Nobody’s perfect. You still need to have police to enforce the laws of the land. In other words, no matter how cooperative your teen is in negotiating with you, she’s never going to be able to obey every rule all the time. She is going to test your resiliency to its very limit. This is not a knock against her character; it is simply a part of adolescence.
Let’s get back to the part about negotiating. How do I do this with my irrational teenager?
The fact that you are already aware that your teen is irrational is a plus. After all, it’s not his fault that his brain is only sixteen years old and not fully developed. All teens struggle with impulse control and emotional regulation. It’s a matter of biology. Being equipped with that awareness will help you to keep his emotions in perspective. Hence he won’t surprise you with his seemingly impossible demands.
The first step in negotiating with your teen is creating a calm environment. Find an agreed upon time when you can both approach the negotiating table calmly and focused on the present. Don’t dig up past mistakes that distract you both from the topic at hand. That will only lead to pointless arguments and slamming doors.
If your kid is asking for a freedom that seems like a big jump, listen to everything he has to say without your criticizing glare before responding.
Okay, then what do I do after I respectfully listen to her without freaking out?
Let’s assume that you have a 16-year-old daughter who currently has a curfew of 10:00pm on weekends. She now sits across the kitchen table from you and says, “I don’t want a curfew anymore. After all I can drive, my friends don’t have curfews and none of us have been arrested yet so we know how to stay out of trouble.”
Take a few calming breaths before your scream. Then without fear and judgment, simply say to her, “I understand your desire to have more independence. So, what kind of responsibility can we agree upon that demonstrates you are ready for such a boost in freedom?” She’ll most likely say, “I don’t know.” Your reply might be something along the lines of, “I don’t know either. It’s a big step. Why don’t we both take some time to think of ways for you to show how much more responsibility you can realistically take on? I promise you, more responsibility will earn you more freedom.”
What? There’s no way she’ll ever earn that much freedom at sixteen!
You’re right. In the back of her mind, she knows it too. Eventually she’ll come to you with a token offering. Acknowledge her efforts by saying, “That’s a good start, but I think more may still be needed for that kind of freedom. Do you want some input or do you want to think it over some more and then get back to me?”
Notice that last question, “Do you want some input or do you want to think it over some more and then get back to me?” That question spoken with respect and compassion communicates that her feelings are important. It implies that you are not trying to shove your suggestions down her throat and that you will offer your solutions only when she is ready to hear them. You are communicating to her that she is mature and powerful enough to figure this problem out and come up with a realistic solution to this problem. The faith that you place in her may be all she needs to step up to the plate and try to make the mature choice.
Eventually, she or both of you will come up with an offer of responsibility worthy of some extra freedom. Perhaps by diligently showing you her completed homework each night, daily chores done by specific times and consistently letting you know who she is with and where she is going, her curfew gets pushed to 11:00pm on weekends and she gets more internet time after her homework is completed on weekdays.
But that’s such a far cry from what she was asking for. She’ll never go for it!