Many thanks to Parkland Life Magazine for their kind permission to include this article from my column in our blog.
Whether it is requesting a cell phone, being on FaceBook or going to the mall with friends, parents may hear “everyone else has one” or “everyone else gets to do it” when their child’s request is denied. Parents may feel guilty because they don’t want their children to feel left out. Parents may get exasperated with the ceaseless demands. Parents may be afraid of the early and pervasive impact of technology on their child. This is the first generation of parents to handle social networking and high-level involvement with electronic devices. Still, the underlying concept remains the same – how to live according to your values and set boundaries with your children.
To counter “everyone else has one” with adult logic [not everyone has one] is non-productive. Your child feels as if everyone else does have one, and arguing the point will simply make him wrong and end the discussion. Here are a few ways to address the issue directly and set a boundary:
Avoid “you are not old enough,” “when you are older” or “you are too young [little] for that.” Those phrases are not the truth because age is probably not the real issue. The issues are safety, your child’s level of responsibility and his decision-making. Most helpful are conversations about the real issues, opportunities for your child to learn from the experience, clear boundaries and useable information for your child.
“Not old enough,” which is not useable information, may trigger a power struggle. Your child may respond, “Yes, I AM old enough” followed by “No, you are not.”. It then becomes a non-productive tug-of-war that teaches children that being powerful is about resisting and over-powering. It is more helpful to teach them that being powerful is about being influential by your example of listening, empathizing and setting clear boundaries.
Your child may also begin to believe that old enough means good enough or simply enough. He is already enough no matter his age. He may ask that you be specific about the magical age “old enough”. He will then hold you accountable when he reaches that age.
Let your response be the beginning of a conversation. Instead of “you are not old enough” say, “I am not ready for you to go to the mall with your friends without an adult. Let’s talk about what works for both of us.” By saying “I am not ready”, there is nothing for your child to resist, so you have side-stepped a power struggle. Beginning with “I am not ready,” you have the flexibility to negotiate what provides your child with the independence he desires AND with what feels comfortable for you.
Avoid “We can’t afford it.” Instead, you might say, “I am not willing to spend the money on that right now” or “I am willing to pay for half. How would you like to earn the money to pay for the other half?”
Let your child clearly know your expectations. If he desires a cell phone and you feel uncomfortable because he is disorganized, let him know you would love for him to have a phone when he organizes his room and maintains it for a month. Then take time to teach him how to organize. If your daughter desires a phone yet doesn’t handle her reponsibilities around the house, explain that you would like to see her “own” her responsibility of feeding the dog, mowing the lawn, or folding the laundry for a reasonable length of time. If your son looses other devices, you can negotiate what you are willing to contribute, if anything, towards the purchase of the cell phone and the monthly bill. Ask how he will handle it if he looses his phone. Make sure everything is clear and then stick with the agreement.
If your child does say, “Everyone else has one,” acknowledge him with the question “Most of your friends have cell phones [go to the mall with friends, are on FaceBook]?” Begin a conversation rather than defending [“Well, in our family we just don’t do that!”] or making him wrong [“Oh, I know plenty of kids your age who don’t have cell phones yet.”]. Talk about what it means to him to do what he is requesting. Listen. Empathize. Then set your clear boundary.