So often, I talk to parents who are confused about how strict to be with their teenagers, when to say yes and when to say no to their children’s request. My answer? Help teenagers know for themselves when it should be a yes and when it should be a no. Teach them to be cognizant of their own safety.
How do you do that? I have one (sorta) simple trick.
The trick? It’s called negotiation, with parameters.
The goal is to raise people who are aware of the potential dangers in the environments, to know whether these can be mitigated or avoided completely. Because really, we don’t want our children to be forever anxious and fearful; we want them to take some risks in life. But how can they know which risks are acceptable?
Because you’re going to teach them a decision-making tool, and you do it through negotiation.
Teenagers often come to their parents and ask to go places; their parents feel anxious and immediately say no; the teenager gets angry and fights, or just accepts the answer and sulks, or appears to accept the answer and then sneaks out or pretends to be somewhere else that night while going exactly where they were denied (or some permutation of the above.)
What you don’t want is for your teenager to think of you as an unreasonable dictator. Being the parent who just says, “No, because I said so,” only vilifies that parent and teaches the teen nothing.
Instead, I propose a system:
The teenager comes to you with a request. You, as a parent, think through the safety issues inherent in that request. You do so out loud, so that your thought process is clear to your child, so that he/she can learn from it (even if they don’t appear to, they are.) Then your teenager is given the opportunity to come up with ways to mitigate the safety issues. They can propose ways to increase their own safety. If these are adequate, then you say yes (with the conditions in place), or maybe you come up with your own stipulations. Or maybe there’s just no way to say yes to that particular request, but at least your teen saw you as a reasonable collaborator, someone who’s trying to make things possible rather than impede them.
When I’ve recommended this system to clients, it’s gone remarkably well. Teenager feel empowered, and respected by their parents. Sometimes teens tell me, “I didn’t even bother to ask on this one because I knew I couldn’t make it safe enough.” This bring their awareness to true safety issues, rather than making a parent sound alarmist. And that’s an awareness your child can carry throughout life, a process by which to make decisions in a world that’s full of both risk and reward.