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


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 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 (Continued)

Two weeks ago we discussed the notion of your need as parents to nourish your self-esteem and realize that when your daughter negotiates with you she is, in a roundabout manner, acknowledging your authority. We also noted that you would be in the best position to effectively parent your child when you are confident, comfortable, and in control. That means speaking calmly and not lashing out verbally, and developing an aura of tranquility.

As for the practical tips you asked for, here are some techniques that you may wish to share with your teenage daughter – explaining to her that she is far more likely to achieve a satisfactory response when doing so. Another way to pose this would be to establish these factors as “ground rules for negotiation” in your home. (These two approaches are different. The first is more progressive, the second more authoritative. Both are okay, so choose the one that suits you better.)

Negotiating 1.0:

1. A respectful tone must be maintained (no negotiation under fire).

2. Your daughter should share with you the reason that she finds it difficult to fulfill your request.

3. She should make a “counteroffer.”

4. Assign a “value” for how important this is to her.

Here are some details for each of these:

1. A respectful tone must be maintained (no negotiation under fire).

This simply means that in order for your daughter to have her request listened to, she must present it in a way that is respectful to you. Please remember to keep calm if she is hostile or emotional. Yelling back shows you are not in control.

Keep replaying this mantra in your mind:

· I am the adult in this discussion.

· I am in charge.

· I need to demonstrate leadership and not yell back.

If this doesn’t work for you, tell your daughter that you are upset and need a few minutes to think clearly. You will get valuable time to reflect, and will also be exhibiting good habits to your daughter.

The best way to stop your daughter from yelling is to calmly say that you cannot respond to her when she is that upset. Suggest that she take a timeout and try again later in a more respectful manner.

When she does come back, do not begin the conversation by discussing her previous outburst. Leave that for the end of your talk or, better yet, for later that day. You should suggest that she apologize, without serious discussions about the temper tantrum – as that will then become the main event and distract from the conversation at hand.

2. Your daughter should share with you the reason that she finds it difficult to fulfill your request.

Explain to her that this will help you take her request more seriously. “Can I stay out until 11 p.m., since all my friends are leaving at that time?” is far more explanatory and reasonable than “Can I stay out until 11 p.m.?” As a parent, it is important to understand how important peer pressure is at this stage in your teenager’s life. Please don’t tell her not to care what her friends think of her. That is one surefire way to create a chasm between you and her.

3. She should make a “counteroffer.”

If your daughter is unhappy with your 10 p.m. curfew, she should say, “I’d like my curfew to be 11 p.m., please.” She should not say, “I can’t do that” or “No way.”

This value, that she should take the position of a reasonable adult and make you a counteroffer, is important to teach her.

4. Assign a “value” for how important this is to her.

In my recent column, “Is Everything A 10?” (http://www.rabbihorowitz.com/PYes/ArticleDetails.cfm?Book_ID=895&ThisGroup_ID=238&ID=Newest&Type=Article), I wrote a paragraph about the concept of having children express the (relative) importance of things to them by assigning them values. Here is that text:

One of the techniques I have found most helpful when mediating disputes between rebellious adolescents and their parents is to give the teenager six or eight index cards and ask him or her to jot down a request or concession that he or she would like his or her parents to grant on each of the cards. Then I ask the teen to stack the index cards in priority order, with the most important request on top. Finally, I have the teen assign a value from 1-10 for each of those requests, with 10 denoting something that he or she would consider of paramount significance and 1 representing a matter that is not terribly important.

I then hand a similar number of index cards to the parents of the adolescent and ask them to do likewise. And while this exercise is certainly not a miraculous cure for friction between teens and their parents, it is often helpful in establishing healthy dialogue and effective problem solving in a strained relationship.

In a similar vein, it may be helpful for your daughter to inform you how important this request is to her on a scale of 1-10.

One final point:

There are three possible outcomes. You may agree with her, meet her halfway, or you may need to stick to your guns and deny her request outright. If and when you are flat-out sticking to your guns, be sure to validate her feelings and let her know that you took her request seriously. Explain to her that you, too, have things that are a “10″ to you.

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is the founder and dean 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 Parsha, 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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