Is Your Teenager a Master of Parental Manipulation?

It's important to stop a child's manipulating behaviors early in life.

Manipulate: To control or influence a person cleverly, unfairly, or unscrupulously.

How clever is your teen? Do they try to influence you in unfair and unscrupulous ways? If so, you’re not alone.

Manipulation is common among children of all ages. When they’re younger, their goal may be to get extra cookies, get out of cleaning their room, or get away with torturing their younger sibling. During the teen years, manipulative tactics are often used to cover up drug use.

If their manipulative behaviors aren’t nipped in the bud when they are younger, these actions will be harder to handle. Unfortunately, parents can’t simply wait for their kids to “outgrow” these behaviors in hopes that maturity will kick in. When manipulation works, they continue to use it, and grow into an adult who has never learned to accept responsibility.

Red Flags of Manipulation

Drug addicted teen checking computerTo protect your teen from both substance abuse and becoming a lifelong manipulator, it’s important to recognize their attempts and react appropriately.

The following are some red-flag scenarios you should be aware of:

  • Money: If your teen is into drugs, they’re going to need money to support their habit. They may try to manipulate you into financing their drug supply. Of course, they won’t come out and say “Please give me $100 so I can buy some cocaine.” But, they may try to guilt you into giving them cash (“All the other kids get a bigger allowance.”), providing money for items they don’t actually buy (“I need $30 for school supplies.”) or to make up for lost time (“Since you missed my soccer game, could you at least pay for me to see a movie with my friends?”) Be very careful with how you handle money and your teen. Don’t fall for manipulative tactics that fund drug use.
  • Sympathy: Compassion and empathy are important emotions to offer anyone struggling with substance abuse. If your teen is mixed up in drugs, they need your love and support. But, be aware that sympathy can be a manipulation tool. Don’t make excuses for them. Don’t let them off the hook for personal responsibility. Encourage them to make good decisions, even in the face of difficult times. Listen for pleas for sympathy that are manipulative: “I only got drunk because I failed that test, and I knew you’d be disappointed in my grade...I never called because none of my friends have to check in with their parents...It’s been so hard to not be on the field since I was injured, so I take a few extra pills to help me cope...” Offer support, but don’t get sucked into sympathy moments that are actually attempts to manipulate you.
  • Responsibilities: If your teen is using drugs, their substance abuse will become all-consuming. Other responsibilities will fall by the wayside. They will try to get out of chores, school work and other obligations. If they have a part-time job, it will suffer. This will also cycle back to the money issue. “It’s too hard to work and go to school. Can’t you just give me money? You’re supposed to provide for me!” Yes, provide for them, but don’t be manipulated into providing for their drug habit. It will help your teen more in the long run if you expect them to be responsible. Hold them accountable to completing tasks and shouldering appropriate responsibilities. And, be up front about your expectations. Don’t try to turn the tables and use manipulative tactics of your own.

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