Last week I met the most wonderful mother after my Parent Information Evening … as she approached me she had a big smile on her face but as she started to speak she burst into tears! In an effort to placate her I quickly told her that her crying was very quickly going to result in a similar response from me if she wasn’t careful and she responded by laughing through her flood of tears and said “I’m not upset and nothing bad has happened, it’s just that after hearing you I finally feel okay about saying ‘no’ to my daughter! It’s just such a huge relief!”
Recently she had been facing great pressure from other parents to ‘loosen up’ and give her daughter a little more space. There was a party coming up and it was to be hosted by the same parents who had put on an event the previous year that had got out of hand and she did not want her daughter to attend. Unfortunately she had been convinced by others that to say ‘no’ and not let her 15 year-old go was tantamount to child abuse and, although it went against everything she felt was right, she was willing to follow the other parents. My talk had really resonated with this woman and she felt empowered to finally follow her heart and tell her daughter that she would not be attending – she just didn’t feel comfortable letting her go!
A number of years ago there was a belief amongst some parenting experts that saying ‘no’ could somehow ‘damage’ a child. I remember going to an information session where the speaker presented some very dodgy research that suggested that saying ‘no’ could somehow stifle a child’s creativity! If you’re just going to say ‘no’ to everything and not explain why you’re doing the things you do, of course that isn’t going to be helpful, but the word ‘no’ is one of the most important words that a parent can use if it’s used appropriately.
Parents need to remember the following rationale behind saying ‘no’, as well as be absolutely clear about what may happen next and how best to respond …
- adolescence is a time when young people work out where they fit in the world. It is also a time where they are more likely to take risks
- parents need to set limits for teens to push against, as well as to keep them safe as possible
- ‘no’ provides limits and sets boundaries
- you cannot control how your child feels about these limits or how they react to them so don’t even bother to try
- you are only able to control yourself and your behaviour
- remember that the only reason you have rules is because you love them – make that clear and then walk away
No child likes being told that they can’t do or have something they want. This gets worse when they become adolescents as in their minds they are now far more grown up and should be able to take part in adult activity that they observe all around them. Parties (or ‘gatherings’) are where they learn how to socialize and it is no surprise that some teens want to take part in this activity as most adults do, i.e., with alcohol. Most parents who have a problem with saying ‘no’ talk of their dread as to how their child may react, i.e., screaming, name-calling, throwing things or the like. Others just give up and end up saying ‘yes’ because of the constant badgering, with their teen following them around begging and pleading or cleverly setting up one parent against another.
As I have already said, just saying ‘no’ for the sake of it is just as damaging as letting your teen run off and do whatever they want. As Laurence Steinberg says in his book Age of Opportunity (everyone’s going to get so sick and tired of me quoting that man!), parents should “gradually relinquish control and try to permit – rather than protect – when you can.” Every opportunity you get to allow them to extend themselves a little, which you believe to be as safe as possible, and doesn’t compromise your values and beliefs, grab it with both hands!
It’s worth remembering that as far as alcohol and parties are concerned, there are a few certainties when it comes to saying ‘no’ to your teen – these are as follows:
- they’re not going to like it
- you’re in for a fight, or at the very least the ‘cold shoulder’ for a while
- you will be accused of being the ‘worst parent ever’
- they’re going to go behind your back and try to find someone else to say ‘yes’
- no matter what they say, they still love you!
And of course, there are going to be some teens who will just go off and try to do it anyway – that’s where parental monitoring comes in! If they break the rules you have set, there have to be consequences.
Most teens who hear ‘no’ from their parents won’t like it very much, will respond in an emotional way and, as a result, it won’t be very pleasant around the house for a day or two. There are cases, however, where it gets much worse – adolescents running away to a party on a Saturday night and not returning home, physical violence and a range of other unacceptable behaviour. It is vital that parents understand that if this sort of behaviour occurs they must seek professional help as soon as they possibly can. Don’t try to deal with this by yourself.