Truth or Consequences

A mother reported a conflict with her daughter about the amount of “screen” time that would be allowed each day. The question used to be about TV time but life is more complicated these days with iPads, computers and other “screens” to be watched. Mom knew the child had used up her time in the morning but the girl denied it, saying she had been reading when mom thought she was watching.

The issue had very quickly turned into a dispute about whether the child was telling the truth – which mom was certain she was not – rather than about her wish to watch something more at that time. Mom got caught up in trying to get the child to acknowledge the truth – that she had indeed used up her time.

This is actually a very familiar situation which arises often as children try to talk their way into getting what they want – or what they don’t want to do. “Go brush your teeth.” “I already brushed them.” “It’s time to do your homework.” “I did my homework on the bus.” Children turn into lawyers arguing their case while parents insist on determining the facts of the situation.

Children often feel powerless in the face of parental rules and unilateral decisions. So they deny facts, forcefully assert their innocence, or at times throw themselves at the mercy of the court – namely the parent. Part of being a child is to fudge the truth at times, evade the rules and if all else fails, beg and cry.

It can begin to feel to a parent as though the only alternatives are to enforce your rule in some way or to “give in” to the child. In this case it seemed to mean trying to prove to the child that she was not being truthful in order to justify mom insisting the rule had to be followed. Otherwise she would have to give up the rule.

Actually, the seeming “truth” of the situation was not the point at all. The issue was really that the child wanted to watch something on her iPad at that time. To make a decision about that did not require getting into the question of lying or breaking rules. The mom felt if she didn’t prove the child had used up her time there was no basis for not allowing her to watch then. But mom could have decided to let her watch without reference to the “truth” or the rule.

There is no child-rearing manual that can tell you the “right” thing to do. Parents worry that if they go along with the child they give up their authority for the future. But authority as a parent means making decisions about what is best for your child. There is no rule that applies to every situation.

Parents give up their authority and no longer stay in charge when they become drawn into an argument on the child’s level. Children can wear you down every time. It may seem easier at the moment either to just do what they want or try to be the boss. It is this abdication of real decision making by a parent that leads to the undermining of authority next time around.

Real authority lies in doing what you think best in each situation, even when it is what the child wants. If you make a real decision it is not “giving in.”
Wanting your own way is not a crime.

Children can’t always have what they want – but let’s not get too caught up in arguments about their misdemeanors.

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