Dads Against the Divorce Industry

DA*DI is devoted to reinstating the societal valuation of Marriage and the traditional, nuclear American Family, with particular emphasis on the essential role of FATHERS.

DA*DI offers contemporary reports and commentary on culture; its aberrations and its heroes.

Dr. Wade Horn on Kids:

It's time parents learned to 'Just Say No!'

By Dr. Wade F. Horn

Q: I AM THE father of two teenagers, Robby and Sue, aged 13 and 16. They're basically good kids, but I find myself constantly saying "no" to them when the parents of their friends seem to be constantly saying "yes." Just last week, my 13-year-old was invited to go to a late night bowling party with some friends -- unchaperoned. When I said "no," Robby responded by saying that all the other parents were letting their kids go. What's going on?

BOY DOES THIS sound familiar. Not too long ago, my youngest daughter, then all of 12 years of age, was invited to a sleepover birthday party. No big deal. She had been going to sleepover birthday parties for years. But then the kicker: this one was to be co-ed.

Just last year, my 15 year old daughter asked to go to her homecoming dance with a group of friends. No problem. The dance was being chaperoned by adult teachers. But then she asked to go over to a friend's house afterwards. When an inquiry was made of the friend's father as to what time the party would be over, he replied, "I don't know. When the beer runs out, I guess."

Something is going wrong with today's parents. Not every parent, of course. But far too many seem to have a difficult time saying "no" to their kids, even when the request clearly makes no sense, as in the case of a co-ed sleepover birthday party for 12 year olds, or, even worse, when it is illegal, such as serving alcohol to teenagers.

What's going on? Three things.

First, some parents mistakenly believe that the most important thing they need to be to their kids is their "friend." As such, they are afraid to say "no" for fear of their kids not liking them. But kids need their parents to be, well, parents, not friends. And there is a difference.

Most friendships are built around having fun together. For friends, having a good time together is Job One. One sure way to lose a friend is to lecture them or otherwise show disapproval of their behavior.

Parents, on the other hand, have a very different job. Their job is to transform an egocentric, demanding, helpless and often whiny creature into a caring, independent, well-socialized adult.

A friend's task is to go along (within reason). A parent's task is to help their children get along. A friend's perspective is short-term; a parents must be long-term. A friend most frequently says "yes." A parent much more frequently must say "no."

Parents who confuse these two roles sometimes act as if it is wrong to impose their "values" on their own children. Instead, they believe their job is to help their children clarify their own values and make "good decisions." But kids need parents precisely because they aren't yet capable of making good decisions. They may think they are, but they really aren't. It's a parent's job to make sure they know the difference. This includes being ready, willing and able to say "no" when necessary -- which it frequently is.

Second, some parents are confused. Too many parenting experts tell parents, "don't sweat the small stuff." Instead, save your battles for the really important issues, these experts say.

Rather than insisting your child clean up his or her room, save your strength for laying down the law on using illegal drugs. Rather than fighting over late night (unchaperoned) bowling parties, draw the line on dropping out of school.

Wrong. Kids, and especially teenagers, need to know where the boundaries are. They are pulled toward exercising independence, yet underneath know they aren't ready, just yet, to be completely independent. So they test the limits of their ability to see just how much independence they are truly capable of, while trusting that their parents will pull them back when they go too far.

But if 12 year olds have parents who let them have co-ed sleepovers, they think that they are mature enough to handle provocative sexual situations. If 15 year olds have parents who tolerate or facilitate their underage drinking in their home, then they think they are mature enough to make decisions about consuming alcohol outside the home, like in a car. And if they're mature enough to handle alcohol, well, they might even be mature enough to make an independent decision about experimenting with illegal drugs.

Parents have to sweat the small stuff, or else the only thing left for their kids to battle over is the big stuff. Battling over the small stuff, may be a parent's best insurance that they never get to the really big stuff.

Third, some parents are simply too exhausted. Being a good parent is hard work. Doing your kids' chores for them is a lot easier than insisting they do their chores themselves.

Giving in to the demands of teenagers is a lot easier than standing firm. Saying "yes" is a whole lot easier than saying "no."

But kids need parents who do say "no" and who can stand firm. This doesn't mean that parents shouldn't say "yes" or give their children choices; but saying "yes" should be for things that are age appropriate, and choices should never include dangerous or illegal ones.

So my advice to this dad? Stand firm. Even when every other parent in the neighborhood is saying "yes," if your instincts tell you the activity is age inappropriate, have the courage to say "no." One other piece of advice: When your kids say their friends' parents have all said "yes," don't necessarily believe it. Give one or two of them a call. You might find out that they are as uneasy about saying "yes" as you are.

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