to Disagree Without Being Disagreeable
By Jim Davis
Teens can be
super-sensitive about criticism. The fact that you are going to need
to give them criticism makes this a particularly difficult issue.
Learning how to take criticism and to use it constructively is a
major part of growing into a responsible adult. Even when the
criticism is not justified.
You are probably
never going to intentionally give unjustified criticism, at least not
from your perspective, but don't expect your teen to see it that way.
Parents tend to react in one of two ways, usually. The first is to
argue, with no decision being made. This often results in the parent
giving in just to stop the argument. The second is to exert authority
and force "agreement." This may bring about the result that
the parent wants, but it may also do lasting damage to the
relationship. A third method that can be much more productive is to
discuss the issue as if there is at least a possibility that you are wrong.
In my opinion,
this third method offers much more than the opportunity to convince
your teen that you are right. It also provides you with the
opportunity to back down "gracefully" if you (gasp) realize
that you were wrong. In addition, whether your teen decides that you
are right, you realize that you are wrong, or you both just
"agree to disagree," you are helping your "child"
to become an adult. And, agreeing to disagree does not necessarily
mean that you reach an impasse. It may result in you exerting your
authority and making a "ruling," but even that can help
build a better relationship between you both. I made more than my
share of mistakes in raising my kids, but one success I had
My older son,
Ralph, wanted to do something (neither of us can remember what it was
now) that I didn't think was appropriate. We talked about it for some
time, but it was obvious that neither of us was going to change his
mind. So, I simply said, "I know you think you are right about
this. But I don't, and I have an obligation to you that keeps me from
giving in this time. As time goes on, we may find out that I was
wrong. If that happens, I'll tell you I was wrong. I'll apologize.
And, I'll do anything I can to make it up to you. But, right now, I
have to do what I believe is the right thing."
He still didn't
like my decision, but he decided that he could accept it.
A funny thing
about this story is that neither of us can remember what the
disagreement was about or who ultimately was right. We do remember
the conversation we had, though, and we both learned from it.
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