Your Parents Aren’t as Dumb as You Think*

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*Parents are advised to read the article first, then share it with their child, teenager, or young adult child.

He's onto you. Don't test him.

He’s onto you. Don’t test him.

Every kid thinks she can break rules without her parents finding out, no exceptions. To explore your environment, try new things, and develop independence, you occasionally have to defy your parents’ wishes—but don’t fool yourself into believing they won’t discover you.

They’re Expecting It

How many times has your mother or father told you, “I was a kid once, too?” Pretty annoying, huh? Actually, it’s a warning: they are waiting for you to test rules and limits, just like they did. If you challenge your parents often, they will automatically assume that you’re up to no good when you’re not under their nose. Or, if you’re always cooperative, they will think to themselves, this is too good to be true, you must be up to something. Either way, they’re expecting you to test them and just waiting to bust you.

They Know All the Tricks

Every kid who ever sneaked out a window to meet her boyfriend, stole a peek at an inappropriate web site, “borrowed” ten dollars from his father’s wallet, drove Mom’s new car when she was out of town, or raided the family liquor cabinet believes he or she was the first one to ever think of those tricks. Actually, kids have been inventing clever ways to break rules for about 40,000 years. Even if your parents are complete squares who never defied their parents, they either knew or heard about someone who did, or contemplated taking such risks but did not follow through with the plans.

They Always Find Out

Parents may get busy and become distracted, or may close their eyes to your mischief, but they always learn the truth in the end. Think about it. It’s hard to outwit someone who’s expecting it, and who already knows the tricks. Besides, you can’t break a lot of rules (or a few big rules) without leaving tracks. Your parents, teachers, friends, coaches, and neighbors are all observing you. When you try to be sneaky, you seem different, your school performance declines, your activities and habits change, and people notice. You might be surprised how much attention your parents pay to what you do, how you act, whom you’re with, and where their stuff is. If you’re counting on your friends to help cover your tracks, forget it, because friends are usually the first ones to tip off parents. They get in trouble, get nervous, or get concerned about you, and then narc on you without hesitation.

Parents may go to extraordinary lengths to uncover evidence of your transgressions.

Parents may go to extraordinary lengths to uncover evidence of your transgressions.

Your actions leave a trail, too. I know, only idiots get stopped by police, fail a class, or end up in the hospital, right? If that were true, then 1 out of every 3 people I know would be an idiot. So it’s not really about brains—it’s about odds, which always catch up to you. The more you break rules designed for your safety, the greater the chance that you will experience a painful consequence that’s impossible to hide.

Parents Respect Honesty

If you’re still reading, you understand two things:

  1. You’re going to break rules, and
  2. Your parents are going to find out.

So, how are you going to handle it? You can…

x  Keep it secret for as long as possible

x  Remain silent when confronted

x  Deny everything (in other words, lie)

x  Play dumb (e.g. “Uh, I didn’t know I couldn’t do that”)

!  Tell the truth, show you understand why your actions are a problem,         apologize, and accept the consequences

It wasnt me

If you really want to provoke a parent’s wrath, just use the “It wasn’t me” approach.

Forget keeping secrets. You already know that doesn’t work. Remaining silent may help people when they get arrested, but won’t help with suspicious parents, who don’t need proof beyond reasonable doubt to rule “guilty.” Denial may temporarily protect you from parental anger, but this is the worst possible strategy. When they eventually learn what you did AND realize that you lied to cover your tracks, they will be ten times angrier, trust you less, and restrict your privileges longer. Playing dumb is also ill-advised. This tells parents that you think they’re clueless, which insults their intelligence, raises their anger, and increases your penalties.

Why should I tell the truth? Do you think I WANT to be grounded for life? For one moment, try to focus on your long-term goal of having greater independence and freedom. When your parents confront you about breaking rules, and you come clean and apologize, what happens? Sure, they may get mad and restrict you temporarily, but you regain their trust and your freedom far more quickly than if you deny wrongdoing or play dumb.

Tricking Parents Just Doesn’t Pay

Need any more convincing that parents aren't stupid?

Need any more convincing that parents aren’t stupid?

Outsmarting your parents isn’t original, creative, or admirable. It’s just a bad habit with no lasting advantages. Do you really want to be known as “The sneakiest person who got away with it most of the time?” You get no prize for that, only more pain and suffering when you’re older. That’s not what you want. You just want to have fun, be independent, and do things your way. You can have all that. Just earn it.

Addendum for Parents Only

Although this piece is written to a child audience, it was impossible to avoid promoting messages for parents, too. For instance, predicting that children will break rules implies that parents can expect this, and tap into their own experience and knowledge to maintain vigilance and prepare for how their children might go about testing limits. The article also explains the rationale for child rule-breaking, which is primarily a normal, developmental drive to establish autonomy, and not a quest for wrong-doing.  In addition, since neighbors, teachers, coaches, other adults, and your child’s friends are observing them–and can possibly provide information about relevant changes in his or her moods and behaviors–then parents can use those people as resources (and even let their children know they are doing this, which distinguishes the practice from spying). Along those lines, even though children complain about parents hovering or keeping tabs on them, these practices actually comfort them and can satisfy part of their need for parental attention. Conversely, children who feel their parents don’t monitor them closely enough may conclude that adults simply don’t care about them, and then become at risk for increased acting out just to get attention. Finally, this article champions the idea that honesty and taking responsibility for rule violations pays far greater dividends than deception, and implies that parents can start coaching their children to be accountable before they do something that lands them in trouble.

Parenting interventionby Jason Sackett, LCSW
Professional Staff at CWFL

jsackett@usc.edu

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