Sometimes parents and their teenage children disagree. (Only sometimes!) And sometimes it can get quite rancorous. There can be yelling, screaming, storming out of rooms and the slamming of doors.
We're shocked and appalled. "Where is your common decency?!" we rant. "How about honoring your parents?" we rave. "How could you have such chutzpah?!" And the ultimate "When I was your age I never…."
Is that really so? Pick up the phone, call your mother and ask her how you behaved. Maybe it's time for a reality check.
Disagreements, clashes, struggles are an inevitable part of growing up. Whether they result in animosity or deepened relationships is in our hands.
Even if things really were different when we were growing up, it doesn't matter. We're parenting now.
We need to take off our gloves and be prepared to negotiate with our teenagers. Even if things really were different when we were growing up, it doesn't matter. We're not parenting 30, 40 years ago. We're doing it now. We live in a very open society that has impacted the way our children think and their expectations, and we must respond and parent accordingly.
We need to master the skill of negotiating in order to be a more effective parent. (And to survive adolescence!) It will deepen our relationship with and understanding of our teenagers. And our adolescents need these skills for future success.
What does negotiating involve?
1) Start with patient and active listening. What is my son saying? What point is my daughter making?
2) Negotiating requires the ability to recognize the legitimacy of another point of view. Maybe I was wrong on the facts. Maybe I didn't have the full picture.
3) We need the insight to perceive how important this issue is to our child. Prioritize it. Rate it on a scale of 1 to 10.
4) It's crucial to have the clarity to determine which issues we're prepared to go to the mat for. There should be very few.
5) Most of all, we need the courage and confidence to say, "I've changed my mind." Why? Either our adolescent made a persuasive argument and we respect his/her point of view, or our teenager presented us with new information that significantly altered the situation, or we appreciate that this is much more important to our child than it is to us.
It is not a diminishment of our roles as parents. It enhances rather than decreases our child's respect for us. And it paves the way for future open discussions.
Both sides need to learn to listen with respect, not to interrupt, to explain their point of view and the power of the counteroffer or compromise. Rigidity or inflexibility on either side will be damaging.
Sarah had an 11:00 p.m. curfew. But it was the night of the school song and dance performance. The girls had been working hard for months and wanted to have a small party afterwards to celebrate. Although her parents were strict about her curfew, they appreciated how much this meant to Sarah and they made a one night exception of 12:00 a.m. They hadn't received so many smiles and hugs in a long time.
We are teaching our children skills they will need and use all their lives. We are providing our teenagers with an open and productive venue for expression. Without room for negotiation, their viewpoints, their needs, their desire, goals and wishes are completely shut out.
Although we want to play this card very rarely, we reserve the right to say, "Because I said so."
Having mastered the art of negotiation (!), we have to remember we're still the parents. Although we want to play this card very rarely, we reserve the right to say, "Because I said so." Sparingly, but sometimes it is necessary. Since we retain the authority to negotiate, we retain the authority to put our foot down, in a calm voice and calm manner.
When a friend's son was in high school he was invited to a Purim party. Sounds harmless, right? But my friend knew that the boys would be very rowdy and that there would be heavy drinking. Frankly he was terrified. He offered to drive his child there and even park two blocks away (thereby skirting the teenage embarrassment issue). But that wasn't enough. His son insisted on driving himself. My friend stood his ground. "I only have one of you," he said. "You're too precious to me to take any chances."
His teenager screamed and threw a tantrum, storming out of the room. But his father was adamant. Negotiations had failed and he was unwilling to budge. He had to play his parental trump card.
One scene does not an at-risk child make. As long as there is a healthy atmosphere of negotiation, the occasional strong assertion of parental authority is not dangerous. And the opposite is true: If we're too permissive because we're afraid of our child's displeasure, they are at risk of feeling unloved and uncared for. Many of the anti-drug billboards today are simply promoting involved parenting. Saying "no" shows we care -- as long as we know when to say "yes" as well.
Explain to your teenager the reason for your rules. They may not always understand. They may not always agree. They probably won't acknowledge after the fact that we were right. But we'll be amazed at what we witness when they become parents themselves. (At least that's what I've heard!)
Our rules need to be rational. Make sure all viewpoints are expressed with respect and derech eretz (good manners). Be a benevolent dictator.
Only an ineffectual boss has to keep asserting his authority. If we've done our job well, constant reminders are unnecessary and counterproductive. The very fact that our teenagers know they need to negotiate with us is a statement of respect for us and our authority. Don't abuse it.
Negotiating is empowering to both parents and teenagers. Each stage of life has its joys and challenges. While there are certainly challenges and struggles ahead in this bargaining process, there is also the joy of seeing our child emerging as a thoughtful young adult with whom we can have reasonable discussions and informed debate.