My son is 13 and has recently begun questioning my decisions. But how do you allow a child the opportunity to express his views without allowing him to become insolent?
Barbara: It's important to remember that children at this age are feeling so many emotions they do not understand. They feel insecure; they don't know who they are, and they don't know what's going on in their bodies. They have the ability to analyze your decisions more than they did in the past, and for the first time, they begin to see you as fallible. So parents are going to have to tolerate a lot of unpleasantness.
Dennis: That definitely sounds familiar! In one sense, it's good for a 13-year-old to begin to question a parent's decisions. He's beginning to break away and form his own identity. He's realizing he has a choice; he can choose to do what's right or what's wrong. It's all about growing up. He must begin to move toward becoming responsible on his own. But it's easy for a parent to feel threatened. This same child has just been through what Barbara and I call the "golden years," when children don't question your decisions as much and they do what you tell them to do. We're not accustomed to being questioned.
Barbara: It's not inappropriate for them to question your decisions, because you want to transfer your value system to your children. Most of your decisions are influenced by your values, and this is your opportunity to explain the "why" behind your decisions. You want them to understand why they can't go out with certain kinds of children, why they can't go to certain parties, or why they can't watch certain movies or television shows. If they don't understand why, then they will not begin to adopt your values. You will become isolated and your child will rebel and just do his own thing.
Dennis: This is the time in a child's life where he begins to learn how to think critically about choices regarding friendships, drugs, alcohol, and sex. You have to keep building his character and test him to make sure he heard you. You should avoid telling him he shouldn't feel a certain way, except when he doesn't feel trusted. In reality, you can't trust him yet. He is emerging as a person and has to earn your trust. He is not an adult.
Another thing you can do is acknowledge the fact that your child will not agree with all your decisions. Say something like this: "In this particular case, you think we don't know what's best for you. But I want to remind you we love you, and we're committed to doing everything possible so you can have a great experience growing up. But if we think something might be harmful for you, we as parents will make a decision that falls on the side of caution. We want to draw boundaries and bring truth into your life to help you shape and formulate your own convictions."
Barbara: You need to explain that you genuinely care about his opinions and thoughts, but that he has to express them in a way that isn't disrespectful or mean. This is an issue of training—your children probably don't know the proper way to discuss decisions with you, and you need to help them rephrase their questions in a proper or correct way again and again.
Also, try to spend time with each child away from conflict situations. Pick them up after school and go get a soft drink or a frozen yogurt. Sometimes they don't want to talk, but if you do this often enough they will begin to share what they are thinking and feeling. This will help you build a relationship that will help you work through those stressful situations.
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