Our daughter Abigail is just finishing her junior year of high school. It’s hard to believe before the year is over she’ll be 18 years old, officially an adult in the eyes of the law. I still remember looking at her in her crib thinking, “I can’t believe she’s been with us 100 days already.”
I’ve learned so many things raising her, especially when it comes to coaching and influencing others. We’ve been blessed because she’s a wonderful person with an unbelievable heart for people.
This may seem like a paradox but we have almost no rules and yet we almost never have to discipline her. You might think someone with no rules would be a loose cannon, especially during the teen years, but it’s been exactly the opposite.
Pondering this made me think how prohibiting certain things can sometimes have the opposite of the intended effect, making the person want to break the rules all the more. It reminds me of God prohibiting Adam and Eve from eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Once the tree was deemed off limits, Eve viewed something that was there all along - the tree smack dab in the middle of the garden - in a new and different way.
For those who’ve raised kids you know the moment you tell them they can’t do, touch, taste, or listen to something, that seems to be all the want.
I believe scarcity is at the root of the issue. This principle of influence tells us people want more of what they can’t have. So tell a kid they can’t watch a movie and their curiosity is piqued as they begin to wonder, “What’s so bad in the movie that mom and dad don’t want me to see it?”
When comes to parenting I really knew we were on the right track several years ago when my mom relayed a conversation to me that she’d had with Abigail. My mom was talking about rules when Abigail would get her license and Abigail told her she really didn’t have any rules. Of course my mom insisted she did and Abigail replied, “No grandma, I really don’t have any rules but I wouldn’t do anything to break my parents trust.” Wow! I don’t think I could have asked for any more than that.
How did we get to that point? I think two things contributed significantly – time and communication.
As an only child we devoted lots of time to Abigail. Jane gave up a successful career in insurance to stay home and raise her. Losing her income necessitated other sacrifices too but they were all more than worth it.
I made it a priority to be around as much as possible to attend school events and participate in lots of father-daughter activities like the YMCA’s Indian Princess program. When Abigail graduated from that program we participated together in taekwondo for many years. It was normal for us to hop in the car and go do something together multiple times a week.
In the midst of all that time together I made it a point to talk with Abigail a lot and always gave her room to share her thoughts and feelings. As my good friend, and life coach, Dennis Stranges once said, I helped her find her voice so she felt free to share whatever was on her mind and whatever was going on in her life.
When you have conversations like we had you go beyond rules – do this, don’t do that – and spend time talking about the whys behind the things we’d ask her to do or refrain from.
As she showed good judgment we kept extending responsibility and emphasized that we’d continue to give more as she displayed more responsibility. It feeds on itself in a very positive way and everyone wins.
When I say we don’t have rules there are certainly things we don’t want her to do, such as have sex, drink, try drugs or participate in other activities that could be harmful to her. However, rather than lay down rules, she knows if we ask (not tell) her to do something or refrain from something that we have her best interests at heart. Consequently things that worry so many parents during the teen years have been non-issues for us.
So my advice to parents would be threefold – 1) spend lots of time with your kids, 2) communicate with them, and 3) try refraining from rules and instead discuss the whys behind what you ask of them. The earlier in their lives you begin the better but it’s never too late to start. And remember; give them the freedom to express themselves, even if you don’t fully agree with their likes and dislikes. Doing so will build trust and that’s where they’ll be open to what you have to share and that’s where you might be able to persuade them into good behavior rather than trying to force it.
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.