I’m having a problem with my parents. They keep on telling me who I can go out with at night and what time I have to come home. I’m 16 and my parents are still telling me I can’t do what I what. What can I do to make them stop saying “no” all the time?
Sincerely, C.K., Crown Heights
For many teenagers, no is a terrible, revolting, uncreative word parents use too often to stop their persistent and determined teenagers like yourself. Yes. No. Yes. No. Back and forth. If you’re like most teenagers, no is a word you hate. No means you can’t stay out late. No means you have to do your homework before you can chat on the phone all night long. No means you have to go to a family event even if you would rather be having fun with your friends.
Growing up, whenever I heard my mother or father use that awful word, I shifted my tactics to diversionary combat. If my father told me I couldn’t go out to play with my friends, I would go ask my mother. If she said that beautiful word “yes,” then, like any other obedient child, I would do as she said. I wouldn’t want to disobey. However, mom and dad caught on to that ploy quicker than you could imagine. If caught in the middle of my plans, my lightning-like escape route was a new tactic. While some worked, others back-fired miserably like:
-I promise I’ll clean up the dishes
-How come I’m the only one who never gets to do anything?
-I never do anything wrong and this is what I get in return?
-I don’t care what you think!
Why do parents use the No word? As hard as it is to hear this awful word, learning to understand why parents say “NO” can help you learn about life in all sorts of ways. Parents say no for many of the same reasons that G-d says no to us. If you want to take the car out but don’t know about the incoming storm as your parents do, you think they will ever give you the keys? If you had never seen a light socket before and wanted to stick scissors in one, do you think your parents would hand you the scissors? A major reason parents say no is to keep you from getting hurt both physically and spiritually. Making sure you are safe is a major lesson your parents (and their parents) studied long ago. What’s safe to you and what’s safe to your parents is often a major point of disagreement, but let’s say that your parents would prefer seeing you walk instead of walking on crutches.
There are also a number of other good reason parents say no instead of yes. Reason #1: Life doesn’t always say yes. Young people who hear yes all the time and never hear no are rudely disappointed when they enter the real world. Parents who teach children the meaning of the word no are actively preparing them for what reality will eventually teach them later. Teachers say no. Managers at work say no. No matter where you go in life, you’ll quickly discover that no is a part of everyone’s vocabulary. Parents hear the word all the time. Life doesn’t always say yes. Remember that and you’ll be able to accept the reality of no.
Reason #2: Learning to accept no builds character. “Delayed gratification” is a phrase psychologists use to explain what patience is. Translated into simple English, delayed gratification simply means to wait. When you delay your gratification, it means you get what you want later instead of now. Parents can’t always fulfill your immediate requests. Learning to wait develops patience. Accepting the no word develops character. Understanding that you don’t need everything the second you want it helps you grow up. Have you ever seen a three-year-old in a store having a frenzied temper tantrum, kicking, screaming, all because his mother told him he couldn’t have another candy bar? Delayed gratification isn’t always a sweet and simpler process. Learning to accept no for an answer teaches you that the world doesn’t spin on you axis.
Reasons #3: No one can protect you from the dangers of yes. I had a friend in high school whose parents let him do anything he wanted. They lavished money, cars, and an assortment of other toys on him. No wasn’t in their vocabulary. His first car accident in his BMW didn’t send a warning signal to him or his parents. Since the car was totaled, they bought him another brand-new BMW, until another more deadly accident occurred. Too much of yes, like anything, isn’t necessarily good.
Sometimes we can’t understand why Hashem tells us not to do things. But His thoughts are higher than our thoughts and His way of operating – and protecting us – is different from ours. No is part of the Torah’s vocabulary – for our good. Hashem wants what is best for us. He doesn’t want to see us hurt or humiliated by our bad decisions. Hashem says no because He knows that the yes word isn’t always the best thing for us.
Take a few minutes to try to understand why your parents tell you no. Be prepared for answers you’ve heard before, but look for new ways to understand what they’re saying and why. Without having any requests or favors in mind, ask them to discuss these questions with you:
1. What are the reasons why you might say no to one of my requests?
2. Are there things that I do that influence your decision to say no?
3. When you were a teenager, how did you respond when your parents said no to something you wanted to do?
4. Are there things I can do to get a yes answer instead of a no?
I would like to know what you have to say. Please email your answers or any questions you may have about teenager related or family issues at email@example.com.
Rabbi Schonbuch is a counselor who specializes in teenagers at risk and family issues. He is also author of an upcoming book entitled “At Risk, Never Beyond Reach.” To schedule an appointment in Crown Heights please call 646 206 7665.