Actually, this IS a dress rehearsal – negotiating with teens

When it comes to opinions about parenting teenagers, people seem to fall into two camps.

There are those who believe that teens should do what they are told, that there is no negotiation, that what teens today need is a good old-fashioned smack and some tough love. Then there are people who actually know teenagers.

I’ve had the opportunity to do some radio interviews over the past week because the media has been interested in our stories, Rebellious teenager gets a dose of tough love and When is it time to call the police?

When mum Janine was telling her story to one radio team, explaining how she had turned things around with her son, she mentioned she’s learned to negotiate with him, instead of just telling him what to do.

The radio co-host gasped, and said in (possibly feigned) horror: ‘You don’t negotiate with them, surely!

I will assume she doesn’t have teenagers, because anyone who has tried the ‘my way or the highway’ approach with teens has probably learned that’s a hard road to somewhere not very happy, for parents or kids.

Teens need room to make their own decisions and to fall over, safely

Teens need room to make their own decisions and to fall over, safely. Image from

The teen years, I am learning, are exactly when you should be negotiating. Our kids are figuring out how to become adults, and that involves being able have their own opinions, make their own decisions, and make their own mistakes. Ideally they will do all this with firm, loving, realistic boundaries. So you give them choices.

As Janine said, ‘We learnt instead of telling him to clean his room right now, we asked him to make sure it was done by a certain day’. Giving them room to have some control, within your expectations of what needs to happen, is win/win. Parents experience less stress; kids feel they are being trusted to act with responsibility.

None of this is to say that you don’t get tough when you have to, that you tolerate disrespect, or that the final say does not lie with you.

Not everything is up for negotiation. There is not too much wiggle room in the request by your 15-year-old son to go to an all night party at a house with no parents present. Some other situations will not be so black and white, and it will be tricky to find that middle ground. In some situations, there will be risk involved and parents will be fearful. It may be hard to know what is the right decision.

But it is our job to grow adults who are capable of looking after themselves and making wise decisions, and these teenage years are the dress rehearsal.

Whether you agree or disagree, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the Comments below.





  1. katherine says:

    Insightful read. Yes, negotiating with teens is far better than laying down the law. It’s exhausting practice but I get that it’s worth it in the end if it’s teaching them to look after and decide for things themselves. Don’t we want them to grow up as free thinkers? Thanks for the article.

    • Thekids says:

      It is exhausting isn’t it? Funny how often I “realise” this parenting caper is an endurance race, not a sprint. I just keep forgetting.

  2. Yvette @ DTlilsquirts says:

    great post!! I only have lil ones.. but they are already testing the boundaries.. negotiating with them definitely is ending better than if u do a my way or highway approach! Even with a 2 year old!!!

    I remember when I was a teen – my parents approach was probably the ‘my way or highway’ maybe thats why I rebelled so much..

    Yvette @ DTlilsquirts recently posted..I turn 31 today.My Profile

  3. BossyMummy says:

    The thought of teenage years fills me with dread, but only because I know what I was like, and what is out there:-) but I agree negotiation is the key. Like anything, people respond to feeling empowered and if they feel there is an element of trust from their parents, hopefully a teen would aim to please and respond positively.

    • Thekids says:

      It’s amazing how many people – from media commentators to people who comment on news articles – would not agree 🙂 Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Wow! My eldest daughter is only 4, and she has already learnt the art of negotiation! I started my parenting journey with the “laying down the law” approach and quickly realised, that with my strong-willed little one, that only led to a rapidly deteriorating relationship, an often-angry mummy and a resentful preschooler… Providing choices, and allowing Miss 4 a little bit of (perceived) power works MUCH better for us.
    Julie recently posted..4 children under 5My Profile

    • Thekids says:

      I guess things don’t really change that much do they? The trick is knowing when to lay down the law and end the negotiation. Give ’em an inch and they’ll take a mile, as the saying goes.

  5. michelle says:

    I think about the things my own mother used to say to me more than ever before ,because i always respected her ,and i feel like at the end of the day she did a good job with me , my problem is, i have all boys, self doubt as a parent and mother is common these days for me [i could be argueing a point with my teen , who is then becoming angry ,then i realise i need to use another tactic because he has shut down and isn’t listening anyway ] …nothing like a teen to ruin your confidence , sometimes i feel like the enemy ..actually alot,and i dont want to feel like that ,its makes me feel terrible ,and i ask myself am i over annalysing ,and being to hard on them?
    I think at the end of the day , they you have to tell yourself ,you have done the best you can , and they have to learn by thier own mistakes ,and thats ok .We try as parents to make everything perfect these days , i have my bad days where everything goes wrong , and i feel like its a losing battle , but then the good days where out of the blue your child comes up and sais something nice ,like thanks mum! , or even a cuddle [like i unexpectadely got from my middle son on mothers day with a little present he chose himself.
    My mum use to say the hardest thing about kids getting older is that you cant protect them anymore [i remember her saying that to her friend when i was 16] I totally get that now , because my biggest problem is letting go , and picking your battles ,and realising they do have to learn themselves…but i totally beleive in respect ,my kids all know what i tolerate and what i will not tolerate.You have to set your standards and boundaries,.. but you have to realise your children are individuals and may not always do what you want them too …its a fine line between being a control freak ,and allowing your child to learn for themselves,also i think we all need to remember when we were 14 or 16 or what ever age in the teen years , how defiant we all were…its just natural.

    • Thekids says:

      It sounds to me like you are doing a great job and if you are a little too hard on them then they are going to know you care and love them. I completely relate to the difficulty of letting them go – even though I am a few years away from that the process has begun. And I also totally relate to what you say about picking battles and allowing them to make their own mistakes in order to learn. We all go through pretty much the same stuff!

  6. I’m a big believer that with toddlers you need to be firm, but if you are, then by the teenage years your influence should be born out if your relationship. Haing said that, my eldest is nearly nine, so I haven’t yet tested said theory, but I hold out hope.
    Jess recently posted..Run for Your LifeMy Profile

  7. It is one continuous arc of negotiating which is tiring but ultimately it is rewarding. I enjoy the discussions and sometimes they even manage to change my mind on certain things but there are areas which are non negotiable. I really believe communicating is the key to raising a teen and hopefully retaining your sanity.
    Janine Fitzpatrick recently posted..Monday Morning PhotoMy Profile

    • Thekids says:

      I must say the continual negotiating does my head in a little. I’ve learnt to say “I am not going to change my mind on this” with a particular tone of voice to end discussion about the non-negotiable things. Points for their tenacity though! (I remember my mum used to tell me I’d be a lawyer with my arguing skills.)



CommentLuv badge