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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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on May 27th, 2013, 0 Comments

Grandma Gracie’s Theory About Rules

Season 4, Episode 24

The Framework

Tonight on Modern Family’s season finale the three households travel to a retirement village in Florida to mourn the death of Phil’s mother. The episode, though, is as much about rules and rule breaking as it is about saying goodbye to Gracie. In fact, it turns out Gracie had her own theory about rules.

Upon their arrival the family is greeted by a bossy security guard who warns, “We run a tight ship here at Leisure Park,” and rides around on a Segway enforcing pointless rules. She lights into Phil for having breadcrumbs in his pocket (how did she know?) because there’s no duck feeding allowed, and Haley and Alex get kicked out of an empty pool because it’s for residence only. The girls respond in character: Alex as a rule follower; Haley not so much.

Cam charms a bunch of mahjong-playing senior women and then calls one of them out for taking the winning tile out of her pocket and another for swiping a whole plate of cookies into her purse. He’s right; they’re wrong. But what’s the point of stirring things up among the players? Just stir the punch, Cam.

Meanwhile Alex is miffed to find that Grandma Gracie, who she felt so close to, left her only an old lighter. Later, though, after finding the note and learning the meaning behind the gift, she uses the lighter to set-off fireworks at the funeral. She’s sure her grandmother would approve – even if it does break with traditional memorial service protocol.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes

Almost all of us break rules sometimes. Teens are especially prone to doing so. In the past we blamed teen rule breaking on peer pressure and rebellion – wanting to do things their parents don’t do just because they don’t do them. We now know that rapid changes taking place inside the teen brain also play a big role.

One way to think about the brain is to think of it as a balance between two different systems: an emotional pleasure seeking system that pushes us to seek rewards and go for excitement and novelty and a rational system that plans ahead and puts the brakes on impulses. These two systems are changing during adolescence, and the changes are uneven. While the rational system (in charge of braking) takes its time to mature, the emotional system gets a kick-start in early adolescence and goes into overdrive. Researchers have likened this to having an unskilled, thrill seeking driver at the wheel of a car with a high-powered engine and brakes that barely work.

This means that one of the most protective things we can do for our teens is to help with the braking action. But because our teens are making more and more decisions without our supervision, we cannot be their protector as we were when they were younger. Instead we provide protection by clearly drawing lines between right and wrong so our teens will know where the boundaries are.

It’s up to our teens, though, to decide whether or not to stay on the right side of the line. So we need to win our teens’ cooperation if our rules are to offer any protection. And we have the best chance of selling our teens on the rules if we keep things simple.

We need a few simple rules about the things we’re most concerned about – each with a purpose that’s easy for us to explain and for our teens to understand. Here are three rules that fit the bill:

• Be safe. Most teens underestimate bad consequences. Their still developing brains are like a magnet for trouble. So Be safe is about helping our teens stay away from things that could hurt them – things like smoking, drinking, drugs, driving while under the influence or riding with someone who is, getting arrested, and unsafe sex.

• Be respectful. We often find ourselves arguing with our teens, and one of our biggest areas of disagreement is respect. So be respectful is about helping our teens act respectfully towards other people, other people’s property, and to themselves. This rule addresses concerns such as acting rude, avoiding schoolwork, breaking curfew, neglecting home chores, lying, arguing with siblings or us, cheating, and stealing.

Be in contact. There are now things our teens would rather we not know. Because they fear that we’ll interfere with their fun. And because they want to protect us from what they think is needless worry. So be in contact is about helping weed out our teens’ bad decisions and reinforce their good ones. This rule is about our teens keeping us informed about who they’re with, what they’re doing, where they are, and where they’re going – especially if their plans change. And it’s about our teens letting us know when something unexpected happens and how they plan to deal with it.

Any issue can be matched to one or more of these three ways to be. Plus these rules give us a ready reason when they ask why: Because you need to be safe. You need to be respectful. You need to be in contact. Over time, we’ll float more information about each of these rules by them – always keeping our messages simple and brief.

Resources: “7 Things Your Teenager Won’t Tell You” by J. M. Lippincott & R. M. Deutsch

The BottomLine

Grandma Gracie (in note left for Alex): Alex, who I love so dearly, who’s probably too much like me for her own good, don’t be afraid to break the rules.

At the end of the day our teens must decide for themselves how to act. Whether we like it or not, it will always be our teen’s choice whether or not to abide by our rules. And, frankly, most teens are more like Haley than Alex; they’re not afraid to break the rules – particularly rules that don’t make sense.

So we should expect our teens to test our limits. But we can help tip the balance back in the right direction by making and enforcing rules that our teens can understand and respect. We can link our discussions and actions back to three simple rules: Be safe. Be respectful. Be in contact.

Flipping the Frame: Your Parenting Experiences

• What are your rules for your teen? Has your teen tested the limits you’ve set? What do the discussions with your teen about rules sound like?

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© 2024 Roxane Lehmann, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.