Manipulative Teenagers

Published on by CMe


Dealing with manipulative adults is one thing, but dealing with manipulative children is something else entirely.

It's a lot more challenging to handle such a situation because you're talking about kids here. They know how much power they have and how little you can do to them. And if you're unfortunate enough, you might be dealing with your very own children.

Dealing with manipulative children requires a certain finesse. You can't just charge into a situation without a game plan. Lucky for you, this article will tell you just what to do.

  1. Show Them Who's Boss.
    Kids may cry, stomp, sulk and throw tantrums all they want, but you can't give in. A lot of people make the mistake of giving the kids what they want just to get the whole scene over with. However, that only teaches the kids how effective their techniques are.

    When dealing with manipulative children, you cannot allow yourself to show any sign of weakness. Sure, sending your kid to bed early or to the "naughty" corner is hard for any parent, but discipline must be instilled.

    Be firm with your decisions. After a while, you should also explain to them why what they did was wrong, to put everything into perspective.
  2. Be Logical Instead Of Emotional.
    When dealing with manipulative children, you have to prepare your emotions for a storm. Kids will try their best to appeal to you in every way possible.

    To keep yourself on your path, stay logical. When the conversation turns into an argument, use logic to make your point. Emotions are fuzzy and will not be convincing enough.

    For example, your kid might try pleading with you to attend a certain party. They will use every puppy dog trick in the book to get you to give them permission. But if you really don't want to allow your kid to go out - or you do not want to extend the kid's curfew - you're going to need to bring up every reasoning skill you have under your sleeve. And remember to keep your tone final. Know when to end the discussion.
  3. Explain Your Own Emotions.
    Sometimes, kids don't realize that their manipulative ways are hurting other people. Try to talk to the kid about your feelings and how it's wrong to manipulate others for their own benefit.

    This is not a conversation to be had on the breakfast table, just before they go to school. Do this during a time when you know they don't have a lot in mind.

    Dealing with manipulative children won't be easy at first. But if you follow these tips, you'll be able to avoid such situations and even turn the whole thing around.

Resolve parent-young adult conflicts
When the rebelling young person is 16 or 17, the parents have to accept reality that they have lost much of their control--they can't watch the son or daughter all the time. The “child” is on his/her own. The parent can still help the young person make decisions by sharing their wisdom (if it is requested). Both parents and young persons could attempt to control their anger (see near the end of this chapter and chapter 12) and adopt good communication skills: "I" statements, empathy responses, and self-disclosure. Both could develop positive attitudes. Teenagers can realize that parents don't universally go from "wise" to "stupid" as they themselves age from 12 to 17. The young person can also realize that responsibility comes with freedom; if you are old enough to declare your independence and make your own decisions, you are old enough to accept the consequences (meaning=don't expect your parents to get you out of trouble or to pay for whatever you want). Parents can remind themselves that making mistakes is part of growing up; we all learn from our mistakes, including drinking and getting sick, getting pregnant, being rejected, dropping out of school, being fired, etc.

Young adults, like all of us, need support and love when they are "down." Give it. Avoid criticism, anger, rejection, and, the parental favorite, you-should-have-listened-to-me comments. When they are hurting, show love and concern--but don't rush in to rescue them, let them deal with the problems they made for themselves. Farmer (1989) provides help to parents trying to be caring, loving, and at peace with their teenagers. As we will see in chapters 8 and 9, there are also three especially good general self-help books for parents and teens: Ginott (1969), Elkind (1984), and Steinberg & Levine (1990). Straus (1994), writing more for clinicians, focuses on understanding the violence in the lives of teenagers, both the abuse to them and their striking out at others.

Several recent writers deal with withdrawn, critical, argumentative, sarcastic, manipulative teenagers who wear down their worried, overly giving, permissive, now over-whelmed, and out-of-control parents. Edgette  offers good advice about avoiding “final” conflicts, violence, and endless arguments (e.g. when the teenager will not admit being wrong or that they need help because they are busy proving their independence). She suggests ways to allow some freedom and decision-making to the teen but also underscores the importance of the teen taking responsibility for his/her decisions, that is the parent combines some permissiveness with some firm parental insistence on being responsible. The trick is to maintain a caring relationship through the conflicts of the teen years so that life’s longest and sometimes warmest relationship can flourish during the remaining 70 years or so of life. Riera does a nice job of describing how parents and their teenager can stay connected.


Getting closer again
If you are a young adult who has gone through "the wars" with one or both parents, it may be wise and rewarding to try to get closer again. Try to see your parents as real people: how old were they when you were born? What problems did they have? Do you suppose they often wondered what to do and if they were being good parents to you? Did being parents interfere with important goals in their lives? Were and are they desperately wanting you to "turn out all right" and make them proud? Are they longing for a close relationship with you? If they get disappointed and angry at you, is that awful?

Some day when you are feeling reasonably secure about yourself and positive about your parents, take the initiative and open up to them. Share your feelings: fears, self-doubts, regrets about the fights, how difficult it was to break away, and your hope for a mature, equal, accepting, close relationship with them in the future. Emphasize the positive. If they have been helpful, show your appreciation. Forget and forgive the "war," if possible, or, at least, avoid letting the poison keep festering. The students I work with find this "reunion" with their parents scary to plan. But it is extremely gratifying, once it is done, to have taken some responsibility for this relationship--almost certainly the longest, deepest, and most influential relationship you will ever have. Many people are amazed at how hard it is to say "I love you" and to hug or touch their mother or father or child again. But it feels so good. Many of us cry. 

If you are grown and independent and love your parents openly and never had to fight with your parents to get where you are, be sure to thank them for doing so well in a difficult job. If you are wishing your parents had been better, ask yourself: "Although they weren't perfect, weren't they good enough?" They did what they had to do. Ifyou feel you need total agreement and unfailing support from your parents, ask yourself why that is needed. Does it reflect some dependency and self-doubt? 

Try to use your insights into these conflicts. The teenager is trying to find "his/her own place"--their unique personality and life-style. Look for unconscious forces: children may delight in driving parents up a wall, parents may get some secret pleasure from seeing their children fail or make mistakes in certain ways, a parent's dreams may be frustrated when the young person decides to "do his/her own thing," parents may be especially upset when children do things they prohibit but are tempted to do themselves, etc. Most importantly, the teenager may be slowly "cutting the umbilical cord" by creating an "uproar" which makes it easier for him/her to leave the love, warmth, and stifling dependency of home. Viewed in that light, maybe having a few uproars isn't so bad. Don't let the "fights" become permanently hurtful. Be forgiving.


The case of Tony and Jane described at the beginning of this chapter illustrates the complicated and intertwined nature of anger and fear. Jealousy is a fear of losing our loved one to someone else. Thus, it involves an anticipated loss (depression) and a failure in competition with someone else (anxiety and low self-esteem). In addition, when your partner shows a love or sexual interest in someone else, there is a "breech of contract" with you and a disregard for your feelings. When Tony went flirting and dancing with attractive women, even if it was merely innocent fun, he callously placed his need for fun over Jane's plea for consideration of her feelings. That makes Jane mad. Also, if Tony and Jane were married or engaged, Tony seemed (to Jane) to break a solemn oath to forever "forgo all others" within 10 minutes of meeting an attractive woman at a party. That too makes her mad...and distrustful, and rightly so in my opinion. Yet, many of us are jealous without any valid grounds for feeling mistreated or neglected; we are just afraid of what might happen.  


Concerning Jane's anger, she could try to reduce it either by honestly disclosing to Tony how upsetting and hurtful his flirting is (coupled with an assertive request for reassurance and that he stop) or by reducing the intensity of her anger response. Her anger could be reduced in a variety of ways, e.g. by desensitization or stress inoculation, by correcting her thoughts about how terrible it is that Tony flirts, by building her self-esteem, or by changing her view of Tony's flirting from being an indication of his infidelity to being a reflection of his doubts about his attractiveness. Other methods for controlling anger are mentioned in the last section.


Distrusting Others
One of the things we dislike most is to be deceived or cheated, to be lied to. To call someone a liar is a serious charge made when we are very angry. It is surely going to cause a fight. Yet, common sense tells us that some distrust is appropriate. People do deceive others, sometimes, even best friends and loved ones. So, in some ways the human condition encourages distrust. Our novels and entertainment often suggest a person finds someone (not his/her partner) else attractive. We teach children to hide their valuables and to not accept rides from strangers (good advice). We warn kids that others might touch them in the "wrong places." We don't believe ads and salespersons. We know people put their "best foot forward." Teenagers know the line on the second date, "I love you, let's do it." Politicians say what we want to hear. We believe people are pushed by unconscious forces and don't really know themselves. We know people respond to stereotypes instead of real people. So is it best to trust or distrust? to be honest or dishonest? The answers are not simple. The best answer depends of the circumstances. But, in general, research shows that trusting people have better interpersonal relationships. People low in trust tend to be more angry, competitive, resentful, and unempathic.

We must realize though that each individual is so complex and has so many feelings, needs, opinions, etc., he/she couldn't possibly reveal all sides of him/herself to a new acquaintance. So we play roles, at least we show only parts of our real self(s). What else is related to hiding parts of ourselves? Our fear of rejection, our own sensitivity or vulnerability. Few people want to pretend to be something they aren't. Yet, others have to be accepting before we are likely to be open and honest. Or we have to be strong enough to say "it's OK if they don't like me." Examples: if you feel homosexual urges are disgusting and sick, your friend probably can't tell you about his/her homosexual interests. If you are very sexually attracted to someone, you probably can't tell them the truth about why you are approaching them. An article in a women's magazine was entitled "My Life in a 39EE Bra." The writer said that most men made a point of telling her early on that they were "leg men" but that wasn't her impression later. We often tell people what we think they want to hear, we tell what is most acceptable. Or, we must become willing to run the risk of criticism and rejection.

Among the better antidotes for a fear of rejection are self-confidence, self-acceptance, a willingness to find another friend if necessary, and an ability to accept and profit from criticism. For example, you can handle criticism better if you: 

  • Avoid over-reacting to the criticism or rejection so you can understand what is being said about you. Remember, you don't have to be loved by everybody all the time. But, make constructive use of the person's opinions and criticism. 
  • Assess the accuracy of what was said. Try to understand the motives of the source. Are emotions being displaced on to you? Is the critic's opinion based on valid information? Is he/she projecting? Is he/she playing put-down games? Is he/she afraid of or competing with you?
    a. If the critics seem accurate (and especially if several people agree), ask for all the information and help they can give. Make plans to improve.          
    b. If the critic seems in error and biased, then discount the information or "take it for what it's worth." It would still be valuable to understand how and why the situation arose. Depending on the circumstances, you'll have to decide whether to counter-attack or forget it.

Become more Trusting
The major point, however, is that you can take greater risks in trusting and in being honest in relating to others (trying for a deeper friendship) if you are less vulnerable or less dependent and more self-accepting. The stronger and more secure you are, the more honest you can be and the more open others will be with you. Clearly, distrust and dishonesty are appropriate in some situations, but they are few. Trust and honesty are more often preferred, especially as one becomes more secure and independent. Interesting research, which we now turn to, has confirmed the merits of trusting others. 

The Trust Scale
Julian Rotter developed an "Interpersonal Trust Scale," which measures the belief that another person's word or promise can be relied upon. It includes items like these: To what extent do you agree with these statements? 

  1. In dealing with strangers, one is better off trusting them--within reason--until they provide evidence of being untrustworthy. 
  2. Most people can be counted on to do what they say they will do.
  3. The courts give fair and unbiased treatment to everyone.
  4.  Most elected public officials are really sincere in their campaign promises. 
  5. Most salesmen are honest in describing their products. 
  6. Very few accident claims filed against insurance companies are phony. 

You can get a feel for how you would answer such questions (all these questions reflect a trusting attitude, but in the extreme they would reflect a naive, too trusting attitude).  Trusting (but not naive) people tend to be happier, better liked by others, more honest, and more moralistic do-gooders than less trusting people. Of course, not all distrustful people are dishonest themselves; however, there is a trend in this direction. Some would say that trusting is pretty dumb. But high and low trusters are about the same in intelligence. You might think, "OK, but surely trusters are more gullible." Rotter's research says "no, not so." It's true the high truster does take the view, "I'll trust them until they do me wrong." But, they seem just as able to detect the cues of a dishonest deal or statement as a distrustful person. Indeed, Rotter (1980) says it is the distrustful person who is more likely to be "taken" by the con artist. How come? Well, since the dishonest person believes the world is crooked--"that's how everyone makes a fast buck"--when a "drug dealer" comes along and offers $1000 in 10 days if he/she will invest $500 today to fly a spare part to the stranded plane in Mexico, the dishonest person hands over his/her $500. The moralistic, trusting person would more likely say, "I don't want to get involved in something dishonest or illegal…and may be a scam"
Another disadvantage of distrusting is that it disrupts honest dealings and puts up barriers to open, intimate relationships. Rapoport (1974) has studied trust and cooperation for 20 years. He found people tended to be distrustful, especially in a competitive rather than cooperative situation. A betrayal of trust is hard for most people to forgive. But, trusting people are more likely to "give someone a second chance." Unfortunately, competing nations, like people, are not trusting and are too self-centered to be rational. Rotter (1980) gives an excellent but scary example. It seems that the U.S. during the Cold War had prepared a disarmament plan, but before it was presented, the Russians came forth with a very similar plan. We should have been pleased, right? No. Since we didn't trust the Russians, the plan was thought to have had some secret advantage to them, so the US couldn't possibly accept the plan. We had to think of another plan, one they wouldn't like. That kind of thinking could have killed us all. Maybe the message is: don't trust governments to do all your thinking for you.

Rotter also developed the Internalizer-Externalizer Scale (see chapter 8). Externalizers (people who believe that external forces determine what happens in their lives) tend to be more distrusting. On the other hand, Internalizers, believing they are in control and can change things, are more likely to be aggressive when they are frustrated or provoked (Singer, 1984). So it appears that Internalizers and Externalizers handle anger differently. Internalizers initially are more trusting but when frustrated or hurt by someone they act out aggressively. Externalizers are distrustful and passively accept the unkind actions of others which re-confirm their already skeptical views of others

How can you become more trusting? Have trusting parents. Beyond that, Rotter suggests that you frequently put your distrust to a test. When someone says something you tend to doubt (without any hard evidence), act as if you believe it and see what happens. Rotter thinks you will learn to be more trusting and the person you are trusting will learn to be more trustworthy (like a self-fulfilling prophecy) as well. Parenting: The Revolutionary Approach to Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool
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