A Well-Lit Path: A Blog from Westtown School

How To Avoid the "Everybody's Doing It" Trap

Posted by Linda Rosenberg McGuire on February 2, 2015

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Its_a_trapOur teenagers can employ some very powerful tactics to get us to change our minds. They've been observing us for years now, figuring out where our weak spots are, and perfecting their negotiation techniques and sales pitch methods. Most teenagers can predict if their parents fold under pressure, do best with data and facts, or if mood and time of day are predictors for successful mind changing. Here are a few of the top teen tactics, including some tips for how to stay strong during the onslaught.

  1. “No one else’s parent is…” This is meant to make us feel embarrassed by our singular behavior. Here, your teenager is banking on the fact that you do not want, or do not have the strength, to stand alone. First, chances are high you are not the only parent to be doing whatever it is you plan to, whether that is calling to see if a parent is home, picking your teenager up from a party rather than having them drive with a friend, or not allowing friends over when you aren’t home. Second, standing alone actually models the strength that you do have. But refer back to the first point before worrying about the second point.
  2. “I am the only 17 year old who can’t…” This is a riff off the first tactic and designed to make you feel sorry for the terrible position you are putting your teenager in. Again, I can safely guarantee your teenager is decidedly not the only teenager being denied access to what they desire. Furthermore, if on the off chance you are the only parent of the only teenager who will not be going to the concert on a school night, then keep in mind that standing alone is a skill you want your teen to have.
  3. “You don’t trust me…” This gets at the heart of the relationship we are trying to develop with our teenager, one built on respect and honesty. We all want to trust our teenagers, and hopefully most of us can most of the time. That said, many of our decisions are more about what we consider appropriate than whether or not we think our teen will do something rash or wrong. In these cases, assure you child that trust is not a factor in your decision-making. However, if you have reasons not to trust your teenager, then be honest. Pretending to trust them won’t foster an honest relationship. At a less heated time, you can suggest using lower-risk activities to build trust back. In the meantime, don’t set up an untrustworthy teenager to make bad decisions.
  4. “You never let me do anything…” This is an effective tactic that plays on our fears that we are rigid and unyielding. For the purpose of this discussion, I will assume you are neither. Teenagers use this generalization hoping we will feel bad enough about ourselves to actually change our minds. That said, it tends to be a throwaway comment right at the end of an unsuccessful negotiation. Hold on because chances are good that your teenager is getting ready to stomp away in defeat.

There are many upsides to the powers of persuasion our teenagers possess. They will need to sell themselves to colleges and employers, and learning to influence others is a marketable leadership skill. But the downside is the variety of articulate ways our teens can come at us. Keep in mind that it is our job to set the limits and their job to push against them. We can’t fault them for a job well done, especially if we are also trying to do our job as well as possible. One last thought: make sure you are saying yes whenever it feels safe and possible. This makes your no a bit easier for your teen to accept.


Topics: Raising Resilient, Healthy Teens

Linda Rosenberg McGuire

Written by Linda Rosenberg McGuire

Linda Rosenberg McGuire was the Dean of Students at Westtown School from 2011 until 2018. She is a parenting coach, consultant, speaker, and avid writer, providing insight, support, and education for parents and teachers who live and work with teenagers. She works with schools to inspire and reinvigorate their faculty to work successfully with even the most challenging students. Linda is passionate about helping parents develop more effective relationships with their teenagers, stressing the importance of listening, limit-setting, and building competence, character, and independence. Linda has 30 years of experience working with children, most of that time focused on parent-teen relationships. Linda began her career as a caseworker and trip leader for teens-at-risk, leading to work as a community mental health therapist and a school-based counselor. For the past 12 years Linda has been employed in independent school administration, working with teenagers, parents, and faculty as a program director and a dean.Linda received her BA from Bowdoin College, her MSW from the University of New England, and her Master of Organizational Leadership from Nichols College.