Parenting Your Teenager: But everyone else gets to do it!

Q. We are getting to the stage with our kids where they are becoming teen-agers and are asking for more and more privileges. When we believe we need to say ``no,'' our daughter says, ``But everyone else gets to do it. Why can't I?'' We get stuck. We don't want to be too strict or too lenient. How do we handle this stage?

A. That's a really good question, because many parents get baffled by the everyone-else-gets-to-do-it-why-can't-I maneuver.

My own parents' answer to my ``David gets to do it. Why can't I?'' was this: ``If David stood on his head in the middle of the street in his underwear at 3 in the morning, would you?'' I probably would have. And I never did figure out what that answer had to do with wanting to go to the movies.

Anyway, what my parents had stumbled onto with this saying of theirs was that they were simply not going to get hooked by the bait I was giving them.

Trying to argue against the everyone-else-gets-to-do-it maneuver is a no-win situation.

This is because many teen-agers are 15 going on 25 and 15 going on 5, all at the same time. Parents are faced with an I-want-what-I-want-when-I-want-it 5-year-old with the brains of a young adult who can put together a fairly convincing argument.

Master Manipulators

This combination is part of what makes teen-agers what I call ``master manipulators.''

What happens is this:

Parents get hooked into the manipulation by believing that ``why can't I?'' is a legitimate question worthy of a legitimate answer.

But the reality is this:

There is no answer you could give that would make your teen-ager say, ``Hey, that's a really good reason! Thanks for sharing it with me. Now I no longer want to do what I was asking about.''

It just doesn't happen.

Another way to handle the everyone-else-gets-to line is to check it out.

Call up the parents of your teen-ager's friends and see if they really do get to do all these things. Chances are the real story will be different from the one you are hearing at home.

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