I am sure you can think of few.

Taking on these different roles when needed is how effective parents guide and mentor their children into adulthood. Parents who are flexible and can adapt to the present situation by using a variety of parenting roles raise flexible, adaptable, and responsible adults.

Life is fluid. Our thinking must be fluid too. Don’t worry if you struggle with problem-solving or limit-setting. You have more practice and experience than your teen. All you need is to be one step ahead. You don’t even need to know the answer. All you need to do is start thinking about how to solve the problem or set the limit and go from there.

If your first effort doesn’t work then keep trying different things until you get the result you are looking for. The importance of flexibility and adaptability when parenting can not be overstated. What you are looking for is progress not perfection, for both you and your teen.

What role do you play in your household? How is it working for you?

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