When Your Teen Wants You to Say No
Keep Your Head Out of the Sand continued...
Make Clear Rules in Advance
Setting limits on day-to-day behavior helps keep the peace and can provide a
foundation if bigger problems hit. Kate Stewart, who lives in rural Henryville,
Indiana, was fighting with her 14-year-old son, Zach, because he constantly
wanted his parents to drive him 20 miles into town so he could hang out with
his friends. "At Zach's age, the kids concoct activities at the drop of a
hat," she says. "But he never told us about them until the last minute,
and then he would have a complete fit if we said no."
Kate and her husband devised a rule: If Zach wanted to go into town on a
weekend, his parents required 24 hours' notice. "We explained that it was
not reasonable for me or his dad to drop everything when we had our own
responsibilities," says Kate. Now, instead of fighting, Kate reminds Zach
about the rule. Meanwhile, Zach is learning how to plan ahead.
You also need to be clear about the big stuff — where you stand on smoking,
drinking, curfews, etc. — and what the consequences will be if your child
violates the rules. (Don't forget that teens loathe hypocrisy, so you'd better
walk the walk.)
I often say to my daughter, "I get only one of you. I can't get a
replacement if you get broken." She doesn't like the restrictions that come
with that, but she knows I'm not setting them because I'm mad at her.
Don't Back Down
Any parent of a teenager knows what a struggle it can be to resist an
adolescent's anger, defiance, or whining, especially at the end of a long
"That's why it's important to have your limits-and-consequences
conversation ahead of time and not in the heat of the moment," says Walsh.
"Then, rather than getting angry when your kids misbehave, you can remind
them of the rules."
He relates an incident when his son, then 17, challenged him about his
curfew. Instead of getting angry, Walsh reminded him that if he didn't keep the
curfew, he'd lose access to the family car. His son stormed off, furious — but
later that night, he pulled into the driveway on time.
Teens need this kind of structure, says child and adolescent development
expert Mel Levine, M.D., author of Ready or Not, Here Life Comes.
After all, he adds, the adult world is full of nonnegotiable expectations.
Grown-ups, for example, must fulfill the demands of their jobs and pay their
bills on time.
"Teens gain the tools they need to meet these demands by living up to
their parents' expectations at home, where people who love them can help them
when they fail," says Dr. Levine.