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.
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.