on November 27, 2003
I wrote this review for a college Psychology course.
Edgette is a clinical psychologist who offers advice to parents whose parenting style can best be described as permissive or indulgent. In one way or another, these parents try "negotiating" with their teen when the child misbehaves, and thereby losing their authority and credibility. As a result, the relationship between parent and child worsens via a cycle of argument and mistrust. The parents want to grant freedom to their adolescent, but do not balance that with accountability. By letting their child get away with minor infractions, the pattern of misbehavior builds: the teen feels "independent" and refuses to listen to further attempts of the parents at discipline; the parents feel frustrated in having an uncontrollable teen, and give up control altogether.
Many parents abdicate their responsibility to enforce consequences when their child misbehaves because they want to avoid conflict and hope the teen will grow out of this phase. In particular, many seem to subscribe to the sociocultural myth that teens are prone to mood swings due to "hormones run amok", and "can't help being moody and should be excused for it". Edgette points out that these "bad moods" typically blow over, and parents' acceptance of rude behavior to avoid conflict simply leads to loss of authority and greater conflicts. Another myth is that teens need "free rein" to learn autonomy. She reminds us that giving "free rein" is easy, but it should be balanced with direction and accountability so kids learn not just how to make decisions, but how to make good decisions. A final myth is that teens "don't like talking with their parents about serious issues and concerns". Edgette explains that teens do listen, but parents should avoid being patronizing or judgmental, and keep the conversation in the form of a dialogue, not a lecture. She advises parents to stop negotiating with the teen "terrorists" and insist on proper consequences from the beginning - not just during adolescence, but throughout the child's life.
Without explicitly stating so, she is advocating an authoritative approach to address the problems that can arise from a permissive or indulgent parenting style. She makes liberal use of real-life examples from her 15-year practice to help illustrate her ideas. She makes many excellent practical points in striking that delicate balance between control and freedom, and I often find myself thinking about how her advice applies to my 15-year-old.
One example is her emphasis to let the teen save face. Often a teen will not admit her mistake, especially if that means admitting that her parents were right in the first place. Edgette calls this "emotional logic". I have often seen this in my daughter: when a parent discovers a problem with her behavior, she may stubbornly hold on to her position just to assert her autonomy. At this point it is utterly futile for the parent to continue trying to prove that she is wrong: she actually knows it, but just will not admit it openly. Countless hours have been spent in our household in high-pitched arguments to prove a point that really does not need to be proven. The art here is in finding a dignified way for her to step down from the tiger she has just mounted: we may need to look away - perhaps offering a hand while looking away - rather than ask why she is riding that tiger. Another aspect of emotional logic is when a teen refuses to get help, again because getting help means loss of autonomy. Here again, it is useless trying to convince the teen that she needs to seek help; more productive would be talking to the teen, affirming their wish to be independent, but also pointing out that accepting help is part of that independence.
Throughout her book Edgette emphasizes the need to keep up the communication. Many parents fear they may say the wrong thing when their teen gets into that "mood". She stresses that parents don't always have to be right, and we have seen how insisting on being right in light of an adolescent's emotional logic can be counterproductive. In fact, she believes candor and vulnerability can be a parent's most powerful vehicles for staying connected to their adolescent. I have experienced that often in my own relationship with my daughter. When a parent softens and admits his own mistakes and fears, the authoritarian gap between parent and child narrows and the conversation becomes more of the desired dialogue than the boring lecture. Staying connected, Edgette argues, is more important than being right, and her book is full of excellent examples of parents who have lost that connection, and thereby forfeited the opportunity to be right.
Being an authoritative parent is indeed an art of striking that delicate balance between control and freedom. Reasonable parents will disagree on how to deal with specific scenarios, and I do not agree with all the suggestions Edgette makes in her examples. For example, "Kelly" rolls her eyes and mumbles something under her breath when her mom tells her to clean her room. Edgette feels that this behavior should not be tolerated since this shows disrespect, and her mom is sowing the seeds for losing credibility with Kelly. In this particular case I feel insisting on "respect" is as useful as insisting on being "right"; you may get Kelly to stop rolling her eyes, but maybe she just switches to a finger dance on the side. Such nitpicking aside, I find Edgette's book very relevant to today's teenagers. One mom's lament about her daughter calling her from school on her cell phone to ask her to bring her lunch to school shows how today's technology is allowing teens to assert their semi-autonomy in more ways than ever before. This reminds me of the time last week when my daughter called from school and asked me to bring her belt, which she had forgotten. What should the authoritative parent do in this situation? Edgette would counsel ignoring the request if this kind of call happens repeatedly. But if this is an occasional call for help, should I let her learn the consequences of forgetting her belt? I chose to err on the side of warmth and brought her the belt like any indentured servant would do. Will my indulgent behavior lead to a spoiled adolescent who relies on dear old dad to bail her out of embarrassing situations? Ah, that double-edged sword of technology splits a fine hair indeed!
on January 8, 2003
I have found Janet Sasson Edgette's book, 'Stop Negotiating With Your Teen....', to be an invaluable tool for the parents of my adolescent clients. This book, I believe, is a MUST for ALL parents as it outlines a meaningful, candid, and guenuine syle of commuication between parents and teens.
Parents of younger children will also be afforded an opportunity to establish an empowering way of being/communicating with their children from the learnings available in this work.
The strategies discussed throughout this volume can be easily absorbed and thus implmented effectively. A stimulating and quick read, I highly recommend 'Stop Negotiating With Your Teen...'
on March 15, 2013
I bought this book with the idea of passing it on to a friend whose 2 teenagers are taking her and her husband for a very rocky ride. Mindful of the fact that it could be just pie-in-the-sky theory, I read it first.
As a retired teacher and parent of two adult sons, I found the situations to be realistic and the suggestions to be extremely practical. Parents who are dealing with manipulative, rebellious, etc. teens will feel heartened to know that others go through the same stressful scenarios. Unfortunately, many parents, by the time their kids are teens, have become ingrained in the way they handle problems; drastic change (on the part of adults) might be -- for some -- almost impossible. Therefore, I also urge parents of younger children to read "Stop Negotiating...". While they might think their little darlings will never turn into teenage terrors, picking up some workable strategies beforehand would be well worth their while. I recommend this book without reservation.
on January 15, 2003
This book helps to FINALLY get the adult out of the same old cycles in fighting with their teen. I liked the fact that it does NOT encourage more manipulative behavior in order to regain control, but gets down to what's really going on. Parents - and teachers, too- can get invaluable guidance in restructuring conversations with their teens so that they mean something. I also like the fact that personal responsibilty and accountability is stressed, and placed where it belongs. The chapters on case histories were the most helpful to me, as they gave inventive- and sometimes funny-examples of how parents solved their long-time problems. Easy to read, and very engaging!