‘No’ is one of the most important words you can say to your child. It’s a tiny word, but for many people, particularly parents, it can prove incredibly difficult to say. There are books dedicated to the word and its importance, written from a business perspective, discussing relationships and personal development, as well as the role it plays in parenting. Many of us avoid using it because we’re afraid that it’ll cause conflict with someone else, or that saying it will somehow change how others view us. Research has found that many parents avoid battles with their children because they feel that if they say ‘no’ to them, they’ll stop loving them. Interestingly, little children seem to have no issues with the word, in fact, toddlers (i.e., the ‘terrible twos’) tend to scream it constantly! It seems, however, that as we grow up many of us learn to become ‘people pleasers’ and, as a result, ‘no’ seems to drop out of our vocabulary.
Parents of today who try to tow the line in this area have it particularly tough. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, those who adopt a more permissive parenting style (i.e., less likely to have rules and boundaries and more likely to ‘buckle’ and say “yes” to their child) put far more pressure on others who appear to be stricter. A couple of years ago I told the story of a mother who came up to me after a Parent Information Evening and burst into tears. When I went to console her she smiled 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!”
She’d 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 earlier event that had got out of hand and she didn’t want her daughter to attend. She’d 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!
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’re 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 they can’t do or have something they want. This gets worse when they become adolescents as in their minds they’re 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 to socialize and it’s no surprise that some teens want to take part in this activity in the same way as many adults do, i.e., with alcohol. I’m a strong believer that if your child wants to attend a social event, whether it be a sleepover, party or gathering, if you can find a way to let them go (i.e., apply caveats to try to ensure they are as safe as possible), then you should let them. However, if you have a 14-year-old daughter who wants to attend a party where there’ll be 18-year-old young men drinking alcohol, that’s a ‘no’! 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.
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, 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 doesn’t compromise your values and beliefs, grab it with both hands! Always remember, for every ‘no’ you say, you’re going to lose a few points as far as your teen is concerned, but if you say ‘yes’ you can be sure you’ll earn yourself at least a few extra credits! Now before anyone says that parenting isn’t about ‘point-scoring’, I couldn’t agree more, but I haven’t met a Mum or Dad who doesn’t say that it sure helps …
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’ll 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’ll 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 need to be consequences. But remember to ‘pick your battles’ – don’t fly off the handle at every little mistake your child makes. Of course, if they do something wrong, they need to know you’re not going to put up with bad behaviour but make sure the ‘time suits the crime’ …
Most teens who hear ‘no’ from their parents won’t like it very much. They’re likely to 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 and potentially dangerous behaviour. It’s vital that parents understand that if this sort of behaviour occurs they should seek professional help as soon as they possibly can. Don’t try to deal with this by yourself.
Published: November 2017