How Do I Handle This As a Peaceful Parent?

The following is a parent question asked of me several years ago along with my answer. I offer this to you as I believe you will find help and guidance for the potential challenge you may be facing with your child now. Although your circumstances may not be exactly the same please tailor the advice to help you.

I fear I am alienating my 16-year old son. After two long years of having major work done on his teeth, he has finally had his braces removed. My wife and I are still paying big money for the work but had decided we needed to make this financial investment. At this point my son is supposed to wear a retainer. But he does not. I am doing everything I can to make my son wear his retainer. Our of fear and frustration I have taken away privileges, levied a financial fine against him, yelled until I am blue in the face and threatened to take away his driver’s license. Despite all that I have done he still only wears the retainer sporadically. After attending one of your lectures I have come to believe I may be damaging our relationship and still not succeeding in getting him to wear his retainer. Please advise.

This is a tough one. I admire you for taking on this difficult and important challenge. You and your wife have made the financial commitment and your son went through the pain and hardship of wearing braces. Although the challenge seemed long, luckily you are at the other side where the long term payoff is great.

Your question, although specific in content, is not untypical for parents of teenagers. “How do I get my teenager to _________(fill in the blank)?” Or “How do I get my teenager to stop ___________(fill in the blank)?”

Unfortunately when our children become teenagers we may finally understand we cannot make another person stop or start doing anything. We actually never could. During our child’s teenage years we finally and really understand this idea.

All people, including teenagers, choose to behave or stop behaving because of their internal desires and motivations. When our children are young sometimes they do what we ask because they want to please us. But even then, their internal desires may be stronger than their desire to follow our instructions and to please us.

Teenagers are following their internal instruction for power and freedom to a greater extent than any other time in their lives. Sometimes teenagers will do exactly the opposite of what we ask simply to prove to themselves and us that they have the power and freedom to disobey us. What’s particularly infuriating is they do have this power and freedom.

The first step in answering your question you have already taken; acknowledge your son has the power and freedom to wear his retainer or not.No matter what you do, you cannot succeed.

I understand this may not be what you want to hear. You and your wife have spent a lot of money so his teeth will look good. You don’t want to see your money go to waste. You also don’t want to see all the pain and hard work of what the braces have accomplished lost because your son refuses to wear his retainer.

I don’t mean to imply that these two alternatives need to be mutually exclusive. But at this point with you trying to exert power over your son to make him do as you demand you are straining the loving and respectful relationship between  you.

Answer the following question: Which is more important to you; your son wearing his retainer or you and he maintaining a loving and respectful relationship?

Now I’m assuming you answered the above question choosing your relationship over winning the retainer battle. So here is the next step.

Find some time when you and your son are feeling friendly toward each other.You might even set a date explaining you want to have an adult conversation with him. It may be appropriate to begin by apologizing to him for trying to makehim wear his retainer. Explain you realize you cannot make him do anything he is not willing to do.

Next explain to him calmly and with the passion you feel that you want him to wear his retainer regularly as the orthodontist prescribed. Explain to him why this is important to you. It’s certainly appropriate to mention the money issue, but be sure you explain your other reasons beyond money. The reasons are about your son, his beautiful smile brightening his whole face allowing him to be the most handsome fellow that he is. Be sure you explain your desires are about him, not just the money. You see the difference I hope.

Next ask your son what he wants, what his quality world picture is in relation to his teeth, why he agreed to wear braces in the first place, and so forth. Find out if there is any pain associated with wearing his retainer. There may be. If there is this may be something your son can discuss with the orthodontist.

It may also be he is looking for a short vacation from all the orthodontic work of these last few years. Perhaps he has every intention of wearing his retainer, but wants two weeks of freedom from it. Find out from your son what he wants and what his plan is to get there.

My guess is the two of you are not so far apart. Ask him to help you help him. Is there anything you are doing now that helps him? What does he want you to continue doing? Is there something you are doing that is not helping? What does he want from you that will put you on his team to help him get what he wants?

The two of you need to discuss your unified goals and make a plan for achieving the goals together. You are his assistant. He gets to boss how you assist.

Once the two of you work out this plan together, my guess is he will start wearing his retainer much more frequently. You will have more freedom from being the retainer police. Most importantly you and your son can get back to a relationship built on love, trust and fun.

If you and your preteen or teenager are having arguments and tension around similar kinds of issues, such as completing homework, completing chores, following curfew rules to name just a few, try following this advice. Now is a perfect time for you and your child to work together as a team to define, address and solve problems.