The authority of parents "upside down" and the reign of the child king...

by Béatrice Giraudeau - Therapist and life coach / LACT research partner

Blog: Sculpt your life  - 

As I had already written in Failure and school phobia , more and more overwhelmed parents call me and consult me ​​to manage the relationship with their teenagers, most often out of school or already well off their studies, wandering without a plan for life, depressed, addicted to screens and increasingly to cannabis, with whom conflicts have become daily, sometimes threatening and violent. These helpless parents "tear their hair out", in the greatest discouragement and disenchantment. They tell me they have tried everything, from authoritarianism with punishment and prohibition, to permissive letting go and resignation, to the injunction to go see a psychologist, to finally come back to punishment and shouting, without any results. , if not to bolster teenage opposition. It is clear that they have lost all control over their children, the latter having regained control over their parents.

beatriceWhat's happening?
Would it be more difficult today to have authority over one's children? And how to take back the reins when they are the ones who have taken power? Is it the sole and entire responsibility of the parents? Let's first make some observations about this issue and find some food for thought.

Our society today

In our extremely changing societal landscape, the family unit has undergone major changes in recent decades, shaking the very structure of its organization, and its landmarks have been shattered.
The family today is multi-organizational: broken down, recomposed, single-parent, traditional or not... The acceleration of an increasingly individualistic and self-centered society, as well as the evolution of the vision of the couple and the role of each, have amplified this phenomenon.

Parent-child relationships have changed, wanting to give pride of place to the development of each, including that of the children, leaving aside authority in favor of a notion of "parenthood" which gives the injunction to parents to adapt to their children and their needs.

Needs increasingly overvalued by a society advocating ever more consumption and pleasure. The task is made very difficult, even totally paradoxical, because of the growing gap between the values ​​advocated by our consumerist society and the requirements of education through parental authority which must set limits. In a hyper-consumption society, saying "no" seems even more perilous in the face of a greedy societal juggernaut, which increasingly deploys the value (or anti-value, I should say) of immediacy as the only law. In 2009 already, the philosopher Bernard Stiegler announced the breathlessness of this consumerist society, with fortunately the emergence of new growth models.
Extract from La Tribune: The consumerist society has reached its limits. Bernard Stiegler

This model which diverts all the desires of the consumer towards the objects of consumption and is quickly transformed into a machine to destroy the libido.... Then reigns the addictive consumption based on the immediate satisfaction of the impulses. The result is that the consumer society no longer becomes a producer of desires but of dependencies. It is a dangerous model: the consumer becomes unhappy there, like the drug addict who depends on what he consumes but hates what he depends on. Hence a growing frustration and behaviors that worry such as the destruction of the family structure, the fear of adults with regard to their own children or generalized depression...

Understanding the mechanisms of our environment is essential for anyone who wants to remain an actor in their lives, a sine qua non for our adaptation and our survival. But today, it's a race forward constantly renewed by the dictates of bulimic cutting-edge technology, which pushes us to constantly over-adapt. And let's not throw stones too quickly at children and adolescents, who, like adults, are also victims of this consumer society. Yes, but they are the children, and the parents must be able to position themselves as such.  

For John Kabat-Zinn , professor of medicine in Boston, how could a child integrate into a society where, from his point of view, adults have gone mad?

Last year, I was sitting with my wife at a café terrace in Strasbourg, and I saw a young mother, at another table, hanging on her telephone for an hour and a half while her child of 3 or 4 year old tried in vain to attract his attention.
We talk a lot about attention deficit disorder (hyperactivity) about children, but it is that of parents, distracted by technology, that leaves something to be desired! ...To make matters worse, we carry supercomputers in our pockets which, in effect, run us. They impose on us a constant over-information and an obligation of permanent connection which contribute to stress.

 Authority, the middle axis of authoritarianism and laxity

It is a complex notion that is often controversial, poorly understood in what it really represents.
Above all, authority is not authoritarianism, nor a seizure of power or any domination over others. Authority does not use force or violence to make its point of view heard. On the contrary, the lack of authority leads to laxity, a loss of bearings and an existential sidereal vacuum which causes anguish and violence. Children left to their own devices lack a framework and landmarks, these rules that mark out an unknown world and reassure them; they demand them moreover body and shout. There is like a big gap between the fear of authoritarianism today, and the permissiveness that both leads to the same acknowledgment of failure. Between "obey and shut up" from before May 68 and Françoise Dolto, and "it is forbidden to forbid" from the second half of the 20th century, there is a world. But what is authority?

Etymologically, from the root "augerer", authority means to give birth, to root and to increase in a notion of growth.
Authority therefore has the ability to make something grow, which bodes well when we talk about the authority of parents. Legitimacy, responsibility, knowledge and wisdom are its close guards, transmission and education, its life mission, vital for the well-foundedness of generations under construction. Legitimacy implies a positioning of one's role as parents and educators, and necessarily passes through the acceptance of displeasing one's children as well as the acceptance of conflict as a response to their frustrations.
She is the backbone of a good authority, and asks to question herself, sometimes to grope and make mistakes. Better to make a mistake than to quit. Many parents I work with fear losing the love and respect of their teenagers by setting limits on them, when in the end, they cause everything they wanted to avoid. However, setting limits is not an excuse to express anger or justify oneself;
there are many ways to say no and the good news is that you can learn it, you don't have to be a superhero. We can never say it enough, the other goes as far as I let him go and it is the responsibility of the parents to define the territory and the position of each. To read or reread an old article from my blog, still relevant: Knowing how to say No

The child king is a tyrant

Placing the child at the heart of society, has raised him to the rank of omnipotent child-king, turned exclusively on himself, ranting at the slightest annoyance and deprived of any faculty of adaptation .
Without limits and without a frame of reference, the child and later the adolescent, take the power of the relationship over their parents, and become real tyrants quick to drive them crazy, unprepared and armed to integrate into the society in which they will nevertheless have to live well. The child king is not happy, because confrontation with the world is made impossible. He increasingly tests the limits of his parents, in order to find his place and his safety. An escalation sets in very quickly to lead to ever more violent conflicts, an expression of the impotence of one and the other. If authoritarianism has deprived many generations of all individual freedom and the ability to express their emotions, laxity has reversed the roles, endangering children delivered to their impulses of omnipotence.

An additional line of thought in a Telegraph titled "Is Sweden creating a generation of little jerks? Journalist Nadia Daam quotes Judith Woods who questions Swedish family policy, yet ranked at the top of the list by Unicef.


The problem is that Sweden could also be training a generation of pretentious, unstable and depressive little jerks. This is a barely crude summary of the comments made by Judith Woods on the Telegraph website . The journalist has just put a furious penknife in the idyllic picture of Swedish education.

It's that this way of raising children is the opposite of the old-fashioned British upbringing of his.
So, if her 5-year-old daughter throws herself into a tantrum that children and narcissistic perverts have the secret to (“What!? You make me turn off the TV to go to school? love more, you are no longer my girlfriend"), she will not consider her as an individual who must be listened to, but as a capricious child to be put back on the right track. Her response to this attempt at manipulation will therefore be: "I have never been your friend. Friends don't wash your socks, they don't buy you a warm coat for the winter, nor do they force you brush your teeth. Now you get dressed or I'll call the school. They'll call the police to come arrest and kick out your Sylvanians ."

Firmness, reframing and a hint of menace. According to her, this is the only possible reaction to a capricious child. It makes her a mother who loves her child but who refuses to be pushed around. Unlike the Swedish parents who despair her.

"You can negotiate with an adult, certainly not with a child. In the same way that letting pre-teens set their bedtimes is totally irresponsible."

Authority, adolescence and systemic and strategic therapy

First of all, a first reframing is essential concerning the relationship of the parents with their teenager;
they will have to adapt and readjust the mode of authority at this pivotal stage that is adolescence. Indeed, their dear little blond heads have growing hairs and hormones that overwhelm them everywhere, attracting them to the irrepressible need to explore this new world. It is a very confusing and distressing physiological and psychological process for adolescents (as for parents) who no longer recognize themselves in this hybrid and yet constructive phase of their future adult identity. Unfortunately in our modern societies, no ritual comes to accompany this change.
Setting limits on teenagers drunk on freedom and new experiences is a bit like banging your head against a wall and waiting for it to crack first.

This is a shift to initiate with the help of strategies such as "Crossing the sea without the sky knowing, Adding logs to put out the fire", strategies that we see in sessions, and which allow parents to convey paradoxical messages that "feign" their children with benevolence;
while giving them more room to breathe, the limits will find themselves. The expected results are very quickly at the rendezvous. To learn more about the subject, I recommend an excellent book by Giorgio Nardone: Ride your tiger (or how to solve complicated problems with simple solutions).

So what to do when the parent-adolescent system, encysted in the conflict, is packed into an infernal loop?
First of all, wanting to force your teenager to come for a consultation, when he is not asking, when he does not think he has a problem, is counterproductive and turns out to be the best way to make him even more resistant.

Indeed, the problem is interactive. It is the parents who must regain control of the relationship, not the other way around. On the other hand, this stigmatizes the young person even more as "the bearer of the problem", and overwhelming him will not promote a better relationship, quite the contrary. The first strategy therefore consists in working with the parents with the immediate objective of making the relational system more flexible.

To do this, it will be a question of scrupulously establishing an inventory of everything they have put in place to solve the problem and which has not worked, in order to stop them. In systemic and strategic therapy, this is called solution attempts. Indeed, why continue to say, to do, something which not only does not solve the problem but on the contrary worsens it? We can decline 3 to 4 recurring themes: School, home, money and going out.
Addictions to screens and cannabis appearing as gift wrapping.... The main attempts at solutions by parents are always the same:

* He (she) does not work = We push him, we repeat him tirelessly every day: "Did you do your job? Still on your computer? Still on your tablet? Still on your phone? Still on social media? That's not how you're going to get there! You have to work to succeed!"
etc The question to ask is: Does it work?

Does it improve or does it make it worse? How does your son or daughter respond? Does he get back in motion? * He (she) does not tidy his room, does not participate in the chores of the house = We push him, we repeat to him tirelessly: " Tidy your room! Come and help us a little! In life there is not only pleasure!"
etc The question to ask is: Does it work?

Does it improve or does it make it worse? How does your son or daughter respond? Does he get back in motion? * He (she) always asks for more money, does not know how to manage = We give it back to him when he has run out, we pay him for his phone despite his pocket money..... The question to ask
is : Does it work?

Does it improve or does it make it worse? How does your son or daughter respond? Does he still need more money? Does he find limits to his spending? Should I continue the enumeration?...

Far be it from me to want to overwhelm the parents because this is done in session with the greatest benevolence.
Very often, when they realize that they were always doing the same thing with no results other than aggravation, they then become very demanding to learn how to do things differently. After having stopped the attempts at a solution, it is imperative to replace them with the famous 180 degrees, pillar of the strategic therapy of Palo Alto. Rather than continue to exhaust yourself and push your teenagers, a bit like Sisyphus did, the 180 degrees is to brake by giving the injunction to do even less.

This is only the movement to be printed, all the work of the therapist and the parents, then co-therapists, will consist in creating tailor-made new behaviors, which will take into account the context of each family. For example, when you say to your teenager who skips school more and more and gets up when you come home from work:
"Already up? But why are you getting up when you have no more lessons? Stay in bed, c It's too depressing to get up when you have no more plans" and this with the greatest kindness, repeated every day like a ritual.
One of two things, either your teenager continues to take the day for the night, but he obeys you!
And that is unthinkable... Either he gets back in motion and can continue to play his favorite game, that of disobedience.

This is called "travelling the sea without the knowledge of the sky" and believe me, it works...

This brief summary obviously reduces the content of the sessions, but it can give you an overview of what which is put in place to regulate parent-adolescent conflicts, to stop the bleeding, even to find a certain harmony.