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The Art of Negotiating with Teens

As a mother of father of an adolescent, you have the challenge of setting limits on your adolescent’s behaviors to ensure his/her safety. At the same time, you have the challenge of permitting your adolescent freedom to explore his/her ideas and experiences. Sometimes it is hard for a parent to know how much to “hold on” and how much to “let go.” Make clear to your adolescent this message: “With freedom comes responsibility.” As you and your adolescent negotiate new privileges, you also need to negotiate new responsibilities.

Your adolescent still needs your help learning how to determine which rules and decisions are the best ones for him/her and for others. Often, there is more than one way to cook a meal, clean a room, or organize one’s day. But moms and dads and adolescents may not see eye-to-eye on how these - and other day-to-day activities - should be done. Disagreement results. As bad as it can feel, some disagreement between a parent and teen is good, because working out disagreements provides valuable learning opportunities for adolescents and can actually strengthen parent-teen relationships. One way for moms and dads and adolescents to work out their differences is through collaborative problem solving.

The negotiation process will be most effective when both parent and adolescent take time to think through what they will say. When possible, plan ahead to meet at a place and time that is convenient for everyone. A quiet, neutral spot where there are few distractions or interruptions is best for open discussion.

Recognize the changes an adolescent is experiencing with social, emotional, intellectual and physical development. These changes may appear as an adolescent strives for independence, experiences hormonal changes and develops thought processes. Understanding the general characteristics of development for each age helps moms and dads effectively negotiate with their adolescent.

Common areas for negotiation with adolescents are:
  • Chores
  • Clothing
  • Convenience
  • Grades
  • Money
  • Recreation
  • Social manners
  • Transportation

Topics included in negotiation are chosen based on the youngster's skill level and maturity level. The frequency of negotiation increases as a youngster grows older. During late adolescence, almost all rules may be negotiated, with the parent maintaining a few rules that won't be negotiated. The adolescent is trying to break the walls to independence and may push against some of these rules.

What does negotiating involve?

1. Start with patient and active listening. “What is my son saying?” “What point is my daughter making?”

2. Negotiating requires the ability to recognize the legitimacy of another point of view. “Maybe I was wrong on the facts.” “Maybe I didn't have the full picture.”

3. Parents need the insight to perceive how important this issue is to their youngster. Prioritize it. Rate it on a scale of 1 to 10.

4. It's crucial to have the clarity to determine which issues you’re prepared to go to the mat for. There should be very few.

5. Most of all, parents need the courage and confidence to say, "I've changed my mind." Why? Either your adolescent made a persuasive argument and you respect his/her point of view, or your adolescent presented you with new information that significantly altered the situation, or you appreciate that this is much more important to your youngster than it is to you. Changing your mind does not a diminishment of your role as a mom or dad. It enhances rather than decreases your youngster's respect for you – and it paves the way for future open discussions.

Negotiating House-Rules—

1. Consider your adolescent's point of view. Listen to what your adolescent is saying about the rules. If she disagrees, let her know that you will listen and take seriously what she is saying. If you are willing to listen to her objections and consider what she is proposing, she will be more apt to negotiate. Negotiating up front is better than sneaking behind your back.

2. Be clear. Let your youngster know which rules are negotiable – and which are not. For example, negotiable rules may include curfew, allowance or chores. Non-negotiable rules include such things as driving without a seat belt, school attendance and drinking.

3. Explain the reasons behind the rules. When adolescents understand why the guidelines have been established in the first place, they will be more willing to negotiate new rules and take your concerns into consideration. When adolescents know what you are worried about, they are more likely to think about their actions. An open dialogue not only increases cooperation, it creates a teachable moment. Talking about the reasons behind the rules encourages cooperation by increasing understanding.

4. Encourage adolescents to present their point of view. Adolescents who can present a reasonable argument about why they think the rules should be changed are developing good judgment. Thinking about the rules goes along with deciding how to behave.

5. Talk about consequences. Adolescents often think, "That won't happen to me." Talking about the possible consequences in advance helps the adolescent plan in advance. Don't threaten. Give the information and state the facts, but don't threaten. That way your adolescent can think their behavior through and change directions before something happens.

6. Take past behavior into consideration. When negotiating rules with your adolescent, consider past behavior. If he is meeting his responsibilities and making good decisions, it is likely that he will be able to handle the change in the rule effectively. Give adolescents credit for the good choices they've been making.

7. Choose battles carefully. Give your adolescent more leeway as she shows maturity in judgment. Don't argue, fight or enforce rules that are outdated. Give your adolescent room to grow and expand. Let her have more “say.”

8. Respect their opinion. Adolescents are more likely to cooperate when given a voice in the matters that affect them.

Negotiating Curfew—

Setting a time for curfew on a school night is an example of how to negotiate something between parent and teen. Here are some guidelines:

1. Parent says what she wants to happen. Start by suggesting what you see as a reasonable curfew.

2. Adolescent shares his reaction without saying yes or no to the request or suggestion.

3. Ask your adolescent to suggest a curfew time.

4. Each person then says any problems with the other's suggestions. If he accepts your suggestion, you are done. If he suggests a later curfew than you did, then (a) repeat his suggestion to show you listened, (b) do not say "no” or “yes" to his suggestion, (c) express your concerns with his curfew suggestion (e.g., not sure that would work because he has a hard time getting up for school on time), and (d) ask what his thoughts are.

5. Both adolescent and parent think of solutions to the problems raised. If still no agreement, then brainstorm solutions. For example, maybe a compromise can work (e.g., earlier than his suggestion and later than yours; slightly later curfew on weekends, but keep earlier curfew on school nights; earlier curfew, but later bedtime; accept later curfew on the condition that it be changed to earlier time if he has difficulty getting up or is tired at school).

6. If agreement, negotiation is over. If no agreement, try to find a compromise. Encourage selection of an option both of you can live with.

7. If no compromise possible, then state differing positions as objectively and respectfully as possible and set a time to discuss the issue again in the near future. If you just cannot agree on the curfew, agree to keep the same curfew as before and set specific time for talking about it again (e.g., on the weekend, after supper the next night, etc.).


1. Explain your position as calmly and simply as possible.
2. Listen, and be sure you understand the other person's point of view.
3. Don't make demands, lecture or bring up old grudges.
4. Suggest and discuss some options you can both live with.
5. If all else fails, take a break or agree to disagree.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents


Anonymous said...

I have a dilemma with my 16 year old, I recently sent him to live with his father and it seems like he has gotten worse. I still have to be the disciplinarian while he is at his fathers because dad is too busy trying to be his friend. He has always wanted to live with his dad but now his behavior is worse. I'm contemplating bringing him back home but feel like this will make matters worse. I feel like I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place. His ongoing complaint is that he's absolutely miserable at his current school not to mention that he's repeated the 10th grade. I gave in and move with dad bc he was so miserable here at home and now I feel like this is just another excuse. What do I do, I'm at my wits ends?

Anonymous said...

I had this same problem with my son at that age. He lived with his dad for 9 months. There were no rules and he was often left alone to live as he wanted. When he realized his dad wasn't parenting/caring for him he wanted to come home and have mom fix everything for him. The problem arose in that at 16 and especially in a single parent home - these kids need to learn some independence and have to accept greater responsibility than kids from 2 parent homes. My son was great - for about 1 month and then it became an ongoing and escalating struggle for me to maintain my parental authority in my own home. I had 2 younger kids with me at the time and my eldest would not accept my authority about anything. HE wanted to run the house and had no regard for my house rules. He dealt with his frustration by destroying my home (over $10K in damages) and then becoming physical with me and his siblings. We sought help from 3 psychologists as well as a parent/teen support group and our doctor. In the end, I had no choice but to kick him out for both my safety and that of my other children. After that experience, my other 2 kids have from time to time intimated they wanted to live with their dad (usually when something isn't going their way). My response to them has been this: If that's what you really want - that's fine and you'll be welcome to visit me but your home is chosen by you and it's a one way street. On the other hand, if you choose to live here you need to understand that this is MY house, I am the parent and have the right to set the rules in accordance with what I feel is in your best interest and I EXPECT the rules to be followed. They were well aware of what life was like with their dad and that THEY were making a choice they would have to live with. You know your son best. I would only say that if you do choose to give him the chance to come home that you make him aware of your expectations and rules and be very clear about it. If it doesn't work, then both you and he may have to deal with some very difficult consequences. An alternative might be starting slowly by exchanging weeks or spending weekends (Friday nite - Monday am) at your place with clear expectations and rules in place and see how that goes. Whatever you decide - I wish you luck on your journey.

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