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Negotiating With Our Teenager: Understanding The Dynamics Of ‘The Deal’ (Part I)


Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

Our eldest child is in 10th grade at a local Bais Yaakov. She is doing well in school and is generally well behaved at home. However, over the past year or so, everything we tell her or ask her becomes a full-scale negotiating session. It doesn’t make a difference what the issue is – curfew, when to do her homework, when to clean her room, etc. It is draining our energy and eroding our relationship with her.

Here are our questions:

1. Is this normal?

2. Isn’t it disrespectful for children to challenge their parents like this? Neither of us thinks we did this to our parents.

3. Do you have any practical suggestions for us?

Names Withheld

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

Nowadays, we keep hearing (appropriately so, I might add) that kids need healthy self-esteem. I think that with the incredibly complex and challenging job we face, parents need to nourish their self-esteem as well.

With that in mind, I will share with you a short phrase I tell people whenever the issue of negotiating with kids comes up in the Q&A segment of a parenting lecture: “only the boss negotiates.”

Think about it. When you are attempting to secure a pay raise at work, the only one that you approach is your boss or supervisor. Why? Because no one else in the hierarchy of the business has the authority to grant you additional compensation for your work aside from him (or her).

Thus in a roundabout manner, whenever your teenage daughter negotiates with you, she is acknowledging your authority in a very profound, albeit indirect, way. It’s almost as if she approached you and said the following things in sequence (all things in parentheses are unspoken sentiments):

1. (I know that I need to listen to you because you are my parent)

2. (If you refuse my request, I will have no choice but to accept your decision)

3. (Now that we got that out of the way), “Can I please stay out until 11 p.m. instead of 10:30?”

Now, doesn’t that sound better?

While we are in the parental “self-esteem-building mode,” please consider the fact that it is also a compliment to the two of you that the lines of communication are open between you and your teen. Trust me, that’s not always the case. In fact, when parents tell me that their teens are completely ignoring their house rules, I almost always send them for professional counseling – as that is a clear sign that there is a complete breakdown in the “chain of authority” at home. Reclaiming that takes wisdom, time and patience – and the willingness to change.

This “self-esteem-for-parents thing” is very important since you will be in the best position to effectively parent your child when you are confident, comfortable and in control. That means speaking calmly, not lashing out verbally, and developing an aura of tranquility.

Getting back to the analogy of your boss at work, think of how your respect for your boss would diminish if he yelled at or refused to listen to subordinates when they discuss things with him. You would correctly feel that he is not in control of things. So having the self-confidence to feel in charge and in control of your household will position you to effectively parent your teenage daughter when she “negotiates” with you.

Now, to your first two questions:

1. Is this normal?

This is most certainly normal. Kids have been doing this forever. The tone may have changed over the years, due to a number of societal changes (explaining the reasons for this is beyond the scope of this column), but kids have always tried to negotiate with their parents.

2. Isn’t it disrespectful for children to challenge their parents like this? Neither of us thinks we did this to our parents.

That depends on how the negotiating is done. It is not disrespectful for your child to “negotiate” with you, provided it is done in an atmosphere of ne’imus and derech eretz. Your task as a parent is to train your child to act this way. (Next week, I will share some practical tips to help you accomplish that goal.)

As for whether you did this to your parents, why don’t you ask them? Their answer may surprise you.

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is the founder and menahel of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and the founder and director of Agudath Israel’s Project Y.E.S.

To purchase Rabbi Horowitz’s D’var Torah Sefer, Growing With the Parshah, or his popular parenting tapes and CDs (including his 2-CD set on “Raising your Adolescent Children”), please visit www.rabbihorowitz.com, e-mail udi528@aol.com or call 845-352-7100 x 133.

About the Author: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam and founder and director of Agudath Israel's Project Y.E.S.


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