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Negotiating With Our Teenager - Part Two
Negotiation 1.0
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Publication: Chicago Community Kollel

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Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

Our eldest child is in tenth 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, on and on. 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 think we did this to our parents.
  3. Do you have any practical suggestions for us?

Names Withheld

Rabbi Horowitz Responds (Cont.)

Last week, 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, 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 OK; pick 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 ‘counter offer’
  4. Assign a ‘value’ for how important this is to her

Here are some details for each of these:

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 her parents (that’s you). Please remember to keep calm if she is hostile or emotional. Yelling back shows you, too, 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 modeling 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 time-out and try again 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 in that day. You ought to suggest that she apologize, but no serious discussions about the temper tantrum, as that will now become the main event and distract from the conversation at hand.)

She should make a ‘counter offer’

If your daughter is unhappy with your 10:00 p.m. curfew, she should say, “I’d like my curfew to be 11:00 p.m. please” not, “I can’t do that” or “No way.”

This is an important value to be teaching her – that she should take the position of a reasonable adult and make you a counter offer.

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 11:00 p.m. since all my friends are leaving then?” is far more explanatory and reasonable than “Can I stay out until 11:00 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.

Assign a ‘value’ for how important this is to her

In my recent column, Is Everything a 10?, I wrote a paragraph about the concept of having children express the (relative) importance of things to them by assigning values to them. Here is that text:

One of the techniques that 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 (her) to jot down a request or concession that he would like his 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 him assign a value from 1 to 10 for each of those requests, with 10 denoting something that he 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 the same. 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 to 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.

© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

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