Why You Can’t Freak Out

Positional vs. Relational Authority

When kids are younger it’s easy to think that we have control over them. In some ways controlling younger kids is easy, especially when they’re physically small. For example, when they were acting up or having a tantrum what did you do? You picked them up, restrained them, or removed them from the room.

Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock/master1305

It’s not as easy to control middle schoolers. Good luck trying to pick them up to put them in a time-out! So, what’s the best way to achieve anything resembling “control” with older kids?

Being around middle schoolers can drive an adult crazy. These precious human beings can be weird, thoughtless, and impulsive. They can make us want to freak out.

Freak-outs look different for every adult. Sometimes it looks like yelling. Other times a freak-out means being physically imposing. Or it could take the form of emotionally withdrawing, being overly critical, or throwing out irrational punishments. Nobody is proud of their freak-outs but we all have our moments.

If we’re being honest, our freak-outs are a result of feeling a loss of control. The irony is that freak-outs are not an effective way to gain control over kids.

I haven’t raised a teenager myself but I’m confident that an adult’s sense of control over a child only decreases as the child gets older. You really can’t control a kid once he or she gets to middle school. If you’re finding yourself freaking out a lot with teenagers, you might be taking the wrong approach.

A more effective approach is to start seeking relational influence.

When kids are younger we have positional authority, meaning we have authority over them simply because we’re in the role of “someone bigger and older.” As kids get older they stop responding to positional authority. They instead become influenced through relational authority which is the result of trust, respect, and emotional safety between two people.

That’s why freak-outs harm our relationships with teens. Freak-outs are an attempt to assert positional authority even though older kids don’t respond to that anymore. To make matters worse, freak-outs can destroy trust which decreases the amount of relational authority they’ll allow you to have in their lives.

Let’s all admit that middle schoolers push us to the point of freak-outs from time to time. We don’t have much control over how frequently they push our buttons. We do, however, have control over our responses. Focus on controlling your responses instead of controlling them.Your response to a frustrating teen can either increase or decrease the authority they’ll allow you to have.

Freak-outs aren’t worth it. They’re a short-term attempt at grasping control over a person or situation, not a long-term solution that leads to healthy relationships with older kids. You can’t take control over teens. You can, however, earn the right to influence them by building trust and showing respect day after day.

The original idea for this post came from a book called It’s Just A Phase: So Don’t Miss It. It was published by an organization called Orange, which works to combine the efforts of families and churches for maximum impact in kids’ lives.