Can your teenager do the deal

Friday, September 1st, 2017

Can your teenager do the deal

Can your teenager do the deal?


So many of the arguments and meltdowns we have with our teenagers are about not being able to stick to ‘the deal’. But what exactly is the deal, why do they need to be able to stick to it ?


We have to understand that nirvana from the adolescent perspective is complete independence without responsibility; our job is to link the two. It is not an easy task and that’s why we often end up having the equivalent of World War 3 when we try to bring the two together. The reason they need to be able to do the deal is because they need to learn an important life lesson that actions have consequences, hence the familiar adolescent cry of, ‘its not my fault’ or ‘its nothing to do with me’. God forbid they have to accept responsibility for their actions!!


Let’s take a familiar battleground, negotiating a curfew. We need to agree with our teen what is an appropriate time to be home. Most teenagers can do the deal at least theoretically. However lurking in the background is an unspoken proviso;

‘I said I would agree to be home at 12 but what I didn’t say is that if I’m having fun then I’m not going to stick to it’.

There is nothing malevolent about this. It is merely a reflection of their immaturity. When they are under pressure from the impulse to do what they want the deal goes out of the window.


There are some important parenting lessons to be understood here. The first is that learning to do the deal is a process that usually takes a long time so don’t get into heated monologues about the why’s and wherefores of not being able to do it. If they break the deal then impose a sanction. Don’t impose anything draconian, maybe they are grounded the next weekend. Don’t discuss it or negotiate. It’s not about you being strict or liberal. It’s a consequence of their choice to break the deal, remember actions have consequences.


The other more important consequence is that your teenager’s attitude to and success in making deals will help you determine how much freedom they can manage. Freedom  should not be determined by age but by their success in being able to stick to deals.

A poor capacity to be able to stick to a deal is usually linked to poor impulse control (immature decision making) and this can put teenagers at risk. These kinds of teenagers need much more containment (less freedom). Don’t give in to their rant about curtailment of their liberty; it’s about keeping them safe.


I’m only too aware that theory and practice are very different beasts. A feisty teenager won’t welcome what I have suggested I can assure you, but think back to those long forgotten wars with your two year old, the ones about not letting them have a second ice cream. Their rants, however eloquent, are nothing more than sophisticated temper tantrums, ignore them.

fallacy of negotiated parenting

The fallacy of parenting by negotiation.


There is a popular style of parenting that goes something like this,

‘I always explain to Charlie exactly why he has to do something. We discuss it in a rational, grown up manner. I try to explain the reasoning behind our decisions. We think you shouldn’t impose things on children at least not without giving them a chance to have their say. We like to treat our children as ‘equals’.


There is civility and order about this that is undoubtedly appealing. No more arguments or tantrums, no battles of wills just civilized discussions or at least that’s the theory.


However this parenting style has some serious flaws. It assumes all members of the family have equal status and this is manifestly not true. It is our job to try as best we can to create a secure and loving environment for them and this means we sometimes have to make decisions they don’t like or agree with.

Most children aren’t able to make grown up decisions about what is good for them and what isn’t. What they think should happen is based on what they want to happen not what is in their best interests.

Further it also creates the illusion that the world is place where everything can be negotiated, this is patently not true. The teenager reared on a diet of negotiated settlements is in for a nasty shock when they enter the adult world. There is the lesser, but nevertheless relevant issue, which is that explaining and negotiating every decision, takes too much time.


My view is that the real appeal of this style of parenting is that it avoids conflict and suits parents who don’t want to upset their children, who don’t like conflict and/or can’t bear their children being angry with them. Yet the management of conflict is a very important skill to learn, as is the capacity to put up with things not going your way. These skills are best learned in the safety of the family.


It is not an infringement of their human rights to have to do what they are told without explanation or negotiation.


the happiness myth

The happiness myth.


Nearly every parent I see tells me that they just want their child to be happy. This is a perfectly understandable but curiously misplaced wish. Happiness is something that cannot be acquired or pursued in a concrete sense. It is more a fleeting sense of well-being that arises as a result of engaging with something else. A childhood is rarely an endless series of happy events; in fact I would argue that being a child is full of stressful events and difficult challenges. Furthermore if our children had continuously happy lives how would they be able to deal with the inevitable arrival of ‘unhappiness’.


There are further problems with this issue of happiness namely how we interpret unhappiness. Is it something we should be concerned about, in the sense of it being some sort of indicator of mental distress? Or is it something we should just ignore, in the sense of it being a part of life? These questions are made more complex by the way in which ‘happiness’ has become a must have accessory. Browse anyone’s instagram or facebook account and you will see how important it is to show everyone how ‘happy’ you are.


This presents us parents with a problem. If our children are covertly being signed up to the pursuit of ‘happiness’ how do we intervene and reconfigure them so to speak.


One of the things we need to understand is difference between happiness and pleasure and the second is we need to understand the difference between unhappiness as a symptom of something troubling and when it is the result of frustration or disappointment.


I have stated above that happiness is a fleeting sense of well-being that arises as a result of engaging with something else. It is not the same as the pleasure you get from gratification. So if your child says they will be ‘very happy’ if you buy them the latest smartphone they are talking about gratification not happiness. Conversely it is not a sign of an impending psychological disorder if they tell you they will be ‘very unhappy’ if you don’t buy them one. That is just frustration or disappointment.


If your child seems lethargic, low and seemingly unable to derive much enjoyment from life then they may very well be unhappy in the proper psychological sense and you need to try to do something about it.

You can do a bit of detective work by asking their school and you can try and talk to them about it. If they are unwilling to open up you could try involving a professional.


My view is that we need to focus a lot less on how to make them happy and more on the following

  1. How to develop a good work ethic
  2. How to help them become emotionally and psychologically resilient.
  3. Help them learn how to make and sustain healthy relationships.


These are the things that will help them become healthy adults.

If this topic is of interest, I discuss it in much more detail in my book which is coming out in mid May 2017called, We need to talk, how to raise resilient teenagers. (Vermillion)

Porn alert

Porn alert.


I read recently that a top school is employing an Internet porn expert to teach ‘porn awareness’ classes to pupils amid fears that developing an addiction could be harmful to their studies, career prospects and their relationships. Setting aside the intriguing question of how you become an Internet porn expert this seems to be a very important, if belated, response to an issue that many would rather remain in denial about.


When I raised this issue with a group of parents some 6 or 7 years ago most of them either denied that their offspring would ever dream of engaging in such activities or they outlined such elaborate controls on their computer system that there was no way they could access it. Our wish to remain in a state of denial is a major part of the problem.


Like many issues with technology the focus tends to be on the ‘car crash’ stories. Porn addiction is indeed a serious issue but of more importance is the routine watching of porn by young boys and girls who are not addicted and those who aren’t looking at porn but end up seeing things of a sexual nature on their computers that frighten and confuse them. The fact that porn is now affecting the way teenagers and young men and women relate to each other is fairly well established. We need to get on board with this issue.


There are three main problems getting in the way of us dealing effectively with the topic.

  1. It is difficult to embrace the notion that our children have sexual desires and interests on anything other than a theoretical level.
  2. To deal with it effectively we parents have to be comfortable talking about the kind of sexual material that porn throws up.
  3. The ‘boys will be boys’ defence is a popular way of avoiding the issue.
  4. These are severe but completely understandable impediments to being able to help our children. In my opinion we just don’t have an option, we have to get involved.


Let’s be clear the ‘lock down’ solution isn’t a solution at all, it’s a cop out. We all know that even if our computer system has all the blocks known to mankind, Charlie’s computer round the corner probably doesn’t. Furthermore teenagers love nothing more than to try to open doors that say ‘prohibited’ on them.


I suggest that a way to start to address the problem is to acknowledge that porn is out there and even if they aren’t watching it the chances are they are party to conversations where it is discussed. You can then make it clear that you are happy to talk through anything they see that upsets or frightens them. It’s worth remembering that for many the major driver at the outset is curiosity rather than gratification. At some point we have to drive home the fact that porn has nothing whatsoever to do with relationships and is indeed destructive to their development. Don’t hold back from explaining exactly why this is the case.   The domination and humiliation of young women are the major relational dynamics in porn videos. This has to be talked about. This sort of dialogue needs to be sensibly developed through time in order that our children can be protected from the worst aspects of porn. There is no quick fixes and don’t let anyone persuade you otherwise.