MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on June 24th, 2013, 1 Comment

Let Them Use Responsibility to Negotiate to “Yes”

It’s our job as parents to draw clear lines for our teens between what is safe and respectful and what is not. Having a curfew that is usually followed and chores that are done on a regular basis help us draw those lines. (To read more about three simple rules that will help you draw clear lines, click here.)

Of course, our teens are going to push against these boundary lines. And much of the time their pushing is classic adolescent resistance to unwanted but necessary rules. When that’s the case, it’s best to respond by restating our position and walking away. However, it’s wise to be open to letting our teens renegotiate these rules when they’ve earned it. Here’s why:

Staying flexible and saying “yes” to their attempts to renegotiate rules about curfew and chores – when we can do it and still be a responsible parent – helps our teens see us as fair. And a sense of fairness helps to strengthen our connection with our teens. On the other hand, being rigid about our limits leads to a disconnect between our teens and us. And when we’re disconnected, our teens are likely to outwardly comply and then sneak and lie to get around us and do what they want.

Plus if we routinely say “no” when our teens ask permission to do something, we may miss out on some crucial conversations that can help them grow. However, if our more typical reaction is, “I’m willing to think about it if you can show me how you’re going to do this (whatever “this” is) in a way that still allows me to be a responsible parent,” we’ll get lots of chances to help them hone planning, negotiating, and problem solving skills.

So when we’re faced with a teen who’s asking for special permission to extend a curfew or to delay doing chores, it’s often best to hold off on making a decision about their request. Instead hand the problem back to them and give them a chance to use responsibility to negotiate to “yes.” These negotiations might look something like this:


Them: There’s a party I want to go to on Saturday night. It’s after the game. So can I stay out until 1:00?
Us: What!? 1:00 in the morning? That’s way after your curfew.
Them: I know. But it’s going to be an awesome party. And everyone is going!
Us: I don’t know, sweetie. That’s really late.
Them: C’mon. I’m a good kid. And you know I almost always get home by my 11:30 curfew.
Us: That’s true. But there are reasons why you have an 11:30 curfew – most of them having to do with your safety.
Them: Yeah, but remember the couple times you’ve let me stay out past my curfew? I handled everything just fine. I think I’ve earned this by following the rules and being responsible.
Us: I’m willing to think about it. But if I let you stay out that late, I still need to be a responsible parent. And 1:00 is after curfew – not just ours but the city’s too. So what are you willing to do to assure me that you’ll stay safe and follow the law if I let you stay out that late?
Them: How ‘bout this? I’ll check in at 11:30 just so you’ll know I’m okay. Then instead of driving home after the party, I’ll get a ride with Sam – he always gets picked up by one of his parents. That way I won’t be breaking the city curfew law. I won’t mess-up. I promise. And if you want, I’ll even come home two hours early on Friday night so you won’t have to stay up late on both nights.


Them: I just got a call from Ben. A bunch of guys are over at the gym playing ball. I’m heading over there.
Us: Have fun! You finished your chores, right?
Them: All but the garbage. And I’ll take it out as soon as I get back. I promise.
Us: Sorry. You know the rules. And the kitchen trashcan is nearly overflowing.
Them: But the guys are waiting for me. C’mon, let me finish when I get back!
Us: It’s your responsibility to get your chores done before you go.

Them: But I don’t have time now. I told the guys I’d be right there!
Us: It’s your choice. But know if you go before you finish-up your chores around here, there will be some consequences when you get back.
Them: But I have most of my chores done. And I’ve been really good lately about getting up and getting at my work right away.
Us: That’s true. But finishing the job is important too. How can you go play now and still be respectful of the agreement we made about you helping out around here?
Them: How about this? What if I take the kitchen garbage out to the garage right now – that’s what’s in your way. Then as soon as I get back, I’ll take the rest out – I’ll even sweep out the garage. C’mon, you know that’s a pretty good deal for you!

Being open to these interactions does more than help us stay connected to our teens. This kind of give and take can also help us strike the right balance between restrictiveness and autonomy – as we gradually become less hands-on and widen the freedom we give our teens as they earn it. Plus our willingness to consider our teens’ negotiations helps them learn that past behavior matters – something that all kids need to learn.

Next Monday we’ll take a look at “Snip” – Episode 3 from this season’s Modern Family lineup. This show deals with another common cause for battle with our teens: their friends that we don’t like.

See you then!

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1 comment

  • I like this approach because it shows (with nice detail!) how parents can hold to their values honestly while respecting their teens’ real feelings and needs. Thanks for the good examples, Roxane!

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