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Is Your Child Playing You Like a Drum: Teenage Manipulation

Manipulate: To control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means, especially to one’s own advantage.

We humans are master manipulators. Some of us are more skilled at this art than others, but we’ve all done it. Unfortunately, manipulation and addiction are a bad combo that go hand-in-hand. Is manipulation your teenager’s go-to tool? Does she work you over when she wants money? How about when she wants to get out of trouble or tries to explain away the smell of alcohol after spending a day at the pool with friends? And here’s the million dollar question: Would you even recognize her manipulation tactics if you were being played?

The following are some of the most common manipulation techniques. Learn to recognize them in your teen to avoid these unhealthy patterns.

  • The Guilt TripEmotional blackmail is soul-crushing. If you can’t live up to someone’s expectations, you feel guilty. When your teen knows this about you, they use it to manipulate you. They express disappointment and intentionally make you feel guilty to get what they want. “You weren’t around enough when I was younger. You don’t really care about me…”
  • Playing the MartyrDo you over-give? Teens may try to use this “overage” balance like a credit card. They constantly point out they’ve given you so much, so now you owe them. The idea is to make you feel obligated to give them what they want, when you wouldn’t have if they didn’t play the martyr card. “I cleaned the house times last week and paid for your lunch. I was hoping you could…”
  • Excuses, ExcusesIf a teen simply doesn’t want to do something, they often don’t come right out and say it. Or if they neglected to do something they agreed to, they don’t own up to the mistake. Instead, they come up with an excuse for their behavior. They are trying to “get off the hook” with you. “I’ve just had a really bad day.” “I’m under a lot of stress right now.”
  • Shhh…I’m PerfectIf your teen does something wrong, she might try to hide it to avoid your criticism. She hopes to keep her reputation pristine. Or she waits for an opportune time, when you’re in a good mood or the two of you are getting along really well, to tell you about it. “Thanks for a great dinner! Hey, I’ve been meaning to let you know…”
  • A Gift…to Me!Has someone ever presented a gift to you that was more like a gift for them? This is a common manipulation technique and teens can implement it well. Or she tells you about a great idea and tries to convince you to buy in…because “you would love it,” – when it’s really all about them. “Here’s a 60-inch TV so you can watch all your shows on the big screen!” (when you rarely watch TV, but she wants to sell the TV for weed money.)