Arguments between parents and teenagers usually have two elements. One person makes a fairly simple request, and the other person declines to accept the request. When teenagers say, “no”, parents have flashbacks to the terrible twos, when their child’s main vocabulary consisted of “NO! NO! NO!”.

The good news is that if teenagers can say, “no” to their first authority figures, parents, they will be able to say, “no” to secondary authority figures from peer groups to creepy adults at the mall. Teenagers are still training for the adult world, and “no” is an important word in the vocabulary of an assertive adult.

Helping Teens Say “NO!” Appropriately

So often, the little word “no” leads to more problems than a negative response. Having someone say “no” is annoying enough, without the emotions that can only be expressed with capital letters and dramatic exclamation points.

It is not enough that teenagers have to be polite to everyone, because everyone deserves polite treatment. Authority figures deserve more respect because they have presumably done something to earn authority, and family members deserve kindness because it makes life more pleasant.

child say NO

Guidelines on Respectfully Disagreeing with Authority Figures

During a calm moment, parents should establish that they are, in fact, protective authority figures. Avoid irritating phrases such as, “Do you appreciate having roof over your head?”. Instead, speak plainly and honestly. “I work hard to take care of you, and I try to make the best decisions I can to keep you safe and healthy. When you disagree with me, I expect you to use the same tone of voice that I am using right now.”

If the teenager says is compliant, consider the discussion finished. If the teenager is disagreeable, note the tone rather than the words. Is she disagreeing politely? That is the main goal of the conversation. If he is disagreeing in an ugly way, it is best to say, “We’ll revisit this when you can use a calm tone of voice, like I am using right now.”

When Saying No Is Not an Acceptable Option

Sometimes parents need their teenagers to comply, and hearing that, “NO!” is not going to work for the situation. Perhaps the teenager is on the verge of making a dangerous decision, or the family is in a situation that requires compliance. In that case, it is important that parents do not ask their teens to do something, because asking questions opens the door for negative responses. Asking “Will you carry this downstairs?” gives teenagers the opportunity to decline. Instead, it is better to give a direct instruction and a reason, “I need you to carry this downstairs, because we are all helping out to get ready for guests.” Offering a reason helps teenagers see the logic of the instructions, and even though there is room to argue with the logic, there is not room to decline the duty.

Of course, nothing works all the time, but sometimes small acts can lessen disagreements. Teenagers should understand that parents deserve respect and gratitude for acting as protectors and as guides. Parents should understand that part of protecting teenagers is allowing them to say “no”, because “no” offers protection from unhealthy experiences. However, part of being a guide is teaching teenagers, specifically, how to say no in a respectful tone.