Who Does the Problem Belong to … Really?

The words we say may never be forgotten. And while our rangatahi may pretend they are not listening to us, they are. Sure, they’ll roll their eyes. But they’re still listening. 

Navigating the waters of parenting while guiding our rangatahi through the highs and lows of their friendships is a balancing act. There is a lot to consider. 

We want them to be:

  • Able to stand up for themselves 
  • Considerate of others 
  • Make their own decisions
  • Remember and act on their values
  • Stay safe
  • Be happy

That’s a long list … of things that are ours. And yes, it’s nice if we’re in sync with our rangatahi on some of these points, but in the end, the way they navigate their friendships is something they learn to do by themselves. Like any skill, growing great friendships is something you learn to do. It’s a skill you practice. And, ideally, every time you practice, you learn something. 

Parents, of course, have judgments about and opinions of the rangatahi their own rangatahi call friends. As a parent, we may choose to get to know a friend, to make them feel welcome in our homes, and to include them in family activities. The friendship may flourish, or it may not. 

That’s not our call. Our role is being there for our rangatahi as an impartial observer. A person who is in their corner but not adding our opinions to the relationships our young person is involved in; being the parent who is friendly AND non-judgmental. The parent who is there to guide our rangatahi, not to control them. 

If we can get this far, we have a very real shot at becoming the parent who can encourage our rangatahi to reflect on their friendship highs and lows. Reflection is so important, it helps our rangatahi to grow their knowledge of themselves: how they react, the things that make them tick, what’s acceptable to them or not, how they treat the things they value. Reflection is a key to understanding who they are being.

Getting to the place of being a trusted source of guidance is a place of aspiration for many parents of rangatahi. We may not approve of the friend, or friends, who our rangatahi has chosen to include in their friendship circle. But like so many parenting moments we have about our children, this is about them, it’s not about us. Letting go of this is hard for us. 

The friendships our rangatahi choose to invest in are their choice. Therefore, when things do not go smoothly and problems arise, the problems are also theirs. In the four quadrants of problem ownership, friendship issues sit in the ‘they have a problem’ quadrant. If for any reason, friendship issues fall into one of these two quadrants – we have a problem OR I have a problem – then as a parent, we have an opportunity to look within and work our way out of these problem quadrants. This is super important because, if we want to be our rangatahi’s guide, we can only be effective if we are removed from the intenseness of the problem. We have to be able to hold it at arm’s length in order to be in a position of guidance. 

Of course, we’re still holding parental boundaries and keeping the container of our family rules safe and strong. I’m not suggesting for a minute that you adopt a let-the-friends-run-our-family attitude. This isn’t about our rangatahi doing whatever they please.

It’s about how we work with our rangatahi. Listening. Guiding. And loving them for the person they are becoming, as we allow ourselves to become the person we are meant to be. What we choose to focus on is what we amplify, in our lives and in the lives of our rangatahi.

While we often have the best intentions for a happier outcome, again, that outcome belongs to our rangatahi, not to us. If you’d like to explore this further, I encourage you to register here for this workshop on Navigating Teenage Friendships on Tuesday 22 February. With awareness comes knowledge, and with knowledge and experience comes wisdom. Don’t we all want that for our rangatahi?