When my oldest son was just a toddler I watched a parenting video by Barbara Coloroso. At the time I was struggling with three year old tantrums on a daily basis. Specifically, he was throwing screaming fits every day when we arrived home (me from college and him from day care) and he didn’t immediately get the things he wanted: to eat his dinner and to play with his friend across the hall. I had to cook dinner before he could eat it, and we had to have dinner before he could call on his friend. It was a daily drama that I didn’t enjoy and was at my wit’s end when I sat down to watch the video.
Barbara had a lot of excellent advice, some of which worked with my son and some that didn’t. The same has held true over the years with my other children.. some things worked with one child and not with another. She did provide me with a helpful response to my son’s requests to play with his friend. Instead of saying “no” to him, I would say “Yes, later”. I was shocked at how effective this was!
Of course I was years away from having a teenager, but I still remembered some of the advice she offered to parents of teens. She was speaking about making decisions for your teenagers and when it is okay to say “yes” and when we should say “no”. She gave three main points to consider when your child wants to do something:
- Is it life threatening?
- Is it morally threatening?
- Is it permanent?
If I remember correctly, the example she gave was if a child wanted to change his hairstyle in a dramatic way. While we may not want our kids to have purple hair (maybe a bad example these days, but it was once frowned upon), there really is no reason to interfere because it isn’t life or morally threatening and it isn’t permanent.
There are other times that the answer to one of the questions may be yes, but the answer doesn’t have to be no. For example, if your child asks if she can learn to ride a dirt bike, it could be life threatening. However, there are safety precautions that can be taken.
If the child’s request is one that is permanent, like a piercing or a tattoo, it is reasonable to deny the request but it doesn’t mean that we have to. Encourage your child to be patient and see if they still want the same thing in a week, month or year. Henna or temporary tattoos can be used to aid in the decision making.
These three questions go through my mind often as a parent of teens. While I believe that “morally threatening” will vary from person to person, the reminder that some things are not life threatening or permanent has helped me pick my battles over the years.