Bailey: Mrs. Smith, is it true that you allowed your son to stay out until 11:00 pm when he was only 13 years old, but you do not allow your daughter to stay out until 11:00 pm now that she is already 15 years old?
Mrs. Smith: Bailey, you know that’s because Nathan was not hanging around with pot-smoking friends. He was just skateboarding.
Bailey: Mrs. Smith, just answer the question.
Mrs. Smith: Yes, we let Nathan stay out later than we let you stay out.
Bailey: And, Mrs. Smith, is it true that Bailey got all B’s and no C’s on her latest report card and that Nathan got two C’s? Is that true?
Mrs. Smith: Bailey, you know Nathan has never been an A student, and you have.
Bailey: Mrs. Smith, I direct you to answer the question!
Mrs. Smith: Yes, Bailey, it is true that your grades are, on the surface, better than Nathan’s, but I already…
Bailey: That will do, Mrs. Smith! So, you see, your honor, Mrs. Smith is clearly favoring Nathan, letting him stay out later and putting less emphasis on his grades than she does on Bailey’s grades, and I ask you – is that fair?
Bailey: Mrs. Smith, is that the message you want to communicate to your daughter? That boys and men get all the advantages? That women have to try harder to be recognized and to get privileges? That boys deserve to have lower standards for achievement? Is that what you want me to learn?
Mrs. Smith: Oh Bailey, for Pete’s sake!
Bailey: For Pete’s sake, indeed, Mother. Not for Peggy’s sake. I rest my case!
Have you ever endured such an interrogation from your teen? You’re left feeling foolish, furious, and befuddled all at once.
You feel foolish that you got dragged into a conversation so ridiculous and that you let it go on as long as it did. In fact, it went on long enough to make you look somewhat wrong. That’s what makes you feel furious. You knew you were right when you started the conversation and yet, somehow, they twisted everything you said until it served their purposes and made you somewhat doubt yourself, which brings us to befuddled. How on earth do they do that? They take simple conversations and make them into these complicated events and at the end of the discussion, somehow, they feel like they have proven you to be the most unfair, unjust, unthinking and unfeeling parent that ever lived.
Welcome to life with a teenager! Although it isn’t necessarily identified in developmental psychology textbooks, I call this portion of a teen’s development, “The Lawyer Phase.” It seems like any discussion you enter with them turns into negotiations, cross-examinations, or carefully planned arguments to lead you unawares to their side of the issues. It can be downright exhausting!
What can parents do when they realize their home has been invaded by a mini-lawyer? First of all, smile. When a teen reaches this phase, it is development. It may not seem like it at the time, but it is forward motion and all forward motion takes them one step closer to being out of your house, so smile and acknowledge that important development is occurring.
Next, do not just get instantly sucked into answering each and every one of their questions. Although you may feel like you are on the stand, you are not. You are not obligated to answer every single question as it is asked. They will lead you to believe that you must, but you do not have to. Pause. Give yourself time to think. Let them know you’ll think on their questions and get back to them. Tell them their questions are good and thought-provoking and interesting and that you’d like to spend more time thinking about them.
Next, put yourself in their shoes and try to really see where they are coming from. Ask yourself honestly, if they do have a point, even if most of what they’re saying is off-base, there may be some morsel of truth in the package of information they’re trying to get you to examine. Imagine how you would feel if you were in the same position and try to empathize with them.
Finally, communicate to them that you really understand their point of view. When you do that, they will be much more willing to try to listen to your point of view. You can then share with them your thoughts and fears and concerns. Then the two of you together can try to think of ways that can satisfy some of what the teen wants and some of what the parent wants without stepping too soundly on the rights of either the teen or the parent.
You may then step down from the witness stand and join your teen to solve the problem together rather than as adversaries.