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“Because I said so!”

How to talk to your teen about rules

My daughter Shannon taught me some funny new lyrics to a popular teen song. I was surprised that they had been made up by her friend’s mother as she chauffeured the girls. I remarked that it didn’t seem like something Shannon would want me to do. She told me, “Don’t even think about it. I would hate it. ” Then she paused and said, “I think she hated it, too.” The lyrics were humorous, but few teens perceive their own parents as cool. In many families it would have been a perfect opportunity for the screaming to begin, “How could you embarrass me like that?”

Don’t accept teens’ critical remarks as accurate. When babies move into the toddler years, they need more autonomy and scream, “ I do it myself.” Parents decide on safe limits and smile at this growing desire for independence. Teens are moving into a different kind of independence as they prepare for the time they’ll be on their own. But when adolescents scream, the tendency as a parent is to engage in argument instead of seeing that teens are struggling to find their own values and identity. Try hard to be patient. Don’t give them the power to control your responses. Firm and reasonable limits are effective parenting practices.

Listen to the message. Teens are self-conscious. In the example above, the mother may not realize that, although everyone else in the car was having fun, her daughter was not. Her daughter was embarrassed. Listen carefully to your teen. Try not to give advice. Teens know they always can ask, “What would you do?” They need eye contact and concentrated listening, not advice. Remember to catch your teen acting responsibly and remark on it.

Arguing for the sake of arguing. With the approach of adolescence, individuals become capable of abstract thought. They can begin to use principles and logic to build a case to support their views. This ability helps them study difficult subjects in school. It means they can successfully compete on debate teams. It also means that a simple family rule becomes open to endless family debates! You may decide that some rules about curfews, increased responsibilities or privileges are flexible. Keeping the disagreement on a rational plane helps the teen understand why other rules are non-negotiable. Your underlying values become apparent in a rational discussion, but they are completely invisible when an argument deteriorates to “I’m the parent and I said so.”

It may not be apparent now, but these are seeds falling on fertile soil. “Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.” (Luke 8:8)