‘No’ com­pro­mise

Par­ents should not be too quick to say ‘no’ to their teenage chil­dren.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FAMILY - By KEZIA TOH

AS teenagers start to grope for their iden­tity, they will in­evitably go to their par­ents with more re­quests for pos­ses­sions and per­mis­sions.

It will not be pos­si­ble to ac­cede to all these re­quests. The trick to say­ing “No” to a teenager and have him toe the line is not to state it im­me­di­ately, say ex­perts and par­ents.

This ap­plies to seem­ingly in­nocu­ous sit­u­a­tions such as hang­ing out late, or even ob­vi­ous ones such as try­ing smok­ing, says house­wife To­nia Goh, 47.

“Par­tic­u­larly for teenagers, con­ver­sa­tion ceases the mo­ment you blurt out a quick ‘No’,” says Ms Goh, who has four sons aged seven to 16. “By ask­ing me for per­mis­sion, they are let­ting me into their life and space, so I cap­i­talise on that and avoid pass­ing judg­ment so quickly.”

In­stead, she probes the rea­sons be­hind their re­quests and dis­cusses the pros and cons of each de­ci­sion.

The word “No” tends to es­cape well-mean­ing par­ents’ lips too quickly, say coun­sel­lors.

Iris Lin, 33, who heads the youth di­vi­sion at Fei Yue Com­mu­nity Ser­vices, says: “You hear teenagers telling their friends: ‘ No need to ask, par­ents sure say No’, then they go on to do what they like.”

As the child is leav­ing the “struc­tured co­coon” of pri­mary school and mov­ing on to sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion, he en­ters a stage of build­ing his self-iden­tity and es­teem.

“For teenagers, they no longer want to be known as ‘ Mr and Mrs so-and-so’s child’, but pre­fer to as­sert their own mind, heart and per­son­al­ity, and find a group of peers to which they be­long,” says Lin.

Fit­ting in with so­cial cir­cles also means par­ents of­ten grap­ple with their teenagers cov­et­ing things that their friends own, such as a pet.

Cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions specialist Pauline Teo’s 13-yearold son and 10-year-old daugh­ter have pleaded with her for a pet cat. But she has had to put her foot down as her daugh­ter has a sen­si­tive nose. In­stead, she of­fers a com­pro­mise – the fam­ily feeds cats in their hous­ing es­tate and visit cat cafes.

Com­par­ing pos­ses­sions with peers tends to start young, says mar­ket­ing man­ager Matthew Fam, whose two daugh­ters aged 10 and eight have asked for bags and shoes sim­i­lar to their class­mates’.

Fam, 35, says he would check if the girls’ be­long­ings are in good shape. If not, he makes them wait any­way, pro­vided the items are not fall­ing apart.

“I would say, for ex­am­ple, that we can shop for bags af­ter the ex­am­i­na­tions. This teaches them the value of de­layed grat­i­fi­ca­tion, so they do not al­ways get their wants ful­filled im­me­di­ately,” he says.

Teacher Norizah Ja­mari faced ar­guably more dicey is­sues in her fam­ily, such as her chil­dren ask­ing to learn to ride a mo­tor­cy­cle

To­nia Goh with her hus­band, Tan Kay Kheng, and their four sons. She takes time to dis­cuss her chil­dren’s re­quests in­stead of say­ing ‘no’ on the spot. and colour­ing their hair.

Norizah, 47, has four chil­dren – a 24-year-old daugh­ter and three sons aged 17 to 22.

When her sons, for ex­am­ple, wanted to dye their hair brown dur­ing the school hol­i­days, she had to bite her tongue for her im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion was “No”. In­stead, she asked them what their pur­pose was.

“First im­pres­sions count, so I asked them if they wanted to look like an Ah Beng,” she says us­ing the lo­cal Chi­nese di­alect col­lo­qui­al­ism for un­couth youth.

Her ploy worked – her sons did not colour their hair.

Nur Syafiq Adi, her 22-yearold son, says of the in­ci­dent: “I wanted to do some­thing fun, but when my mother took the time to ex­plain and rea­son with me why I could not do some­thing, I thought I should lis­ten to her.”

Far trick­ier was when he an­nounced three years ago that he wanted to learn to ride mo­tor­cy­cle. Norizah says: “I worry for his safety, so I told him that it would pain me if he got hurt.”

Psy­chol­o­gist Daniel Koh of In­sights Mind Cen­tre says when par­ents share their con­cerns, as well as ex­plore con­se­quences – how it would feel to lose a loved one and how the fam­ily would cope men­tally and fi­nan­cially if the child got in­jured – the chil­dren can make a more in­formed choice.

De­spite Norizah’s ef­forts to make her son change his mind about rid­ing a mo­tor­cy­cle, he went ahead and got his li­cence any­way, us­ing his earn­ings from a part-time job to pay for lessons.

While she still wor­ries for his safety when­ever he rides his mo­tor­cy­cle – which he bought with his money – and would pre­fer that he used an­other mode of trans­porta­tion, she is at least pleased that his in­ter­est was not a pass­ing whim.

More­over, his act of in­de­pen­dently striv­ing to­wards the goal of ob­tain­ing a li­cence has re­as­sured her that he would not be a reck­less rider.

Ex­perts are di­vided on how par­ents should han­dle ar­eas such as sleep­overs and boy-girl re­la­tion­ships, and coun­sel a mea­sured ap­proach.

Dr Carol Bal­hetchet, se­nior di­rec­tor of youth ser­vices at the Sin­ga­pore Chil­dren’s So­ci­ety, sug- gests par­ents could in­vite their chil­dren to have the sleep­over with friends at their home first. This is an op­por­tu­nity for par­ents to get com­fort­able with their teens’ so­cial cir­cle be­fore as­sess­ing if they are ready for sleep­overs else­where.

For boy-girl re­la­tion­ships, Dr Bal­hetchet ad­vises par­ents avoid a di­rect “No”. “Par­ents could ask their teen if he is ready to be so emo­tion­ally linked to a per­son, pay for flow­ers and gifts, and spend all fes­ti­vals and birth­days with that per­son.”

Par­ents could in­stead en­cour­age their child to have non­ro­man­tic friend­ships with the op­po­site sex dur­ing his teenage years.

Ex­plain­ing the ra­tio­nale be­hind each de­ci­sion is im­por­tant. While par­ents may get their way with say­ing “be­cause I say so” to younger chil­dren, this ap­proach does not work for teenagers, says fam­ily ther­a­pist Benny Bong.

“Such an author­i­tar­ian re­sponse may not be ad­e­quate. An ex­pla­na­tion is help­ful to teach your child what be­hav­iour is not per­mit­ted and why not,” he says.

But if the fi­nal an­swer is “No”, stick to your guns, says Fei Yue’s Lin. “Some par­ents get guilty be­cause it breaks their heart that their teen has slammed the door in anger or is sulk­ing, so they say no once or twice, then give in,” she says.

Ul­ti­mately, say­ing “No” preps your teenager for the work­force where he would likely hear more people say­ing “No” to him than “Yes”, says Dr Bal­hetchet.

She adds: “It is the goal of par­ent­ing for your chil­dren to learn the re­al­ity of the world by fa­mil­iaris­ing them with the word ‘No’. From there, they learn the value of re­silience.” – The Straits Times, Sin­ga­pore/Asia News Net­work

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