I was recently approached by a grandmother who was very concerned about her teenage grandson. He was hanging around with the wrong crowd and was being influenced in the wrong way. She said that she had warned him many times to stay away from these friends, but he did not seem to listen. "What can I do or say that will actually penetrate and have some effect on him?" she asked. "Why is it that I can influence others, but I am not able to influence my own children and grandchildren? Is there anything wrong with them or with me?"

Teenagers instinctively resist being told by others what to do. Teenagers, who are in the process of evolving from childhood to adulthood, are preparing for a time when they will have to take charge of their own life and make their own decisions. That is why, at times, teenagers will reject advice and guidance, especially if these come from a person in authority, such as a parent, grandparent, teacher or older brother or sister. The teenager may feel that the person in authority is trying to take control of his/her life, and this is a definite no-no for many teenagers.

Therefore, the minute a person in authority starts saying things like "Don't do this" or "Do that", "You should know better than this," etc, the teenager may immediately switch off, perceiving it as an attempt to control his or her life.

I advised the concerned grandmother as follows:

The first step is to accept the fact that she probably has no control over what the teenager does. This does not mean, however, that she should not make an effort to express her views and try to influence his behavior. I suggested that she should begin all statements in the following manner: "I really love you and I really care about you; if I didn't care about you so much I wouldn't be saying this." Then she should tell her grandson that she has no intention of controlling his life or telling him what to do. She should remind him that she loves him unconditionally and that nothing he ever does will stop her from loving him. He is her grandchild and that will be forever. She should assure him that what he does with his life is his choice.

I suggested that she also say, "I made the choices in my life and now it's your turn to make your choices. All I can do is sit on the sidelines and observe. And because I love you, I feel the need to point out what may be a blind spot in your current situation. You may not see it, because you're emotionally involved in the situation. I am concerned that your current group of friends seem to bring out the worst in you. Because I love you, I feel I must point this out to you. It's your choice whether to take my advice or not. I wasn't perfect at your age either. I didn't always take my parents advice."

It's not what you say, it's how you say it. If you're sincere in your love and caring and in only wanting what's best for him, chances are he'll be receptive to what you're saying.

I also said to the grandmother: This is still not a guarantee that your grandchild will listen to you, but it does increase the chances. This will only work if you genuinely believe that you're not able to control them and that all you're trying to do is to get them to see what they don't see for themselves.

Try it—it works!