Coaching Adolescent Attunement To The “Mirror-Me” Parent

A parent writes: Our teenage daughter will not talk to us, and she tells us that we won’t accept her for who she is. We are tough parents who expect a lot from her. What should we do?
Honest, open, and authentic communication between parents and children is a vital ingredient to raising happy, well adjusted kids. Parents who value authenticity are attuned to the individual within each child and do not permit their child to serve as a mirror of parental wishes, aspirations, and narcissism. Attunement builds a bond that insulates children from negative influences, promotes the trust necessary for them to seek advice and accept guidance, and curbs the acting out of anger and independence that inevitably creeps into adolescence. Unfortunately, some parents erect barriers to authentic communication due to the high priority placed upon children serving as mirrors. Instead of supporting and celebrating them for who they are, “mirror-me” parents send the message that loyalty to their wishes is paramount.
If you or someone you care about is stuck in the  parenting mirror, these coaching tips may be hard to read but  someday your child will thank you for finding the humility to accept, and perhaps even live by them:
Consider the strong possibility that you were raised by a “mirror-me” parent. Stepping away from the  mirror is easier when you realize how you got there in the first place. Often times the dye was cast during a parent’s childhood when certain “rules of aggrandizement” were learned the hard way. Earning a parent’s pride, and perhaps even the expression of love, came with strings attached. Choices were to follow parental preferences, discussion was to parallel parental priorities, and interests were to abide by parental agenda.  At the time, these rules may have seemed quite reasonable but in today’s world they are experienced by teens as burdensome, selfish, and phony. The lack of acceptance of your child’s likes and dislikes leads them to wonder if you wish to raise a puppet or a person.  
Some of teenager's behavior problems may reflect the gulf between who they are and who parents’ what them to be. When teens feel that their personality must be stifled pressure builds and must be let out somewhere. With this in mind, tell your teen that you wish to improve communication within the relationship. Suggest that you realize that you have reacted in ways that have not fostered open discussion, and have likely made them angrier and more rebellious. Encourage them to review times when you have been particularly clueless about what they were trying to say, and your responses have only served to erode trust that they can confide in you. If no memories are forthcoming, review some attunement errors that are particularly memorable.

For attunement to strengthen, emphasis must be placed upon nonjudgmental listening during conversations with your child. Try hard not to interrupt, predict, pontificate, nor invalidate their views with sarcasm and condescension. These are some of the common communication pitfalls of  ”mirror me” parents. Instead, sincerely thank them for sharing their views even though they knew you might disagree.  Use discussion to build a bridge between how they see things and how you see things in their life.  Don’t rush to premature conditions or sweeping pronouncements about their future. These responses will limit your credibility and erode their confidence in your guidance.  Give matters time to seep into the minds of all.                                                                                           
Don’t confuse the protection of values with the need for greater attunement. Safety, respect, goal attainment, kindness, and many others are not to be sacrificed during the passage to better communication with your teenager. When values are eschewed by teens, they may be ignored as a way of retaliating against parental narcissism.  If this is the case, it is likely that professional help will be needed to build that very vital bridge to a better relationship.   
Dr. Steven Richfield is a child psychologist in Plymouth Meeting, PA Contact him at 610-238-4450 or