Q: Our 17-year-old daughter is an honor student who has been accepted to three colleges. She has not been a risk-taker, except with boys. Her most recent boyfriend is a wonderful kid and very smart. Apparently, they both resent our rule that a parent must be home when either of them is visiting at the other one’s home, but they’ve gone along with it, however reluctantly. We just found out that they’ve been texting about sneaking out in cars to be alone. What should we do?
A: Your question, however brief, absolutely drips with evidence that the two of you are guilty of world-class micromanagement. Your daughter is a senior in high school, an honor student, and a generally sensible person whose only “crime” is that of wanting to be alone with her boyfriend, who is equally guilty where she is concerned. Sounds normal to me. In fact, it sounds downright reasonable.
For purposes of the present discussion, micromanagement is the attempt to control someone who (1) cannot be controlled or (2) has demonstrated the ability to exercise reasonably good self-control. For micromanagement to work, both of those conditions must be false. If either condition is true, however, then micromanagement will not work and the anxiety-driven attempt to make it work will create a wagonload of problems.
There will be times in a child’s life when micromanagement is both feasible and necessary — during infancy and toddlerhood, for example. As a child matures, the need for micromanagement decreases.
It can certainly be argued that some teens, because they have demonstrated a serious inability to make good decisions, may need to be micromanaged. Regardless, the very teen who needs it is not going to submit to it. A teen who does not need it is not going to submit to it either. Therefore, micromanagement does not work with teens. Period.
Your daughter has obviously demonstrated the ability to exercise reasonably good self-control. The attempt, therefore, to control her is going to cause lots of problems and solve none. In fact, your attempt to micromanage your daughter is likely to result in the very problems you are trying to prevent. With the best of intentions, you have become your own, and her, worst enemies.
Invariably, micromanagement results in four problems: deceit, disloyalty, conflict, and communication problems. You have discovered that your daughter is right on the edge of trying to deceive you. One down, three to go. You and she are having conflict concerning your rules. Two down, two to go. Deceit and conflict go hand-in-hand with communication problems. Three down, one to go. From here, it’s a short step to disloyalty — the increasingly likely possibility that your daughter will decide to reject your values, values you’ve worked for more than 17 years to instill in her. That’s all four down. Is the price worth it?
You can still retrieve this situation, but you’d better be ready to eat some crow. I strongly encourage you to sit down with her and say words to the following effect: “We hope you know we have only your best interests in mind, but we have to admit we’ve made a mistake. We’ve been acting like you can’t be trusted when in fact you’ve given us no reason to believe that’s the case. We’ve made our values and expectations perfectly clear to you. You’re a smart person. You know what the consequences might be of violating them. So, we trust you to do the right thing where this boy is concerned. From now on, we’re going to stop trying to control your relationship with him. We are convinced you are capable of controlling it yourself. We love you!”
Does this approach guarantee that no problems will develop? No. No one can make that guarantee. But believe me, these two young people are far more likely to do what you don't want them to do if you keep doing what you are currently doing. So, the solution is quite simple: Stop!