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Challenge: Open Discussion

How to Say No to your Teen without Starting WWIII

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As parents, we are internally driven to protect our teens, but telling your teen "no" followed by "because I said so" ends up being a declaration of war that can lead to them sneaking around, not telling you what is really going on, and possibly getting themselves into trouble (our worst fears come to life)!

It seems like when we try to protect them, they want to rebel even more. And, in today’s world, you have even more reasons NOT to allow your kids to frolic around as they please.

No one wants to play bad cop. And, of course, each of us remembers what it was like when our parents said ‘no’ when other’s parents said ‘yes’, but this time we are VERY scared! None of us want our kids to get sick, or hurt, or even endanger others by not socially distancing themselves.

So, how do we say it without our teens immediately firing back leading to an awful confrontation?

Teens are just beginning to develop the skills to think critically, providing them opportunities to talk with you to process situations, express their feelings, and plan for risk equips them to make safer decisions.

It may be difficult at first, but just the willingness to listen and declare a “ceasefire” for a discussion can lead to a truce rather than a war! Use these five steps as your plan of attack:

  1. Start by getting clear about what your non-negotiable "no" activities are, especially while living in today’s changing climate. Maybe it's large group get-together, or perhaps it's cell phone use late at night. If something from your "absolutely not" list comes up, start by sharing with your teen your motivation for saying no. "I love you and want to protect you. I'm not trying to control you, I’m just not comfortable with you wanting to get together with a big group of friends right now."

  2. Empathize. Follow up your motivation with a statement of understanding "I get that you really want to see everyone, it has been hard being separated for so long." Letting them know you truly understand can help lower their resistance and open the door for further discussion.

  3. Listen more than you talk. This one is hard, but you've got to avoid lecturing. Start by trying to understand their motivations for wanting to participate in X activity. Is it because they need to get out of the house, see someone in particular (a good friend or even a love interest)? Start by asking them an open-ended question "What are your reasons for wanting to X?" (See how I used “what” instead of “why”) Try to avoid “why” questions as they can be perceived as if you are tossing a grenade at your teen - it is human nature to feel defensive when asked a question that starts with why. Even better, use a reflection instead of a question "You have a lot of reasons for wanting to X". Let there be a few seconds of silence for thought, teens will elaborate by sharing their reasons and you won't come across as drilling them with questions.

  4. Negotiate for a solution. Just like a diplomatic negotiation, it's all about finding the middle ground you both can agree to. Maybe they can attend for a short time at the beginning or maybe it's modifying the plan to hang out with 2 friends instead of 15? Brainstorm with them all the possible options.

  5. Keep your cool! Your teen may get upset because they're not getting exactly what they wanted, but keeping your emotions under control during a difficult conversation can help lower their resistance and role models positive communication in heated situations.

This approach may take a few tries before your teen starts responding positively. But don't give up! Showing your teen that you are willing to have open conversations and finding solutions that work for both of you will be a huge step towards declaring a peaceful truce.

This post comes from the TODAY Parenting Team community, where all members are welcome to post and discuss parenting solutions. Learn more and join us! Because we're all in this together.