We live in a culture of yes. If something makes you feel good, our permissive society encourages, then go for it. No limits. No right, no wrong. Just do it.
Raising children has never been easy. But in this indulgent culture, I’m not sure that saying no to them has ever been harder. Especially when they say, “But Daaaaddddd, all my friends get to go!”
Kids have been trotting out that golden nugget for decades. These days, though, it might be more true than ever. So when our children ask to go to a movie, stream an album, play a video game or watch a YouTube channel we think is inappropriate, how do we say no so that they can hear us?
Now, yes, I know a parent’s prerogative—our job—is to set limits and define boundaries. Sometimes the reason why we say no really does come down to that equally maddening old saw our parents used that we swore we never would: “Because I said so.”
But as kids get older, they usually need more than that. They need, I believe, a greater understanding of why we’re choosing to limit them when it comes to something all their friends are, in fact, probably doing.
I had one of those conversations with my son this week. He was asking about whether he could go to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. My son knows, of course, that I help families make discerning media decisions. He knows that he’s 10 years old, and that Guardians is a PG-13 film. He likely knew what my answer would be, but he asked anyway, perhaps hoping that in a moment of lapsing weakness I might spontaneously give him an answer other than the normal one.
“Dad,” he asked as he got ready for bed, “do you think I could go see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2?”
Now, my first response was probably in the ballpark of what he was expecting. “Bud, you know it’s PG-13. It’s just not an appropriate movie for you.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said. He wasn’t pushing back, but I could tell he was dejected by my response (even though it couldn’t have come as a surprise). I was tired, but I knew that I needed to do more than offer the standard line. And so I said something about like this:
“Son, I know that you want to see that movie. And it’s not that it’s a terrible movie, really. At some point when you’re a few years older, you’ll probably have the chance to see it. But it’s rated PG-13 because there are some themes that really aren’t what you need to see or hear at this point in your life.”
My son was now looking at me, and I could tell that he was actually listening. I continued.
“It’s not that we don’t want you to have fun, or we want to be mean or harsh. We’re not intentionally trying to make your life miserable. We just want to give you space to be a boy and not have to worry or think too much about all that adult stuff. We want to protect you from things you may not be ready for yet. You’ll get there soon enough. But right now is a great time in your life to be 10, a time that will never come again. When you’re a teen, you can do teen things. For now, stuff for 10-year-olds is awesome.”
I reminded him that we also try to look for things that we can say yes to as well, that we don’t always say no. I suspect we’ll go see the next Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie, for instance, even though it definitely isn’t my favorite kids franchise. (And I’m sure there will be some after-movie discussion about that one, too.)
At the end of our conversation, my son’s countenance had brightened, and I could see that the slumping resignation in his shoulders was gone. “Do you understand what I’m saying and why we make this decision?” I asked him. “Yeah, Dad, I do,” he said a bit more cheerily. “Thanks for talking with me about it.”
Now, I’m not naïve enough to believe that it’s always going to be this easy, like a 21st-century episode of Father Knows Best.
But as we take time to help our children—especially tweens—understand the why behind our values and choices in the realm of entertainment, it accomplishes a couple of important things. First, it models critical thinking and discernment. And second, it builds relationship, fortifying that parent-child connection for moments in the future when conflicts aren’t so readily resolved.