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Seen and heard

Published March 24. 2012 09:01AM

My mother's generation had a saying - "Children should be seen, but not heard." We knew that we had better stay within earshot or eyesight of our parents, but we were to honor their wishes and keep our mouths closed.

I fondly remember sitting around the dining room table, listening to my adult relatives hash over the news of the day, tell stories about the past, and regale each other with humorous tales. A dutiful child, I sat there, mute. There were times when I ached to join the conversation. When my Mom started complaining about 1950's music, I wanted desperately to tell her about the beautiful ballads and love songs. I felt an urge to go and get my 45 rpm record player and let her hear "Love Me Tender" by Elvis Presley. But, I knew better.

Kids in the 1950's didn't argue with their parents. They were seldom asked their opinion about anything. It was a rare and exciting event when an adult included you in a conversation. I recall once when my Dad asked me, "Why do you want to go to college and be a teacher?" Luckily, I had proper answers at the ready. He and I spoke for a while about the cost of an education and the wisdom of getting a profession. It was a refreshing and honest discussion - and extremely rare.

Children in 2012 have a slightly different environment. Today, kids have constructive debates with their parents. Unless the parent is a control freak who wants to browbeat his child into submission, children today are getting great in-house training for the real world.

Some University of Virginia researchers observed more than 150 13-year-old teens as they disputed issues like grades, chores, and friends with their parent. When the researchers checked in with the teens a few years later, they found that those who had argued the longest and most convincingly (without yelling, whining, or throwing insults) were also less likely to accept offers of drugs and alcohol. They found that teens who learned how to converse successfully with their parents took that knowledge into the outside world.

Resisting peer pressure is not easy. If calm and deliberate discussions between teens and their parents can lead to successful resistance of peer pressure, then parents should jump at the chance. Encouraging your child to argue calmly and effectively with you can help him defend himself outside your home.

But, it takes a special kind of parent to be able to withstand the urge to throttle your kid when he "talks back." If you can remember that you are training him to hold up his end of an argument, then the event becomes more palatable.

My son-in-law is a lawyer. He makes his living arguing. He knows that there are at least two sides to every story. When one of his children disagrees with something he says, he might grit his teeth, but his usual response is, "Defend your argument." I have witnessed my grandson present clear, cogent points in an effort to change his Dad's mind. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but the four kids in that house know that they will have a chance to speak their piece.

I can remember saying "Because I'm the Mother, that's why," when my daughter asked me why I wouldn't let her do something. That answer might have worked forty years ago, but it might be a bad choice now. Giving our children training in good decision-making might mean that we have to allow them to argue their points.

Parents reading this column might say, "Dr. Smith, you're getting soft in your old age." I'd like to think that I am broadening my view of life. I am becoming more accepting of change. Also, I have been watching my daughter and her husband raise four wonderful children. Their methods are different than mine, perhaps, but the result is fine. Allowing your child to have a voice can't be a bad thing.


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