I know there are some parents out there who say “It’s my way or the highway” and consider negotiating with a teenager akin to capitulation in battle. If you’re one of those parents, I ask you to reconsider.
Your child is not your enemy. If you make adolescence a battlefield, your teen may be more than willing to engage in battle. A pitched battle is a very difficult way to spend the next several years. Instead, consider the value of engaging in negotiation, instead of battle, with your child.
Every kid is different, even those brought up in the same household.
The Warrior. Some kids are just born battlers; your job is to teach them the art of peaceful negotiation. These are the hard-charging kids who are so bent on their latest mission, they barely have time to stop, eat, and sleep. Learning to negotiate helps them realize that other people have different opinions, and it’s a good idea to know and understand those opinions—and how to play nicely with others.
The Pacifist. For some kids, engaging in any sort of the battle is the last thing on their minds. These are the quiet kids, the compliant ones, the silent ones who seem to blend into the woodwork and make it their life’s mission not to cause trouble. This is a kid who needs to learn the art of negotiation just as much as the battler. Quiet kids can be hidden kids who lock away their thoughts and their hearts. These kids need to learn to come out of their passivity and experience how to stand up for themselves, their thoughts, and their desires. Who better to learn this valuable skill than with you, someone who knows and loves them?
You have to be willing to negotiate. You have to be willing to prepare your own thoughts and reasons for why you say what you do and to share those reasons with your child. Negotiation is exercise for the brain. Brain research shows that at around age eleven, girls gain additional gray matter, centered in the brain’s executive functioning area. Boys gain the same download of this gray matter around age thirteen.
It’s vital that teens begin to grow and use and stretch this gray matter through the type of reasoning that takes place with negotiations. Gray matter is a use-it-or-lose-it item. The brain eventually will prune away the neural connections not used during the teenage years. Higher-order reasoning activities, such as negotiation, are important to the growth and development of the mind, just as exercise is to the body. Negotiation is healthy mental exercise.
Negotiating with your child is also beneficial for you. Through this process you’ll learn what is important to your teenager and why. Negotiation will allow you the opportunity to teach and learn from your child. Simply put, you’ll get to know your child better through your negotiations.
One thing I hear over and over again from parents of teenagers is that their kids just stop talking to them, stop sharing with them. Negotiation is a way for talking and sharing to continue. Parents of teenagers are in serious competition with their teens’ peers, and rules are one of your aces in the hole. You might as well find a way to make the rules bring you closer together, instead of always pushing you further apart.
I understand there are some rules you will not be willing to change, that are not open to negotiation. These are rules like becoming involved in drugs, alcohol, or sexual activity. You may also have non-negotiable rules like all family members participate in chores, attend church, and speak respectfully to each other. Even though these rules are not open to negotiation, they should always be open to discussion.
Your child needs to know why you have these rules, where they come from, what good they are promoting, and what hard they are preventing. Apart from your non-negotiables, whenever possible, negotiate the rest with your child, finding a way to say yes as often as you can.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 36 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety, and others.