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For the parents who constantly find themselves throwing their arms up in frustration after ugly and recurrent power struggles with their teenagers… I’m going to let you in on a little secret. If you can absorb it, understand it, and believe it, I can promise you this. Your life as the parent of a teenager will improve. You ready for the secret?

You can’t make your teenager believe what you believe, any more than you can make a child fall asleep at naptime.

You can’t make your teenager live the life you want her to live.

You can’t make your teenager respect you.

You can’t make your teenager love you.

And you can’t make your teenager be a part of a relationship, have feelings, or have respect that doesn’t actually exist.

Do you not see? What you can do, and what you almost always will do when you try, is build resentment and bitterness in your teenager. You build apathy. You build wrongly-guided determination. You build a need for independence. You build a need for life experience that doesn’t involve you.

And when your teenagers develop these needs… they will almost always find a way to fulfill those requirements, and you’re probably not going to like the way they go about doing it.

The great irony, of course, is that when teenagers do desperately seek a way to satisfy those needs, parents tend to wrap their children’s actions under one blanketed and nonsensically misleading term. Rebellion. My kid is rebellious. My kid is a typical teenager. My kid has an attitude. My kid doesn’t listen. My kid does the exact opposite of what I tell him to do. It’s always our kid’s fault, and never our own.

Why do parents not get that the sooner they stop trying to control their teenagers with their hurtful words, insults, demands, punishments, schedules, requirements, and actions, the sooner their kids will start stepping up to the plate on their own? Why do parents not get that the sooner they stop trying to force their beliefs onto their children, the sooner their children will actually question those beliefs enough to make them their own? And why do parents not get that the sooner they work toward love instead of for power, the sooner they’ll get love and the less they’ll have any need for power? Why don’t they get that?

The 16-year old girl who sent me the email above has a mother and a father who pursue after the power so relentlessly, and are trying to control having that power and control so consistently, that they are pushing their teenager into dark places that no real parent wants their child to be. And they probably don’t even know they’re doing it. If I had to guess, they’re probably going to their neighborhood barbecues and their soccer games and their Bunco parties, telling their buddies and their girlfriends just how rotten a person their daughter is. They’re probably painting some grim picture of how hard life is for them, parenting such a lost and troubled individual. And here’s the kicker. They’re probably convinced that it’s all true, too.

“i was wondering if you could help me know what to do, cause i am at the point that i hate myself and anybody else and i feel like theres no hope and i thought that you might be able to give me some advise”

Mom and Dad, your need for power has sent your daughter on a search for help across the internet, and into the inbox of a 30-year old man you don’t know from Adam. Is that really what you want?

“my mom is always screeming at me and her and my dad don’t love me and i don’t know why cause i try to do everything i can”

Was the pursuit of power worth it? Your child feels completely unloved by you. Was that your intention? Are you at all aware of this? I’m guessing not.  You probably think she deserves everything you always hand out to her. Are you at all aware that your child, deep down, believes she is really trying? I’m guessing not. You probably think she’s a waste of space. Oh wait… you actually do…

“i’m not a bad kid but they always tell me i am in fact my mom today sayd that i am one of gods biggest mistakes cause i slept threw my alarm and missed my bus.”

Your need for power gave you one thing here, Mom. A child who now feels like sleeping through an alarm is one of life’s worst problems. A child, who in all likelihood grasps the infiniteness of God and the universe a lot more than you think she does, and has now taken your words to heart. In fact, she’s internalized them enough that she officially hates herself. But even though you’re dead wrong, maybe you’re right. Maybe your child is one of God’s greatest mistakes. Your desperation to keep your child from missing another bus (aka control) made you say things that made your child believe that. Bravo.

“my dad doesnt ever hit me but he is always calling me an idiot or a retard or stuff like that”

Kudos dad. You’ve trained your daughter well. She officially thinks that being called an idiot or a retard is less hurtful than being physically battered. Next time, maybe you should shut your mouth and just hit your kid. The pain will disappear in minutes instead of decades, and child services will have something more concrete to work with, just be sure to leave a bruise or two. Sticks and stones, old man.

“anyway at school i don’t really have very many friends cause i’m to shy i guess.”

Once again, mad props to both parents. You’ve trained your daughter to believe that she’s shy. But she’s not. Put your iced teas and your noses down, and read the rest of the damn email. She knows that she’s not shy. She also knows that you two have taken away all of her self-confidence. All of her value. All of her spirit. She knows that her problems at school have trickled all the way down from home. And she’s desperate to change the direction of that ugly flow.

“i don’t know what to do cause i am just wanting to give up even trying anymore cause why should i?”

I can’t say I blame you. I can tell you why you shouldn’t give up though. You’re amazing. You’re beautiful. You’re incredible. And there will come a day when you will have the chance to learn that about yourself.

“have you ever felt like nobody cares if you just disappear cause i really feel that way even with my parents.”

Mom and Dad.

Damn it.

You have failed.

So fix it.

Just fix it. I don’t care what it takes. Unbreak your child.

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Dan Pearce is an American-born author, app developer, photographer, and artist. This blog, Single Dad Laughing, is what he’s most known for, with more than 2 million daily subscribers as of 2017. Pearce writes mostly humorous and introspective works, as well as his musings which span from fatherhood, to dating, to life, to the people and dynamics of society. Single Dad Laughing is much more than a blog. It’s an incredible community of people just being real and awesome together!