Anyone involved in being mechanech a teen can certainly relate to Moshes frustration. We know well the emotional manipulations teens use and the mental gymnastics they employ to get their way. Often, we ourselves are afraid of looking “unreasonable”, “illogical”, “cruel”, or just feel guilty. As we go into the summer and our children have less boundaries and demand more freedom, its important to keep this in mind. Remember yourself, when you were a teen and how you manipulated your parents to let you go hang out or get what you want. What teens need most is constancy and expectations. They manipulate by trying to make those sound illogical (but you let him do that so why cant I do this which is basically the same thing) or by twisting your emotions and make you feel guilty (but everyone else is allowed! Or You don’t trust me!). Make no mistake, the teen only had one goal in mind: getting you to change your mind and getting their way, and you gain no points by giving in (maybe even lose points because the teen might subconsciously feel the parent cares more about their won feelings or how their kids erceive them than the safety of their own children, or just subconsciously lose the trust of the parent because they know they can be manipulated).
“Psychologist John Narciso called this category of behaviors “get my way techniques.” Another psychologist, Susan Forward, wrote a book about this emotional manipulation (“Emotional Blackmail,” 1997.) In one book, “Keys to Single Parenting” (1996) it is called “emotional extortion.”During adolescence, when getting freedom from parents becomes increasingly important, manipulation of parental author-ity through lying, pretense, and pressuring becomes more common. Emotional extortion can combine all three.
Thus when pleading and argument fail to win a parent over or back a parent down, the tactics of emotional extortion can come into play. The particular emotions exploited vary according to the emotional susceptibility of the parents, but the ob-jective is always the same – to get parents to give in or change their mind.
Remember, from closely observing these adults who have so much power over their lives, children know their parents far better than parents know their children. Children, and particularly adolescents, are expert in the “pushing the buttons” of emotional susceptibility in parents, often using this knowledge in conflict to win their ways. Consider a few of the forms emotional extortion can take.
If a parent is sensitive to approval, then the teenager will express LOVE through appreciation, affection, or pleasing to soften the mother or father up. This emotional extortion works when the parent feels, “How can I refuse when my teen-ager, who is usually so hard to get along with, is now acting so nice?”
If a parent is sensitive to rejection, the teenager, loudly or quietly, will express ANGERthrough acting offended, injured, or wronged to soften the mother or father up. This emotional extortion works when the parent feels, “I can’t stand it when my teenager acts like she doesn’t like me.”
If a parent is sensitive to inadequacy, the teenager will express CRITICISM through attacking the parent’s character, car-ing, or competence to soften the mother or father up. This emotional extortion works when the parent feels, “I can’t stand being judged a failure in my teenager’s eyes.”
If a parent is sensitive to guilt, the teenager will express SUFFERING through acting unhappy, hurt, or sad to soften the mother or father up. This emotional extortion works when the parent feels, “I can’t stand feeling responsible for my teen-ager’s unhappiness.”
If a parent is sensitive to pity, the teenager will express HELPLESSNESS through acting hapless or resigned to soften the mother or father up. This emotional extortion works when the parent feels, “I can’t stand feeling sorry for my teenager when she just gives up and acts victimized by whatever decision I’ve made.”
If a parent is sensitive to abandonment, the teenager will express APATHY through acting like the relationship doesn’t matter any more and doesn’t care in order to soften the mother or father up. This emotional extortion works when the par-ent feels, “I can’t stand the loneliness when my child acts like there’s no caring for our relationship.”
If a parent is sensitive to intimidation, the teenager may express EXPLOSIVENESS, loudly talking or acting like he’s going to lose physical control and threaten harm to soften the mother or father up. This emotional extortion works when the par-ent feels, “I can’t stand being frightened of getting hurt.”
To discourage these manipulations, parents must refuse to play along with the extortion. After all, your adolesent cannot emotionally manipulate you without your permision. You must resist your own susceptibilities to rejection, guilt, intimida-tion and the like and refuse to let these emotional vulnerabilities influence your decisions.
Give in to these tactics, and you will feel badly about yourself, your teenager, and your relationship, and more important may reluctantly allow what you know is unwise that could cause your adolescent to come to harm. “I know I shouldn’t have let her go. I didn’t want to. But she was so unhappy with me for refusing, I just couldn’t say ‘no.’ And now look at what has happened!”
Parents must not only hold firm in the face of this emotional manipulation, they must hold the teenager to declarative ac-count. Thus when the teenager uses intense anger or suffering to overcome a parental refusal, the parent needs to be able to say and mean: “Acting emotionally upset is not going to change my mind. However, if you want to tell me specifi-cally about why you are feeling so upset, I certainly want to listen to what you have to say.”
Declaration creates understanding, but emotional manipulation creates distrust. At worst, when feelings are expressed for extortionate effect, then the authentic value of those feelings can become corrupted.
For example, the tired parent comes home at the end of the day and the teenager, genuinely wanting to express her love through an act of consideration, has the evening meal all prepared. But the parent, having been softened up by such acts before, is unwilling to act appreciative. Instead, he responds by asking a cynical question: “What do you want this time?” That’s one consequence of emotional extortion; it can discredit the value of honest feeling.
Of course, just as the adolescent first learned the power of emotional extortion in childhood, so did you. Therefore, as par-ents do not resort to this manipulation with your teenager.
Declare what you want or do not want to have happen in specific terms, then discuss and negotiate the disagreement. Do not use the strong expression of emotion to get your way, or you will encourage that extortion from your teenager by your own bad example”.