Negotiating with teenagers: benefits
It can be hard to let go of your authority and let your teenage child have more say in decision-making. But your child needs to do this as part of her journey towards becoming an independent, responsible young adult.
If you use effective negotiation techniques, negotiating can help your child learn to think through what he wants and needs and then communicate this in a reasonable way. It also helps him understand other viewpoints, make good decisions, follow through with those decisions, and learn from the consequences of his decisions.
Negotiating with your child is about trying to find common ground and a win-win solution. Negotiating doesn’t mean you have to compromise on things you think are important, such as cultural traditions, and your child’s safety and wellbeing.
Families do things in different ways, and different parents have different ideas of what they feel is OK for teenagers to do. For example, if you grew up in a different country you might find what is accepted for teenagers in Australia is different from what you’re used to. Try to find a way of negotiating with your child that works for your family.
Successful negotiating with teenagers has a lot to do with the negotiation techniques you use.
A negotiation might start with your child asking (or telling!) you that she’s going to do something. For example, ‘I want to go to the movies on Saturday night’. Or if she’s older or more assertive, ‘I’m going to the movies tonight’.
If you’re not ready for the conversation, or you need time to think about what you will and won’t compromise on, set a time to talk later. But make sure it’s soon. This will help your child trust that you will keep your word. It also tells him that coming to a compromise is important to you. Then you can put these negotiation techniques into action.
Prepare what you’re going to say. For example, you could discuss it with your partner or a friend, or write down what you want to say.
Use a calm, warm and firm voice to set up a reasonable conversation about the issue. The idea is to avoid it becoming a conflict. For example, you could say, ‘Let’s talk about this’.
Actively listen to your child’s views first without interrupting. Show that you’ve understood how important the issue is to her. For example, ‘So you’re saying that you really want to dye your hair pink for the dress-up party, even though it will stay that colour for a long time. You also know that it might wreck your hair a bit’.
Express your views, and ask your child to tell you more about his. For example, ‘I want you to have fun and see your friends, but I also need to know where you’ll be and that you’ll be safe. So tell me more about the bike ride’.
Be clear about your bottom line. This means knowing what you’re willing to negotiate about and what’s non-negotiable. Understanding your child’s personality and maturity will help you decide what you can and can’t negotiate on. The level of trust you have in your child based on past events will also be important. For example, ‘I don’t want you to travel home from the cinema on your own. How about I come and collect you?’
Think of a range of options. For example, ‘I don’t want you to paint your room black. Is there another colour you’d be happy with, or perhaps you could just paint one wall black? Do you have any other ideas?’
Show that you’re willing to compromise and that you want to agree on something that you can both accept. For example, ‘I know you want to keep checking social media, but I’m concerned about you getting your homework done and getting enough sleep. How much social media time do you think is reasonable after you allow time for homework and sleep?’
Be warm and firm as you stick to your bottom lines. For example, ‘It doesn’t matter what other people are doing. I can pick you up after the movie finishes’.
Take a break if things get tense or argumentative. For example, ‘I need some time out, so let’s work this out after dinner’.
Clearly state the decision that you and your child have agreed on. For example, ‘OK. You can go to the party with your friends. I’ll pick you up at 11 pm’. Your child might be unhappy with the solution. Give her time to accept it without trying to convince her of its benefits.
Discuss and agree on the consequences if the agreement is broken. For example, ‘We’ve agreed that you can paint one wall in your room black. We’ve also agreed that if you paint any more than that, you’ll have to buy the white paint yourself and paint the walls white again. OK?’
End on a positive note even if the negotiation wasn’t perfect. For example, ‘Thanks for talking that through with me. I appreciate that we were able to work things out in the end. It shows me that you’re a mature person’.
When you’re using these negotiation techniques with your child, if there are two parents in the family, it’s helpful to support each other’s views and show a ‘united’ front. This gives you a stronger position and keeps the negotiation simpler. You might need to negotiate with each other to come to a joint decision first.
Using your authority when negotiating
Your authority and influence over your child comes into play when you’re negotiating with him. As your child develops, using your authority and influence in a respectful and positive way will help keep your relationship strong and open.
As your child moves into older adolescence, it’s still important to use your authority to protect your child’s safety and wellbeing. For example, it’s OK for you to stand firm on knowing where your child is going, when he’ll be coming home and when he needs to call you about changes to arrangements.
You might find that your child is challenging your authority more as she gets older. For example, she might say, ‘I am going to do that and you can’t stop me’. The way you respond might depend on your child’s age.
For example, if your child is 12 years old, you might say, ‘I’m still your parent and I make the decisions, but I want to help you get what you want too. Let’s talk more about it to work it out’.
But if your child is 16 years old, you might say, ‘I want you to support you in doing what you want, but I’m still responsible for your safety. So I need to know where you’re going and who you’re with. Can we talk more about this to see if we can find a solution we’re both happy with?’
Your own style of parenting can also influence how you negotiate with your child.