by: Alan Carson – ACPI© Coach for Parents
I enjoy writing parenting articles for Ellen Braun’s Raising Small Souls website and appreciate Ellen’s willingness to post them. I also look forward to reading the comments submitted by parents and respond to them when I can add something constructive.
The most recent reply that appears at the bottom of my Letting Go Pt 2 article is from Michele, who “totally disagrees” with my philosophy regarding cell phones.
For those who have not read the article or Michele’s response, it is my belief that we allow pre-teens to earn cell phones, and Michele (I trust I am being fair to Michele) feels 5th, 6th and 7th graders do not need a cell phone. When parents oppose my ideas, I do not get defensive or irritated, but use the contrary opinion to self-reflect on what I believe and why I believe it, and how to articulate myself better.
The heart of the matter for me is this— I save NO for the big issues in life. Yes, I have lots of power and I could use it anytime I want, but what is my goal? Is my goal to show my daughter that I am the boss, decide what she can and cannot do, and what she can and cannot have? I could control my daughter’s life and say:
- “Get off of the computer and clean these dishes up right— now!”
- “No, you will not be sleeping over at Sophie’s house this weekend.”
- “You are only going into 7th grade. You do not need a cell phone. And, by the way, I don’t care if all of your friends have a phone. So don’t even make that argument.”
- “You are not spending your babysitting money on a new sandals– you have plenty of sandals.
- “You are not getting a part time job. You show very little responsibility as it is.”
Below are the reasons why this is really important issue for me– again, the issue is not the cell phone, the issue is saving no for the big things.
1) How is my pre-teen or teen ever going to learn to make decisions, and make good decisions if I make all of the decisions for him? We learn by making decisions and by being held accountable for those decisions.
2) If I micromanage my son’s life, how will he ever learn to trust himself and his ability to make good choices. He won’t! I believe there would be major ramifications that would result in low self-esteem, and as he gets older and exerts his need for independence, rebellion.
3) If my son constantly hears no, when I really need him to respect my no, it will mean nothing to him– he would be sick of my controlling ways. However, if I only say no when I need to (safety issues, long term ramifications), then it is far more likely that my child will listen and will understand that I must really feel strongly about a specific issue to say no.
For example, today my 18-year-old daughter wanted to take friends to dinner on the other side of Pittsburgh, which means she would have been driving through rush hour traffic with three other girls in the car, and possessing minimal experience driving in rush hour traffic. In my mind, it was a legitimate safety issue for my daughter and three other people who were in the car. I said, “No.”
When she said, “I don’t understand why it is such a big deal this time, you’ve let me drive before,” I said, “Sarah, did I not just let you go to a concert Thursday night? Didn’t I let you go to your boyfriend’s house until midnight on Friday? And didn’t I agree to let you go to a friend’s house after work on Saturday night even though you had to be at church on Sunday morning at 8:00? So, for me to say no means I am not comfortable with what you want to do. When is the last time I said no, Sarah?”
That was the end of it– there was no argument.
4) A connected relationship with our pre-teen and teen acts as a protective factor against the crazy, unhealthy behaviors that often accompany the teen years. If you loved and respected your parents and would never want to hurt them, wouldn’t you think twice before doing something that would break their hearts? We don’t want to disappoint people we respect.
5) From my perspective, good parenting involves understanding our child’s world from his or her point of view. I don’t care about the Jones’s, but I do want my daughter to see me as being understanding and being able to relate to what life is like for her. With respect to the cell phone, that is how young people stay connected to each other, averaging over 2000 texts a month. They text and only actually speak to each other when it is an important or complicated situation. If I did not permit my daughter to have a cell phone in 7th grade I can guarantee you that she would feel completely isolated from her peers. She would go to school the next day and be clueless about what everyone else has “talked” about. My daughter would feel some resentment toward me. Is it worth it? Am I willing to risk impacting my relationship with my daughter because I of my beliefs about the appropriateness of a cell phone for a 7th grader? I would much rather create a win-win and provide her with a cell phone (if our family could afford it), but would also establish clear expectations.
6) The best chance we have of teaching our adolescents to make good decisions is to help them earn the privileges that they want because once they have earned those privileges, we trust they will behave responsibly in an effort to maintain their standard of living.
7) As our kids enter adolescence, our role is to prepare them for the real world, not protect them from the real world. I don’t like accepting this, but it is true. To not prepare our kids for parties, concerts, driving on the interstate, and managing cell phones and Facebook, is setting our kids up for failure when they leave home. As the saying goes, it is like throwing lambs to the wolves. Our ability to teach and shape our kids occurs when they are living at home with us, not when they are on their own for the first time in college.
In summary, we need to work to keep a connection with our kids as they enter the teen years. If we do not, they will slowly drift away from us and our influence over their behavior and choices will be minimal. If our kids see us as respectful, understanding, and interested in their lives and welfare, we can work with them to create win-wins.
Alan Carson is an ACPI© Coach for Parents and the author of Before They Know It All:Talking to Tweens and Teens About Sexuality. Alan’s website is www.coachforparents.net