Thursday, May 5, 2016

Could It Be a Good Thing if Your Child is Talking Back?

Seriously??!! Is this really happening again?  We have asked our child to do something, and instead of his smiling and saying, “Yes, Mom and Dad, I would love to come home at the hour you have so reasonably suggested,” we become engaged in a back and forth that could be confused for an oral argument at the Supreme Court.  Or why do they do the exact opposite of what we had asked them to do, even after we had made a very clear request?  Somehow, their cavalier response, “Well, rules are made to be broken,” doesn’t cut it.   

As parents, there are few things that can be more vexing than debating with our children about issues that seem beyond discussion.   We know rationally that they need to individuate from us  and develop their own personalities and sense of independence, but can’t they just hold off for a bit, take out the garbage or do the dishes, and save the argument for another time?  
A recent article sent to me by a Bosque parent, “Study: Kids Who Talk Back Are Likely to Be More Successful,” may give us cause for hope. In this piece, Ilya Pozin points to a few recent studies showing that children who break rules or argue with their parents may be more successful in the workplace than their more compliant peers.  For example, a University of Virginia study of 150 thirteen-year-olds found that children who argue with their parents are more likely to be successful in dealing with disagreements outside the home. (Is this the meaning of practice makes perfect?)  According to the article, “The kids who learned it was acceptable to disagree with parents, while remaining calm, were better able to stand up to peer pressure in the real world.” Maybe we should view the “discussions” we have at home as preparation for the differences of opinion our children will encounter in life beyond home, and we’re helping our kids develop the skills needed for resolving conflicts.  Coincidentally, Carly Andrews, Head of Middle School, blogged on this topic just last week in an informative and interesting fashion.

In addition, Ms. Pozin suggests that perhaps our children’s ignoring instructions or defying parental authority is part of their path toward becoming successful entrepreneurs.  “Research published in Developmental Psychology looked at how childhood behavior influences career success as an adult. Researchers first observed the participants when they were 12 years old and then again 40 years later. They found that frequently breaking the rules as a child was the biggest non-cognitive predictor of their having a higher income as an adult.”  Knowing this may provide little solace when they come home after curfew or leave the kitchen a mess, and I am certainly not proposing that we just throw up our hands and condone disrespectful or defiant behavior.  However, maybe, just maybe, when we’re in the thick of a conflict with our children, we can be hopeful for the long term while frustrated in the here and now.  We want our children to be people who question the status quo thoughtfully and not just take things at face value, but we want them to do so in ways that are appropriate and respectful toward others.
A psychologist friend of mine once said that when we’re in a conflict with our child, we need to stop and consider whether we’re arguing over the issue or we’re fighting over power. He argued that if what we’re really arguing over is power, then, ultimately, we’re in a losing battle.  As a parent and as an educator, I have always tried to remember his advice, particularly when facing  a moment of conflict.  We may want our child to do whatever we’re asking right now, but we can hold out hope that in her talking back, she’s developing the ability to stand up for what she believes is right.  So possibly we should say to her, “I look forward to your being hugely successful in ten years, but for now, can you please clean up your room?”