This is the last in a 3 part series on the conflict between teenagers and parents, co-authored by Samantha McDonald and Robert Fenlon. This is in an effort to explain why Interdependence can go a long way in resolving the conflict between adults and teenagers.
In part 1 we asked what it might look like if we us replaced independence with ‘Freedom through Interdependence’?
In part 2 we looked at the actual transition from independence to interdependence, with a consideration of replacing the old construct of independence with freedom. Though this shift is not always easy, we considered how interdependence ultimately becomes a new way of life, a way to engage with others by considering our impact on self, others, and our environments, to make the journey easier, and as such, mitigate conflict, and preserve relationships, especially those with our children.
Take a deep breath for a moment, let’s put our judgement of self and our teens aside for a while. What is it we are all wanting? Surely, we are all seeking some kind of equilibrium and peace in the home and at school, collaborative, respectful, relationships, right?
“we want our children to be wilful, yet not wilful with us”
We should not want our children, or anyone else for that matter, to be wilful with anyone, because this is a negative form of dependency. Therefore, the question comes up again, “what if children could be given freedom through Interdependent Rules of Engagement©, instead of harmful independent rules of engagement?”
I personally value freedom very highly, in fact it is at the top of my value chain. My interpretation of freedom will differ to yours and that’s ok. Yet when it comes to Interdependent Rules of Engagement©, more explanation is required, because for me to exercise my freedom, this has to be in line with not depriving anyone else of their ways of being. Yet how do we do this? How do we find middle ground that allows all people to be heard, seen, and deeply listened to in order to feel that they are valued through the freedom to be who they are, without judgement? How do we model this for our teens? What comes to mind is a statement I heard when I was a younger mother, participating in a parenting course: “we want our children to be wilful, yet not with us”.
We have confused freedom with independence
Children are dependent on us for a large part of their lives and we have been their ‘leader’ - the one they turn to, the one to be listened to, the one with all the answers and, like it or not, we are largely responsible for unintentionally keeping our children at ‘dependency’. When I’m on my parenting forums, I often hear parents complain of children having lack of respect for themselves and others, answering back, disregard for people, and sometimes darn right rebellion, etc. and I have considered for a sometime what needs to happen for this to change.
we need to set interdependent boundaries that allow our children the freedom to express who and how they are
Many teachers have similar complaints and, I’m sure, if we were to ask our children, they too would say adults never listen to them, and that what they feel, is we are trying to control them and prevent them from doing things the way they would like to, etc – which is ‘their’ expression of freedom. It was through this wondering, that I began to realise something very significant. Significant yet simple. We have confused freedom with independence, and as parents and care-givers, we need to rather set interdependent boundaries that allow our children the freedom to express who and how they are within a framework that considers our impact on self, others, and our environments. I'm reiterating what has already been said, because it takes time for this to sink in - yet it truly is a 'keep it simple stupid' model.
As our children become teens, we wonder how much “freedom” we should allow them and under what conditions. What we cease to realise, is our children have been thinking this exact same thing for a very long time, some scheming lol, figuring out ways of how they can express their freedom and stop being ‘told’ what to do, for the longest time. I feel sure this is why when they reach the age of eighteen (and younger of course), and are given their ‘license’ to drink, often teenagers go overboard. This is one way to express to us that they are now in control, they’re independent, and free from the confines of our independent rules. This is very sad when we consider the alternatives of setting boundaries through interdependent rules of engagement.
However, for the purpose of this article, I would like to suggest we replace the term ‘independence’ with freedom – The ‘freedom’ to choose ‘Interdependently’ - and look at what this might mean for parents and for teens, and how this could make huge headway into resolving the conflict between parents and teenagers. My hope is that by the end of this article, you can see the benefit of getting out of the Circle of Toxicity, moving into Interdependent Rules of Engagement© - serving all of us in freedom, within the boundaries of a set of rules of engagement where there is respect for everyone, in turn restoring respect and peace in the home.
Our uniqueness is central to our identity so when it is stifled by the ‘system’ we feel resentment and want to kick against it. There is an inner angst that won’t go away, as we long to fit in but not at the expense of our true identity. As Rob has seen in his role as an educator, teenagers ‘rebel’ and join peer groups for co-dependent support in their fight to be seen as more than a name on a register. When the validation of academic or sporting success is absent this rebellion becomes more pronounced, destructive, or desperate. Their equilibrium imbalance is aggravated by physical, physiological, and emotional changes, as well as uncertainties with future education and career choices. Adults are often better equipped and subtler in coping with these pressures. Some may engage in coping mechanisms such as excessive drinking, ‘busy-ness’ and co-dependent alliances, to help dull the pain and avoid facing up to the underlying issues of identity, purpose and contribution.
serving us, so we can serve each other
Yet the good news is, Interdependence is like a positive dependency, because it allows us to all work together in service of ourselves and others. Just imagine that for a moment. It’s all about “serving us, so we can serve each other”. It’s about putting others first, yet not at the expense of ourselves, but rather as a consequence of the respect we have for ourselves. This is sometimes difficult because many of us have not been taught to create boundaries and decide for ourselves where our boundaries lay, and what we are prepared to put up with and accept from others.
Yet Interdependence allows for consideration of this as we learn to speak openly and with transparency with others around the complexity of who we are, what we need from others, and how we’d like to contribute to the lives of other people. It’s about listening deeply to what is really being said, so we all feel deeply and truly listened to and heard, putting our own perceptions and judgements on hold. This may take time, and even courage, yet all involved will find their agency in the process, as our respect for self, others, and our environments increases ten fold. We are made to commune and be part of a tribe. Belonging is one of the basic human needs and when we are part of a community that serves us well, we feel valued, esteemed, and included.
Interdependence is also about not being afraid to show our vulnerabilities and asking when we do not have the answers, and when we are in need. Modelling this way of being for our children and others is critical. This is something that needs to be expressed early, not saved for when our children become teenagers. It has to become a way of life, or as we say in Strength-based environments, an ‘Interdependent Strengths Culture’ where Strengths and Interdependence become a common mutually inclusive, language of understanding. Vulnerability should not be looked upon as weakness as it teaches us the confidence to stand in who you are as a person, as well as who you are not, and admitting that you cannot, and should not, be everything to everybody.
The diagram below (copyright Gallup) is divided into the four different domains of the 34 human talents and Strengths that make up our humanity. Each individual’s identity is made up of between 10-15 of these talent patterns which express how we uniquely think, feel, and behave, and is infinitely different to each other.
Of the 34 Strengths above, we each have 12-15 of these talent patterns which can be developed into Strengths. Thereafter, the remaining talent patterns are what we term our non-strengths, those elements of ourselves which can drain our energy. Therefore, yes, we have weaknesses too. It is important to recognise the different Strengths that de-energise some people yet motivate others, and this is often where conflict comes in, because we assume others understand us and what we need. Yet this is often quite the opposite and can bring huge frustration to our teens, because as they are growing into their natural Strengths, we as caregivers are often blind to this development and the desire for our children to be their unique identity and individual selves. Even when we are not blind, we struggle to understand how to navigate this period.
“don’t try be me, I’m already taken”
Being confidently vulnerable is recognising this need in ourselves and others and allowing each person to bring what they are good at, to complement our weaknesses, as this builds trust, teamwork, and engagement within families. Confident vulnerability is the acknowledgment of knowing what you are good at and asking for help where you are not. This way of operating is liberating when we realise we are not expected to have all the answers and know everything, after all, it’s hard work pretending to be someone we are not, ask our children, they are almost forced to do this all the time in their journey of becoming themselves - yet we can help them.
If children were taught emotional intelligence (EQ) through Strengths and Interdependence from a very young age, they would learn who they are through their innate talents, that they do have non-strengths, and how that’s actually ok. They can stand in their own motivational potential and empower others to bring their strengths where they are weak and visa versa. Practicing this in our family situations allows for us to become confidently vulnerable together. There is nothing that boosts the confidence of a teen more than knowing the value they are adding and that their parents are fallible too.
A fish doesn’t know its in water until its taken out
Most of us can name our weaknesses quite easily yet our Strengths are not so easily seen. This is because often we take our natural wiring for granted, since our talents come so naturally to us, and we don’t often notice them - much like a fish not being aware its in water until it is taken out. A great way to identify our natural ways of feeling, thinking and behaving is by taking the 45-minute online CliftonStrength® Assessment. From many years of research on human flourishing, these 178 questions accurately detect the order of the 34 talent themes showing where we have most potential for growth and where we are deeply motivate, as well as where we are not . As Tom Rath, a leading Strengths writer explains, we get much further when we build on who we already are, just as a tree is likely to bloom when planted in the right conditions. Viewing our teens through this lens allows us to see them for who they are, not for who we would like them to be, building trust in our relationships, and thus, growing confidence in each other.
What would happen if, instead of weakness fixing, we focused on what is right with each other?
Don Clifton, the father of the CliftonStrength® Assessment posed the question, “what would happen if, instead of weakness fixing, we focused on what is right with people?” In short, if we use the Strengths’ Reports from this assessment to guide our Strengths Spotting, in that we identify and affirm our Strengths and talents in real life situations, we would be confident in the knowledge that we can excel through working on our Strengths to optimise who we are and allow other to fill in, by bringing their Strengths, where we are weak. We need to move away from the ‘weakness fixing’ mentality. Focusing on what we are good at, immediately creates an environment where we work to excel together, and this rubs off on our teens, helping them ultimately become emotionally mature adults. Additionally, when we add ‘Interdependence’ to the mix, we begin to grow our own confidence exponentially as we become sought after individuals.
We want our children to leave, yet not to leave us
As our teens become better versed to ‘own’ their own freedom and make choices independently, many people, especially stay-at-home-Mothers, have to begin to create a ‘new normal’ for themselves. How many mothers feel comfortable to express their own confidently vulnerability, enough to admit how scary it is "now the children are getting older", and that they feel "their role is becoming obsolete"?
How many fathers and partners would be interdependent enough to say they are willing to put their own desires, objectives, and goals somewhat to one side, whilst they help their marriage and relationship partners re-establish a ‘new normal’ for themselves and their families- whilst the wife/partner and mother becomes a newer version of themselves - an ‘interdependent’ woman' or parner?
When one considers the number of divorces that take place following the ‘empty nest syndrome’ how might this interdependent way of being improve not just the relationship between teens and parents, but also have a knock-on effect on the marriage and other relationships, instead of tearing them apart?
In South Africa in particular, due to a lack of an effective transport system, children often become very dependent on their parents to get around, in particular their mothers. Some mothers may not work outside of the family, and have been used to “ferrying’ children around. I would argue, this gives mothers a large portion of our value as citizens. This ‘looking after our children’ gives us meaning and purpose in life - value. I see many care-givers feeling vulnerable and, as such, try to hold onto their children, inadvertently keeping them dependent. We may ask ourselves, for instance:
What value will I have without my children relying on me?
What ‘use’ am I if I do not work, and my children no longer need me?
This is about “planting the right person in the right soil’ and allowing for the exponential growth of our individual confidence and strengths.
There are similar challenges at retirement, where couples are now expected to live for twenty or thirty years longer than previous generations. A new and radical interdependent exploration of the changing roles and expectations is needed. A Strengths approach here, just like in all stages of life, will indicate the specific contributions, and needs of each person in order to maximise positive outcomes. Just as a certain tree requires optimum light, water, temperature, and type of soil to flourish, so one’s ability to contribute fully and be ‘alive’ depends on our ‘environments’. We have to acknowledge there are systemic changes as our children mature into teen-hood and we need to become conscious and intentional of our own roles and expectations accordingly.
I wonder how many teens, once they understood interdependence, would be willing to actually utilise the freedom they are given through ‘Interdependent Rules of Engagement©’ and make their own way, whilst still respecting the identity, lives, and sacrifices of their parents? If this was instilled from a young age, I might argue, lots. However, for teenagers to take on this new way of being, it takes a conscious intentional modelling in a change of mindset by parents, as well as time, patience and commitment. However, the benefits can be enormous.
what is my impact on self, others, and the environment at large
‘Interdependent Rules of Engagement©’ includes the freedom to make your own decisions, to be yourself, and your unique individual identity. Yet there is a caveat. This comes after you have included, and put the needs of all role players into the conversation too, where all people ask themselves the valuable question of “what is my impact on self, others, and the environment at large”. This becomes freedom within the boundaries of a caring consideration for others, and optimising not only ourselves, but optimising others too. This is about ‘treating others as we wish to be treated ourselves’. It is about seeing the positive untapped potential in others and holding them in high esteem so they can become what we see. It is about trust, and becoming the best version of ourselves. It is about the idea of us ‘singing their song back to them, to remind them of who they are’ so they can become who we see.
Yet without a deep understanding of who we are, this becomes more challenging. This is why understanding the language of Strengths and Interdependence becomes a mutually inclusive model, because without a deep understanding of both, it is too easy to drown in the ‘Circle of Toxicity’ where negative dependencies tend to pull us down.
there’s no growth in the comfort zone, and no comfort in the growth zone
Conversely, we can raise our confidence by overcoming and learning new constructs and this is where interdependence really comes into its own. It’s here where we give our children the freedom to learn, allowing them to make their own mistakes. The overcoming of even the smallest adversity brings confidence and growth, yet there’s no growth in the comfort zone. Equally there is no comfort in the growth zone because it can hurt as we make mistakes, yet by not becoming interdependent, and allowing our children to test the water themselves, we potentially rob our children of the confidence real freedom can bring, and to feel and experience this for themselves. When we constantly do everything for our children we dis-empower them and with disempowerment brings toxicity, resentment, and conflict. Feelings of worthlessness and being seen as undervalued become the norm, because conversely we have a natural inclination to want to stand in our own power and freedom.
we serve us, so we can serve each other
Positive change and exponential growth can come if we all embrace relationships within a win/win frame of mind through interdependence. To not teach this, is to our own detriment. However, by now we are sure you have realised, a very obvious and positive alternative is interdependence. We can become proactive and begin to model Interdependence through Interdependent Rules of Engagement©.
At WITH-humanity we believe Strengths and 'Interdependent Rules of Engagement©' are mutually inclusive, and as such, teach this as a concept to actively become more conscious and intentional around our impact on self, others, and the environment at large. This alters how we enter “into the space” with others, because one has to become more conscious of one’s own ways, in essence recognising that how we enter into relationships and how we see others, impacts how we respond, and thus, the results we get.
If you would like to continue the conversation and receive valuable information on how we want to create a new ‘Universal Value Metric’ where the positive untapped potential of all people is recognised and contributed, sign up to our mailing list here. If you are interested to book a ‘Parenting Workshop’ or a ‘Teacher’s Workshop’ we’d love to hear from you. If you are looking for Coaching for yourself why not book 15 min complimentary chat here.
Sam McDonald has been married for 30 yeas and has four children. They are a Strength-based family, using the CliftonStrengths® to enhance marriage & family life. Their home is in Hampton Court, UK and the FalseBay Coast, Cape, SA. She is a Futurist and Chief Visionary Officer for WITH-HUMANITY, a change-maker with a dream to disrupt our current meritocracy by "Unlocking the IntrinsicIdentity © of all Individuals in service of greater human engagement" creating an all inclusive universal value metric and social system.
She is a Normative Visionary, Systems Thinker, Disruptor, Change-Maker & Activist. Graduating Cum Laude with an MPhil in Futures Studies from the University of Stellenbosch, after failing matric, she believes matching one's intrinsic wiring to how we learn yields exponential results, leap-frogging our current education system. She influences thinking in order to create futures-led enquiry & change towards a future we all want to be part of - linking strategic leadership and management with futures thinking. Her use of Interdependent Rules of Engagement© and the CliftonStrength® Assessment, as well as various Foresight Methodologies, are tools of choice to influence mindset change, and help people understand each other's unique world views, which are coloured by what she terms our Strengths Language. She moved to South Africa in 1983 from Nottingham, UK and has lived in both dysfunction and functional environments. These she views as her "cross to bear is your gift to share" - serving as a bridge in understanding how to create function out of chaos.
Rob Fenlon has held teaching positions on four continents, including academic and pastoral leadership roles. He led an award winning industry-education program in Australia which improved the engagement and retention of aboriginal workers in the mining industry. He helps leaders to excel in their professional and personal lives using his years of experience and insights from Gallup CliftonStrength® Assessment and Positive Intelligence (PQ). Rob has worked in some very challenging locations, and takes great pleasure in connecting people to their hidden talents and potential.
Sam, Rob, and fellow Coaches, work with motivated clients using the CliftonStrength® Assessment as a power tool for:
Strength Based Interviewing & Recruitment
Assisting motivated individuals to fall in love with their careers and find the work they were born to do.
Working with high achievers to discover their value and purpose
Working with Start-ups to gain momentum, motivation & self-awareness of the Entrepreneur
Assisting Students to gain a greater self-awareness, expediting their career path, building confidence and self-esteem.
Working with individuals to re-engage in their work environments & leveraging their strengths
Working with marriage relationships to help you love again and understand the toxicity, reduce negative experiences, create understanding and, in turn, assist with long-term strategies for lasting transformation
Finding your true Purpose, Passion and Value in Life
Falling in love with your life and work again
She teaches the 'Interdependent Rules of Engagement© & Vulnerability' to focus on living 'Interdependence' as the key to healthier environments - choosing this as 'rules of engagement' over 'Dependence', 'Co-Dependence' & 'Independence'.