What happened the last time you said, "No" to your teenager? I thought so! She launched into a verbal persuasive essay that would have made her English teacher proud. Then one of two things happened: 1) You caved and she got what she wanted, or 2) You held your ground and your teenager sulked for days, plotting revenge. Is that any way to raise a family? Of course not!
Teenagers have more sense of responsibility that parents generally give them credit for. When given the choice between right and wrong, they will usually choose right if they have been guided in that direction by the adults who care for them.
Building strong character doesn't mean you lecture about the evils of drugs, alcohol, and premarital sex. It means you show your teenager what the results of her decisions would be if she chose one way or the other. Consider these options to the ubiquitous screaming match that ensues after a parent says, "No."
Here's an example: Your teenager wants to buy a new phone because hers is outdated and doesn't have the fancy new apps that her friends' phones have. You are struggling to make ends meet and can't afford to buy the new phone before her two-year-plan allows the upgrade.
What's a parent to do? Most will say, "No, you can't have a new phone. I can’t afford it right now. Why would you even ask?" Do you see the start of an argument here? Now look at this alternative: "Well, you can have a new phone, but that will take $50 a month more from our budget. So, what would you be willing to give up for that new phone?"
Wow! You just put the burden of the decision back to your daughter. Either way, you win! If she chooses to go without (fill in her $50 decision) for six months until the plan is eligible for an upgrade, then she gets her phone and you don't have to pay anything extra. If she chooses to stick with her phone for those six months, then you still don't have to pay anything extra and your daughter has learned a valuable lesson in adult budgetary restraints.
Let's try another example: Your sixteen-year-old son wants to get his own junker car to drive around town. Your reply might go something like this: "No, you can't get a junker car. It will be a money pit. You can't afford all the repairs and I'll end up footing the bill. Or worse, we will have a rust bucket sitting in the yard."
Sound familiar? You know what comes next. He storms out of the house, slamming the door behind him, texting a friend to come pick him up because his parents are such losers. Is that how you want your son to view you? Of course not.
Try this conversation instead: "I'm really proud of you for saving up enough money to get that junker car. And you can pay your own insurance. But what about when the junker car blows a radiator? Or the tires wear out? Or any other number of problems occur? When you have $500 in a special savings account for car emergencies, then we'll go looking for that perfect car to drive to school next year."
Say what? You're encouraging your son to be responsible? To save for his own emergencies? To understand what real life is all about? Yup, you just placed the burden of the decision back in his pocket instead of your wallet. So instead of storming out of the house, he heads straight to the want-ads, looking for a second job or at least a job that pays better than the one he has now so he can save up that $500 and know his parents will support his choice of the car. Again, everybody wins when a parents learns not to say, "No."
I'm not saying this will work every time your child asks to do something and I'm also not saying it is the right way to go every time. However, it is a valuable tool in the parent's toolbox that allows children to make their own decisions based on your years of life experience.
Think about all the times you refused to allow your child, at any age, to do something he or she asked for. At a younger age, he might have wanted to go trick-or-treating with his friends, without his parents tagging along to chaperone. In middle school, she might want to go to the dance wearing makeup.
All of the little things that children ask for are part of their maturing process. Make sure you are there as the supportive parent who shows them what the results of a decision might be and how they can reach their goal on their own. Are you ready for the next challenge now?
Renee Heiss is a retired child-development teacher and the author of several books that feature a character development component. www.reneeheiss.com
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