Say Yes Whenever You Can

First let's talk about saying no. You must be able to say no and mean it and follow through to be an effective parent of young children or teens. Say no when there is danger-to others, to things, to themselves, to their emotional health, and also for their character development. For the love of your children, say no. Be their parent, not their friend. (This does not preclude your being friendly to each other.) You are not peers. Do learn not to use no arbitrarily; try to keep up with your teen's rapidly developing skills. Try to recall what it is like to be a teen. Remember, you also give them boundaries within which they may operate. This provides a sense of security and reconfirms your love for them. You do have their best interests at heart.

Saying Yes and Convince Me

Alternatively, say yes or at least convince me whenever you can. Teach your teens that you will say no based almost exclusively on danger or for previous irresponsibility. If you can show me how you will make yourself as safe as possible or immune from the danger or how you will handle a situation responsibly, I will say yes to requests, even though my mommy-heart is still somewhat scared to do so. If you consistently do this and your teens know your record, they have less need to lie. They can more easily predict when you will say yes. They also realize deep in their hearts that if you do say no to a request, it is likely a bad, or dangerous, or perhaps morally wrong idea. If we lead our children to emotional health, they are neither self-destructive nor stupid. They are simply seeking freedom, a developmentally appropriate task.

Proven Track Record

Teens want and need expanding privileges. As long as they have that proven track record of responsibility and trust, they should receive these. When our children know that if they can minimize the risk (letting them drive to the grocery store to get milk is not without risk anymore) to themselves, we will likely come through for them, they have little need to lie to us. Here are some examples to accomplish this.

Early in their teen years, our sons wanted to see movies of which I did not approve, largely for reasons of language and violence. These I considered to be threats to their character development. As they had demonstrated with television programs, their personal levels of swearing, disrespect, and aggressive actions did not increase after viewing. (I should note that their behavior most certainly had deteriorated after this kind of viewing when they were younger, and they had been prohibited from watching many programs because of this.) However, this was no longer true. Based on their track record of not altering their language or actions even after watching undesirable behavior, I allowed them to see some movies which were not my first choices. I had no reason to say no. Their character, values, and behavior were no longer threatened by viewing. Even if I do not enjoy those types of movies, they may.

Later, they wanted to go into the city closest to us, Dallas, to attend concerts. Now every mother knows that if your children go into the big city, any big city, they are never coming back alive. We just know these things. My first inclination was of course to say, "No, you'll be killed!" However, I did manage "Convince me." They were ready. They convinced me with cell phones, safe cars, staying together and a curfew. They also related a story about that concert which helped form my policy to say yes when I could. Two female friends really wanted to see this band. They also knew they would be told no; they were not yet allowed to go into Dallas on their own at night. After all, this is a difficult decision to make and freedom to give. These girls were clever but imprudent. Each asked her parents if she could spend the night at the other's house. Each received permission from her parents. They then proceeded to go into the city and stay at the concert until its end. Then, having nowhere to go, they spent the night in their car in Dallas. This was not wise, and certainly more dangerous than only attending the concert. Teens will lie to get to do something they really want to do. This excuses neither the lying nor the overnight in the car; our goal is to prevent both of these from happening. Dialogue with our teens is key. 

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