HOW TO BE A LOVING PARENT AND STILL SAY “NO”
by Malcolm Miller, Ph.D.
Each generation adds unique challenges for parents. Some of the traditional issues are persuading children to do their homework, chores, be respectful, and seeking clothing and games that are reasonably priced. For adolescents (and many pre-adolescents) there are the continuing issues of sex and drugs, which understandably worry parents. More recently, with the advent of smart phones, there are concerns about children’s preoccupation with social media, texting, “selfies,” and the various dangers these involve.
The internet, phones, the influence of peers, and long working hours give parents less ability to monitor their children. The question becomes “How can I be a good parent, have my children be happy and love themselves and their families, but also be safe and respectful of themselves, others and ME?” Often parents feel ignored and helpless in regards to their children. They naturally become concerned about how their children will grow up. Research has shown that children actually grow up to be very much like their parents. Children, including adolescents, watch their parents and need them much more than parents, and the children themselves, recognize and appreciate. This is good news and bad news. The good news is that in the long run, parents need to be less fearful of the influence of the media, peers etc. since what children are taught at home is most important in determining their future. The bad news is the same: what parents teach children at home, mostly through parents’ own behavior, will be most important! Kids are very sensitive to double standards. “Do as I say and not as I do” does not work. When parents do not listen to their children or use force to control them, children typically learn not to listen and to use force to control others. Many parents are on their cell phones or social media as much or nearly as much as their children. These same parents often complain about the same behavior in their children. And children who rarely hear “No!” from parents don’t learn to control their behavior and curb extravagant wishes.
What can be done?
- Listen to the feelings behind your children’s words rather than the demands. Hear the pressures they feel from peers, friends, school, and even parents.
- Let them know you care in your deeds as well as your words.
- Tell them how much you want them to be happy, but there are certain limits to what is possible and acceptable. Don’t just say “No!” Give children the opportunity to be creative and part of the decision-making process. Lay out your concerns–costs, fears, values.
- Be clear with yourself what your objections are. Is it money, appropriate behavior, or fear you are losing control of their lives? Are you concerned this will lead to something dangerous or bad for them? It is often good to talk with a friend or a professional, since it can be hard to be objective under pressure.
- Try to work out a meaningful compromise but be clear about your values. Take into consideration that each generation has its own perspective. Check with teachers or school counselors to find out what is appropriate for these times, as a frame of reference. Remember the times when your parents objected to things you wanted or did just because they came from a different generation. Also, remember when they objected because what you did was not right, independent of the generational difference.
- Remember the importance of family. Agree on times to be together, family time, not everyone in separate rooms. If this applies to you, spend less time texting friends and more time watching and listening to your children.
- The hardest lesson of all is to accept that sometimes, no matter how thoughtful and reasonable you have been, your children will be angry with you. Hopefully as they grow up, they will appreciate the caring and wisdom behind your need to say “No.”
Dr. Miller is a psychotherapist in practice in Torrance and West Los Angeles. He is a member of the Independent Psychotherapy Network. Dr. Miller can be reached at 310-822-8898 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2017 by Malcolm Miller, Ph.D.