We have talked at PSST many times about the "Agree with One or Two Things First" technique. This is the technique where you look for things to agree on when you are discussing a contentious topic with your teenager, instead of automatically looking for the reasons why your teen’s reasons, expectations or demands are irrational (or even downright ridiculous). Finding a way to agree with our teenagers can help to defuse a potentially explosive situation, reinforce our boundaries, and model adult behavior, while taking steps to build greater intimacy with our teens.
That's right. This approach will not feel genuine. In fact, let's face it – it feels phony. I don't have a good response for that one.
Keep these 3 things in mind:
1. Keep to your boundaries. Don't mislead, don't over-agree. Just agree with a "slice" of what your teenager is saying and don't offer too much agreement if it would take you outside of your comfort zone.
For example, if he is excited about getting his license at age 18, and is pressuring you about letting him drive your car, agree that being 18 is a BIG deal. Agree that driving is really fun. Agree that having a license and not having a car to drive would be really frustrating. Agree – if you believe it – that he will eventually become a good driver
If you're not sure about that last one, then don't offer it. Be careful however not to agree that he needs to have access to a car as part of growing up, because unless you agree with that, it's not only phony but it's misleading and deceitful.
2. When you are pressured to give an answer – give one. That is the perfect time to not pull any punches. If you stick to your boundaries, what could be more genuine?
Teen: So, you're saying that as soon as I get my license, you’ll let me drive your car?
Mom: Well, I'm not comfortable saying that.
Teen: Well that's what you and Dad have been promising me for months!
Mom: We have?
Teen: Yeah, you said that I could get my license, and then I could drive your car.
Mom: You are right, we did agree with you that once you turned 18, you could get your driver’s license on your own. We knew that you wouldn’t even need any help from us to do that.
Teen: So, that means you'll let me drive your car, right? After all, what good is a license if I can’t even drive?
Mom: Yes, I see you're point and it's a good one – if I agreed with you that you could get your license when you turned 18, then why wouldn't I want to let you drive my car?
Teen: Yeah, exactly!
Mom: I'm sorry. I think I misled you. But I'm really happy that you are bringing this up so we can talk about it. I think it's important for me to be clear with you about this.
Teen: OK? So? What? Tell me already!
Mom: I have a little problem with this part.
Mom: You're not going to like my answer because it's not the answer that you are looking for, and we know that it's a big challenge for you to hear an answer that you don't like. A huge challenge especially because this driving thing is going to be so important for you.
Teen: I knew it. You were just lying! You were never planning to let me drive your car at all. There's no sense in us talking about this anymore.
Mom: Yeah, this is going to be a tough one for you. Let's talk about it later - good idea.
Teen: I already know what you're going to say anyway.
Mom: Yes, I've noticed that.
Teen: Noticed what?
Mom: You're very good at predicting what your dad and I are going to say about things. You know us really well and even when we don't want to come right out and say something, maybe because we fear that it will upset you- you still do an excellent job of "reading" us.
Teen: See, I knew you wouldn't let me drive your car.
Mom: You're right. And you probably know exactly why we feel that way too. I bet none of our reasons would surprise you.
In summary, try to think of the "not genuine" issue as being more an issue of timing. You're just giving him the same information while you continue to agree with a lot of the stuff that he is saying- but your boundary is that you are Not Comfortable with him driving your car just because he got his license, and that does not change.
3. Buy some time for yourself. You don't have to know exactly what to say as soon as your teen pressures you.
Teen: So, I can drive your car as soon as I get my license, right?
Mom: Wow! Good question. I'm not sure what to say about that one.
Teen: What does that mean?
Mom: Well, you just surprised with that question, that's all.
Teen: Why? I’ve been telling you for months, that as soon as I turned 18, I was going to get my driver’s license. So of course I need a car to drive!
Mom: I wasn't even thinking of it that way – I mean with you disappearing from our house for days at a time, being truant from school on a regular basis, and not testing clean on your drug tests, I just didn't even think that was something you’d be expecting.
Teen: Well, that’s ridiculous! Why would I even get a license if I can’t drive your car?
Mom: Yeah, well that’s a good question.
Teen (changing tactics): I think it would be good for me to have a car to drive.
Mom: How's that?
Teen: Well, if I have something to look forward to, like driving your car, I could probably be more responsible and, you know, I could stay off drugs better if thought you'd take the car off me anytime I tested dirty.
Mom: Oh, so what you're saying is that if you had a car to drive, that would be the answer to a lot of the troubles we've been having?
Teen: Exactly. So can I?
Mom: Oh I really don't know about all that, but what you say is interesting and I have to tell you son, I have never looked at it that way before.
Teen: What do you mean?
Mom: Well, I've only thought of you driving my car as another problem-area; I've never ever thought of you having a car as a solution to a problem.
Teen: You can count on me! I’ll go to school every day. I’ll stick around on weekends. And I will definitely stop using drugs.
Mom: I’m so glad you understand the behavior that we expect from you.
Teen: So, I can do it then, right?
Mom: You want an answer right now on that?
Mom: Just like that?
Teen: Just like that. I'm tired of having to wait all the time for answers.
Mom: It's true. It's seems like most of the time all the adults in your life are saying, "I'll get back to you on that one." That's got to be frustrating.
Teen: It is. So, just tell me already, before I get really mad.
Mom: OK, well [moving in closer and lowering her voice.] As much as I like your courage for even suggesting that driving my car could be an answer to our problems, I'd have to say it would be a cold day in hell before I let you drive my car anytime soon. Ok? That straight up enough for you?
Teen: Why not? Give me one good reason!
Mom: Ok. But you are so good at reading us you probably know what I'm going to say.
Teen: You're going to say I have to prove that I'm responsible first before you trust me with all that responsibility of driving your car.
Teen: Wow what?
Mom: You just said it better than I could. Nice going. You just surprised me again!
Teen: I'm not stupid.
Mom: I completely agree, Son. You are not stupid. You know exactly what we expect from you.
Note: All this started because Mom said, "I'm not sure what to say." It's OK to not know what to say all the time and while we parents feel that way a lot, we rarely say it to our teenagers. Now, ask yourself, what could be more genuine? Also, it's a paradoxical thing that as soon as you say, "I'm not sure what to say about that" a response starts forming in your brain and soon you have lots to say about that!