Treated Like A Child?

2011/07/05 in Relationships

“When are you going to grow up, kid?” There it is. Your parents seem to want you to start acting like an adult. That means learning to make responsible decisions about things like your friends and your social life, money matters, school, your future.


But your parents often treat you like a child by not giving you the freedom to start making those kinds of decisions. We’d like to help you with this problem by suggesting some things you can do when your parents expect you to act like an adult while they’re treating you like a kid.

First, let’s look at why your parents may be doing this. if your parents are like most people, they made a lot of mistakes while they were growing up. Some of these mistakes were very painful for them. Since most parents don’t want to see their kids get hurt, they try to keep their children from making those same mistakes. How? By not giving them the freedom and responsibility to make the kinds of decisions that just might lead to mistakes and problems. What parents sometimes forget is that one way of growing up is making mistakes and learning from them. So while your parents want you to become an adult, they might also treat you like a child by trying to protect you from those experiences they’re afraid will hurt you.

There’s another reason some parents some times don’t give their teens the kind of freedom they need to mature. That reason has to do with values. Values are those strong personal beliefs that you think are important enough to try to live by. As a kid, you pretty much accepted most everything your parents said and believed without question. Your parents’ values automatically became your values. But during your teen years, you start learning things from your own personal and social experiences, and you build on to the set of beliefs your parents have given you. You may even reject some of their beliefs and replace them with your own.

At times, it may seem to your parents that you’re rejecting all of the values that mean so much to them. This can be frustrating for them, especially if they feel that your values are kind of shaky – or downright wrong – as far as they’re concerned. They may worry that if you start acting on these beliefs, you’ll run into trouble. We’re not saying that you’re wrong in trying to work Out a value system for yourself. And we’re not saying your parents are wrong when they have problems accepting some of your beliefs. What both of you are doing is normal in a parent-teen relationships. We’re just suggesting that some parents, maybe yours, try to keep their kids from forming what they see as strange, maybe even dangerous, beliefs. How? By clamping down on their children’s freedom to have experiences that might make them question or reject the parents deeply held beliefs.

Whether your parents are treating you like a child because they’re afraid you’ll get hurt, or because you’re questioning their values, it doesn’t make things any easier for you just knowing this. So let’s look at some things you can actually do to help your parents start treating you like an adult.

If you want to be treated like an adult, first you have to make sure you’re acting like one. If you told your parents you’d finish some work at a certain time, or be home by eleven, live up to what you said. Before your parents will give you more freedom and responsibility, you’ll have to build their trust in you by being responsible with the obligations you have now. When you do this, they’ll probably allow you more freedom. For more advice on how to build your parents trust in you, call our tape, “So You’ve Lost Your Parents’ Trust? Can You Get It Back?”

If showing your parents that you’re responsible for your actions doesn’t work, you’ll have to find out why it doesn’t work. Talk to them. Let them know that you feel that you’ve done a good job with the responsibilities you do have, and that you think you should be given more freedom. Also, let them know that you’re aware that when they treat you like a child, it’s often only out of their concern for you. In this way, you’ll be letting them know you’re trying to understand their viewpoint.

Finally, another thing you can do is to help your parents think through this thing by asking them about their past experiences with responsibilities. Maybe you’ll help them remember that they grew by making their own mistakes. If you can build their trust in you by acting responsibly, and by helping them see the important role learning from mistakes plays in a person’s life, the problem of their treating you like a child should solve itself.

We agree that it’s rough to be expected to act like an adult, when you’re treated like a child. We said that two of the reasons your parents may be treating you like a child is because they’re afraid that if they give you freedom you’ll make mistakes that will hurt you or because the values you’re creating for yourself may worry them, especially if they’re afraid you won’t get on in life with those values.

In order to deal with this situation, we suggest that you make sure you are acting responsibly so that your parents can feel good about giving you more freedom. if this approach doesn’t work, come right out and ask them why they don’t think you’re responsible enough to have more freedom. It’ll also help to ask your parents about their growing up experiences – what mistakes they made and what they learned from them. This should also help them feel better about your attitude because you’re trying to understand their side of the story, too. Good luck!

For additional support and resources please call our 24-hour Teen Hotline by dialing 2-1-1 or 954-567-8336 (TEEN.)

Teen Tapes is produced by the University of Wisconsin, Madison.