Do As I Say Now - Not As I Did Long Ago


How do you respond to an adolescent boy who, upon being disciplined or warned, says, “You did the same things when you were my age”? He's right, of course. I did do some of the things I don't want him to do.

Before we respond to your son, permit me to respond to you. How did he know you did the same things when you were his age? Who told him? Whoever it was has inadvertently made your parenting tougher. There is a point where communication from parent — or grandparent — to child can be too open.

But since he now knows, don't provide any more details. Your past, however wrong or stupd, is not his concern, unless you wish it to be. But remember: Whatever you say can and may be held against you.

Now let us respond to your son. Know above all that your moral authority as a parent does not depend one whit upon your moral conduct as a child. If it did, few of us could claim full parental status. The very process of maturing dictates that we are more foolish and shortsighted when we're young. However you wish to convey to your son this absolute truth, do so. But don't expect him to understand or agree. That's part of his immaturity. Nevertheless, by making this point — as briefly as possible, by the way — you are in essence saying, “My resolve will not be weakened, nor any guilt caused, by childhood illogic.”

Next admit that you were indeed a child. “You're right; I did teenager things when I was a teenager.” Keep any admissions deliberately vague. Even though you refuse to be manipulated, no sense giving your son more fodder to keep chewing on you.

Contrary to what your son thinks, you are not so old as to recall only in a misty haze what impulses, desires and dangers accompany youth. It is your memory of having lived once at his age that makes you acutely aware of your duty to help him safely navigate those same waters. Part of being a good parent is knowing the reality of being bad as a kid.

Now, on to your masterstroke. With no shame, tell your son that he is very lucky that you too once did wrong and bad things — though not anymore, of course. It is that very misconduct that is driving you to be the strong and vigilant parent you are today.

Through your firsthand, personal experience with wrong behavior you realize how critical it is that you protect him from potential foolishness and discipline him for actual foolishness. Whatever you might have once gotten away with was not to your benefit.

If you really want to be irksome, you could say, “You are right. I did do the same things when I was your age. But my duty right now is to raise the best kid I can. And that means raising a person who is better than I was.”

There's not much that bugs a teen more than a parent who compliments at the same time she disciplines.

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