Saving No for the Big Things

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

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  1. Thank you for this article. I personally struggle about when to say no and when to let my daughter get her way, so I appreciate your points.


    • My husband and I really respect the Parenting with Love and Logic philosophy and this has many of the same sentiments. Thanks

  2. How about giving the child a sense of responsibility along with the cellphone. I tell my daughter I will pay a certain amount per month which I think is reasonable and anything over that amount she is responsible to pay. This teaches her accountablilty and responsiblity with money and how to use a cellphone in moderation.

  3. My Daughter is 6yr old,this article gave me idea of how to deal with kids as well.

  4. Yes! Thank you for reinforcing what I have always believed. Some of my friends think I am too easy on my daughter but guess what? My daughter TALKS to me! She tells me about her friends and situations at school. I can be her friend at times but first and foremost I AM her mom. I tell her no plenty of times but I have definitely learned to pick my battles. The last thing I want to do is break my daughters spirit and have her become a follower instead of the leader she naturally is. If she is going to make mistakes, I want them to be her own, and not following someone else of the cliff. Thank you!

    • Rachel:

      I completely agree– my daughter pays me $30 a month for her phone. The only problem I can see is that kids text so much that most of us are better of paying for the “unlimited texting” plan. Your daughter could pay for a portion of the cost.


    • Renee:

      Thank you for sharing your experience and providing evidence that it pays to be in a connected relationship with our kids.


  5. Interesting thoughts. I see what you are saying about the cell phones, but truthfully it seems the real problem is too many parents didn’t say no to their children about cell phones which ended up making other parents feel like they had to get their child a cell phone or risk their child feeling totally alienated from their peers. (I guess that caused my father’s famous line to pop into my head “I’m not raising everybody else — I’m raising you.”) Perhaps if more parents just said No to the cell phone issue (especially at the middle school age and younger) then the children who don’t have one wouldn’t feel so alienated.

  6. I completely agree that we should save “no” for the important, safety issues…AND I feel that having a cell phone is a serious health danger for anyone – especially children. There are hundreds of studies that have proven the health hazards of electomagnetic radiation (EMR) or electromagnetic fields (EMF) and that children are more susceptible to cancers, tumors and other dangers because their bodies are still growing and cells are dividing more rapidly. Just like smoking, the illness is developed over long-term use, but studies are showing the chances of developing cancer from cell phones is high and on the rise. Some particular concerns are brain tumors from holding the cell phone to your ear and fertility issues from having the cell phone on your hip all day. A child’s skull is significantly thinner than an adult’s and therefore the EMR reaches further into the brain. The longer you can delay your child’s cell phone use the better.

    Our 15 year old son has been asking for a phone since grade 7 and we flatly denied it until this year, when he became quite defiant and said he was going to buy one anyway with his birthday money. At which point we realized we had to give a little or lose his respect, so we told him he could have one if he gets a job and pays for it himself, but that we will not be financially supporting his choice to potentially damage his health. In good conscience, we just can’t do that. Interestingly, he has not yet applied for any jobs or bought a phone and the arguments have stopped.

    As a concerned parent, I would just ask that you PLEASE do your research! And keep in mind that if the research you are reading says it’s perfectly safe, consider the source… cell phone manufacturers and the people they hire have a financial interest in convincing you it’s safe (remember when cigarettes were advertised as “healthy?” – it sometimes takes years for science to catch up to big business and hold it responsible). One site that I recommend that talks about the dangers is or just do a search for cell phone safety.

    Be well,

    • Shannon:

      I appreciate that research indicates that there is some level of risk with cell phone use and that there are safeguards our kids should utilize to protect themselves. But when we shove things down our kids throats, they aren’t going to be cooperative. As you experienced with your son, at some point being inflexible significantly hurts our relationship with our kids. If our teen starts rebelling, shame on us.

      We all want our kids to be safe: smoking, alcohol, seat belts and so forth. We have an obligation to teach and express our concerns. However, the letting go process involves communicating to our kids, “You need to make good decisions for yourself– not me.”

      Lastly, I hold a M.Ed. in Health Education, and taught high school health education for 21 years. I am very skeptical of medical people who become entrepreneurs and make tons of money promoting “natural health” products. Specifically, Dr. Joseph Mercola has been told by the FDA on at least two occasions to stop making illegal claims about what his products can do for people.


      • Thanks for your insight Alan. Regardless of your views of Dr.Mercola, I would still encourage parents to do their research on cell phone safety. I believe if most people knew this, fewer would allow their kids to have cell phones so young, and so there would be significantly less peer pressure on kids to get one until later. Also, and perhaps more importantly, an informed public may be the only thing that puts enough pressure on big business to make cell phones safer.

        You are right, letting go means letting them make good decisions for themselves instead of for us. And to be sure, we didn’t do that with our son in this situation and he wanted to rebel. However, before he did, we gave him the opportunity to realize his own desires, with the caveat that he must pay for it himself (which is easily achievable for him) and yet he has decided not to do it. Let me ask you this – would you buy your child cigarettes if s/he decided to start smoking? What would we be teaching him if we paid for something for him that we thoroughly disagree with? …That people should not stand up for their beliefs? …That we don’t care about his health? …That we support him doing what we believe to be unsafe? …That we don’t love him enough to protect him? So we feel that our decision allowed him to have the freedom to get a cell phone while still showing him that we care about his health and safety.

        Thank you for this healthy debate,

  7. Lastmate says:

    Though I agree about the health risks, they are ARE minimized when phones are used more for texting than they’re held against the user’s head (in which case they’re probably no more hazardous than wireless internet or living near a cell tower). Our problem with letting our 14 yr old excessively-social ADD daughter have a cell phone (aside from the cost, when we’re trying to save $ for college, retirement, family vacations, etc.) is that she can’t handle another distracting time-waster in her life. She has found plenty of other ways to avoid or procrascinate on homework, chores, piano practice, and more mindful diversions she claims to want to pursue (reading, sewing,organizing photos, keeping her computer unclogged with junk files). Even without video games and only minimal cable TV, she can waste untold hours on YouTube, celebrity gossip websites, etc. without the additional mindless diversions of Facebook (which we’ve also precluded for now) and a texting cell phone. Plus, she’d still feel deprived if it wasn’t an internet-connected Smartphone like so many other teens are flaunting these days). Until she can learn to manage her time better and set priorities that make mindless entertainment peripheral rather than central in her life, we aren’t going to spend any more of our household budget enabling poor habits that further reduce her ability to achieve what’s most important right now. And we wouldn’t encourage her to get a job and use her own $ that way, either, until she can demonstrate that she can handle a job + electronic socializing and still fulfill reasonable expectations for academic achievement & development of life skills. I keep telling her she needs to demonstrate a sense of responsibility about the privileges she DOES have, in order to earn more–whether it’s a cell phone, driver’s license, dating or anything else.

    • I agree wholeheartedly, Lastmate!

      Just one more quick note on cellphone health hazards… while texting may reduce the chances of a brain tumor, carrying a cell phone in your pocket has been shown to have negative effects on fertility… even when it’s not being used (as long as it is turned on).