Parents who bully children, and parents who bully and abuse each other are all too common, but an often unrecognized bullying situation is teenagers who bully their parents, especially their single parents.

Of course, teenage girls can be manipulative bullies, but for a typical example, let’s focus on a 19 year-old boy who is mentally and physically capable of being independent but who’d rather sponge off his mother and lead an easy life at home.  He’s not working enough to support himself, he’s not succeeding in full-time school and he’s not struggling sixteen hours a day to become an Olympic champion.  He’s merely hanging out trying to have a good time every moment.

These adults can become physically as well as verbally abusive.  Their simmering rage when they’re thwarted can be frightening.  Usually they’re selfish, narcissistic, lazy, demanding and surly, and feel entitled to whatever makes their life work most easily.

They’re good at arguing.  They want to convince you that “love” and “support” mean that you give them money.  You have to love and give to them, but they don’t have to give anything in return.  Their hidden assumption is that if you can’t make them agree with any changes, they don’t have to change.  They’re masters of whining, complaining and blaming others, especially you, for their problems.

They’re great emotional blackmailers: “A good, loving mother would take care of me while I’m getting it together.  A caring mom would help me.”  They’re also master manipulators of your fear that, if you don’t cater to them, they’ll fail in life and it’ll be your fault, not theirs: “I need your love to keep me away from bad company.  If you kick me out, I’ll be emotionally damaged.”  They’ll subtly hint that they’ll commit suicide if you don’t coddle them.  They always have a friend who has a “good mother” taking care of him.

Your caring and fear make their arguments seductive.  No matter how much you had to struggle on your own to be successful, it’s easy to think that if you only give them one more chance, they’ll finally wake up and get it.  So you give one more chance – over and over and over.

Popular culture also makes their arguments seductive.  Most people have been raised to think that loving your child (“mother’s love”) means giving them what they want.

In my experience, one path in dealing with healthy, intelligent teenage boys almost guarantees failure.  That’s the path of giving them what they want.  The more you let them leech off your energy, wallet and good will, the softer they’ll become, the harder it will be for them to become strong and independent, the greater the chances that they’ll fall in with other lazy losers.  The more you give them, the more lazy, entitled and spoiled they’ll become.

In my experience, the path that has the greatest probability of success is to kick those little birds out of the nest before they grow too big for their fledgling wings.  They’ve already grown too big for the nest.  In order to fly, they need to strengthen their wings by use under pressure and stress.

Of course there’s a risk.  They might fail and turn to drugs, booze or burglary to support themselves.  They might give in to depression.  But, in my experience, staying home wouldn’t prevent that.  Leeching off you will only make them weaker.

Confidence and self-esteem are developed by succeeding at real and difficult challenges in which there’s a chance of failing.  Staying at home avoids important, meaningful challenges.

Some of the things to say to them when you tell them they’re moving out, depending on the circumstances, are:

  • “I know that inside you, you have this great one of you struggling to take charge of your life.  Now’s your chance for that ‘you’ to take over.  Struggle and succeed.  I’d rather you struggle and prove me wrong while hating me, than that you love me and stay here as a whining, complaining loser.”  Use the word “loser” a lot.  Challenge them to prove you wrong.
  • “This is not a discussion or a debate; you don’t get to vote.  This is definitely not fair according to you.  I know you think I don’t understand your side of it or how hard it is in today’s economy, but that’s the way it is.  I’m protecting myself from my own flesh and blood, who’d suck me dry if I let him.  You can try to argue but it won’t change anything.  It’ll just waste your time.  If you threaten me or damage the house, I’ll call the police and there’ll be no going back.”  Don’t engage in debate.  Walk away.
  • “I love you and this is scary for me, but that fear won’t stop me.  If you become a loser, just like (fill in the blank), I’ll be sad and cry that you wasted your life, but I won’t feel guilty.  I won’t regret what I’m doing.”  Then walk away.
  • “I’m going to have a joyous, good time in my life.  After you move out, if you make it fun for me, I’ll take you out to a restaurant sometimes or have you over for a good meal.  But if you nag at me and make it a rotten time, I won’t want to waste my time with you.  Your job is to make it fun for me to be with you.  Yes, that’s blackmail.  You pay for my attention, kindness and money.  Be the nicest to people who are closest.  Be nicer and sweeter to me than you would be to a stranger.  Suck up to me as if you want something from me.  You do.  Even if you can prove to me logically that it’s not fair, that’s the way it is.”
  • “You, my beloved son, are now facing the choice we all face in life at this age.  Will you settle for being a loser with a good excuse – your mother didn’t love or suckle you enough – or will you be a winner despite your mother?  Every one of your ancestors faced this.  Your ancestors lived through plague, famine, flood, war and slavery.  They lived through worse than you.  I know you have the stuff of a hero in you.  Your choice is whether you bring that out and succeed, or to be a whining, petulant, blaming loser.”
  • You have the body and mind of an adult.  You want to make adult choices in living the life you want.  Now you’re being tested.  Being an adult means taking care of yourself financially and physically.  You probably didn’t prepare yourself.  That’s your problem.  I could never teach you anything because you never listened to me when I gave you good advice.  We both know that.  You think you know everything.  You think you know what’s best for you.  Now prove it.  The less you learned useful skills, the more you’ll have to struggle now.  So what?  That’s just struggle.  I hope you’ll grow strong by struggling.”
  • Mom, make a specific plan.  For example, “You must be out by (date).  If not, I’ll throw your stuff out the window and call the police if I have to.  No negotiation.  No promises.  We allow little children to get by on promises and potential.  When they’re 13 or so, we start demanding performance.  Now that you’re 19, I demand performance.  Your performance earns what you get.”  Mom, don’t give in to satisfy one more promise.  Think through what you’ll give, if anything, and under what conditions.  My bottom line is, “Make me enjoy it and I’ll consider it.  Beat me up, physically or verbally, and you get nothing.”  The more calm you are, the better.  If he can get you upset, he’ll think he can win again…as usual.

Your teenager will be sneaky and manipulative in pushing your buttons and boundaries.  He’s mastered manipulating you for years.

Single parents are often easier to bully than couples.  Stepchildren can jerk your chain more.  A couple that disagrees strongly (one stern and one permissive) can be the worst case scenario.

This is a start.  Because all solutions depend on the specifics of the situation, you will need coaching.  Some circumstances that might alter your plans are if your teenager is not physically or mentally competent or needs extensive mental health counseling or is 13-16 or is a girl or there are drugs or alcohol involved or there are younger children at home?

Stay strong and firm.  Don’t let him move back in even for a just week or month.  It’ll reinforce the laziest in them and it’ll become permanent.

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Ben Leichtling, Ph.D. is author of the books and CDs “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids” and “Eliminate the High cost of Low Attitudes.” He is available for coaching, consulting and speaking.  To find practical, real-world tactics to stop bullies and bullying at home, school, work and in relationships, see his web site (http://www.BulliesBeGone.com) and blog (http://www.BulliesBeGoneBlog.com).

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