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Increasing Communication Between Parent and Teenager

"Because I Said So."
Although we are generally trying to understand the adolescent's feelings and to communicate effectively with him or her, there are some situations where your only response may be "Do it because I said so." This is especially true if you have a child who cannot take no for an answer. You could give a hundred explanations for denying his request, but the only answer that he wants to hear is "yes" to his demand. Any other answer will fall on deaf ears, and reasoning, discussions, or explanations are fruitless.

Suppose I tell you that I feel I should be able to work three-and-a-half days a week and be off three-and-a-half days. After I make this statement, you respond by explaining, "People used to work seven days a week. You should be happy you're only working five. In fact, you should be grateful to have a job." However, the only explanation that will really satisfy me is for you to say, "You're absolutely right. Go ahead and work just three-and-a-half days." However, if I were working for you, you would probably tell me, "I'm the boss and you're the employee. You either come to work five days a week or look for another job." In other words, the reason that applies here is "Because I said so." Another example: "Give me a good reason for making the bed every day if I'm going to mess it up every night." The parent may not have a good reason for this question other than "This is my house. I have the job, I pay the bills, and as long as you're living here, you'll do it because I said so."

This method of communication should not be used frequently. However, if you have a teenager who is always demanding numerous explanations and the only thing that will satisfy him is to agree with him or tell him what he wants to hear, you may have to resort to the "Because I said so" technique.

Not "Why?" But "What Can I Do?"
This is a concept I frequently discuss with teenagers who tell me, "My parents don't understand my side of the story. They won't listen to me. I don't know what I have to do to earn this privilege I want." Often when a teenager asks "Why?" it results in an explanation from the parent and the above feelings for the child. The child asks "Why?" again, and the parent gives another explanation. After a while, both parent and teen become frustrated.

Suppose a teenager with a 12:30 A.M. curfew asks his father to increase it to 1:00 A.M., but the parent refuses. When the teenager asks why, the parent says, "There is nothing you can do after 12:30 at night except get into trouble." The child responds, "All my friends are staying out, so why can't I?" and another explanation follows. After numerous explanations, he is still asking why and the parent is still telling him, "Because I cannot trust you. You are not responsible. You may not go where you tell us you're going. I'm worried about you." At the end of all the discussion, the child still is not able to stay out later. Rather than have the teenager continually ask why, I suggest he try, "What can I do to earn this privilege?" If a parent says, "No, you cannot stay out past 12:30 because I don't feel you are responsible enough or I can't trust you," a response by the adolescent that would increase communication and move toward a compromise would be, "What can I do to show you that I am responsible so that I can have this privilege?" In other words, "What behaviors must I display in order for you to develop more confidence in my responsibility?" Parent response to this question might include such things as more involvement in schoolwork, a decrease in lying, or more cooperation around the house. The teenager now has an idea of what he has to do to achieve this specific goal. By responding in this way, both parent and teenager set up a situation for a compromise. If a child gives his parents what they ask for, he will be able to get what he requests. I often tell the teenager that "Why?" will get him nothing, but that "What can I do?" may get him something he wants.


From Keys to Parenting Your Teenager by Don Fontenelle, Ph.D. Copyright 2000 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with Barron's Educational Series, Inc.

Buy the book at Barron's.

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