BY JAMES LEHMAN, MSW
When Kids Think Their Vote is Equal to Yours
Why do many kids think their vote in the family is equal to that of their parents? I think part of the reason, besides what we’ve already mentioned, is that children, especially teens, want control. And they want independence. I’m not saying you should give it to them, but make no mistake, they want it. That’s a natural part of adolescence.
Kids also think they should have a vote in everything because they want to be equal to their parents—and they’ll try to argue with you until they’re blue in the face to convince you of that fact.
Again, ask yourself if the choice you’re discussing is soft or hard. For example, it’s good for your child to have a vote in the soft choice about which restaurant you’ll go to tonight. You may even want him to own the choice and decide for the family—that’s perfectly fine. But it isn’t fine for him to choose his curfew time because you, as the parent and boss, own that choice.
“You Do It. Why Can’t I?”
When your child says, “You do it. Why can’t I?” The best answer is as follows:
“We’re not talking about me. We’re talking about you.”
Keep the focus on your child. That way, you won’t get distracted and defensive. Make your statements black and white. You can say:
“Don’t turn this around on me. I don’t think you’re ready to go to the late movie yet.”
And then back it up. Tell your child why you don’t think he’s ready. Your reasons should have to do with decision-making, choices, and responsibility.
A Word About Negotiating With Your Child
In my opinion, kids can have a voice as long as they speak appropriately. But parents need to make the ultimate decision. And don’t negotiate with your child right after making a decision—wait at least a day. If you have made your decision and your child continues to try to negotiate, just say the following:
“If you want to talk about this decision more, you have to wait 24 hours.”
That way, everybody is calmed down once you do talk, and you have had some time to think about the issue some more.
I used to tell the kids I worked with: “You have the right to make a statement to your parents as long as you express what you want appropriately. Your parents have the right and a responsibility to challenge the points of your statement if it doesn’t sit right with them. But ultimately, your parents make the choice.”
I think there’s room to discuss choices as kids get older, so I would tell these kids, “If you don’t like the choice your parents made, your job is to ask them what you have to do to get a later curfew.”
Let’s say the teen’s parents gave him a nine o’clock curfew, but he wanted a ten o’clock curfew. I think it’s appropriate for him to say, “What do I have to do for you to trust me to stay out until ten o’clock?”
His parents should consider his request. A good answer might be:
“Well, we’d like you to keep a nine o’clock curfew for one month and see how that works out. We want to see you meet this responsibility first. If you come home late consistently or you have a hard time with it, you’re showing us that you’re not yet responsible. If we let you stay out later, that’s because we think you’re responsible enough to make good choices and manage your time.”
Try to keep communication open. If your child gets heated or shuts down, let him know you are willing to discuss this later. You can say:
“If you want to talk more about this later when you’ve calmed down, let me know.”
“If you want to discuss this when you can talk to me more appropriately, I’ll be here.”
Your child may be angry, but as long as he is respectful, then you can have this conversation.
Why You Should Never Fight on Your Child’s Level
If there’s no structure and no parental authority, then the only tools parents have are yelling, arguing, and nagging—all the things you don’t want to do. Think of it this way: you don’t want to live with someone who yells, argues, and nags. And neither does your child.
When you fight with your child, you weaken your authority. He will start to perceive you as not being in control. Soon, you won’t have any way to guide him or enforce household rules.
Therefore, it’s important not to fight with your child because then there’s no parent—it’s just two individuals bickering. You quickly lose your status as the boss. Parents have a hard time establishing and maintaining status in our society anyway—the role of parenting is wholly undervalued today. So you don’t want to give away what you’ve got—you want to maintain your parental authority.
It’s Okay to Get Angry
While I don’t think you should fight with your child, there’s nothing wrong with getting angry with your kids from time to time. That’s human, and it happens to every parent. But you need an outlet for your anger other than arguing and screaming.
Remember, the question is not, “Do we get angry with our kids?” The question is, “How do we handle the situation when we get angry with our kids?”
So when your child pushes your limits, make sure you have a plan to deal with that ahead of time: try to have other outlets where you can share your thoughts and feelings, like with your spouse, friends, relatives, or a support group.
If you realize you haven’t been acting like the boss, but you want to begin to assert your authority now, be prepared for significant pushback from your children at first. Any change in the family dynamics where you reassert your authority is not going to be dealt with coolly by your kids. Expect them to fight because they’re going to feel like they’re losing something they want to hold onto—power and control.
But hold firm, and know that you’re doing the best thing for your family. Remember, the more tools you have as a parent, the better equipped you’ll be to raise your child—and to be the effective and caring family boss that every kid needs.