By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
One day this week I watched a news recap of the presidential political debate. The news commentators called it “messy,” with a lot of chaos and yelling. Some faulted the debate moderators for an inability to reign in the candidates so intent on making their case, even if it meant ignoring debate rules.
But I felt sorry for the moderators because I have three teenagers in the house. I know what it’s like when people desperate to prove themselves insist on getting the last word.
Even some of the debate tactics used by presidential candidates looked like the ones I see on display by teenagers who eat in my kitchen. Here are a few of those “go-to” strategies, as witnessed by this maternal moderator.
The “just the facts” approach: This strategy is heavy on facts, figures and rational analysis. And I’ll admit I respect any teen who comes to a debate armed with research to back up his or her case. It’s always important to do your homework if you’re going to argue a point.
This teen knows that fact sources must be solid and that the tone of voice should be assertive but never arrogant. But if he or she can pull it off with finesse, this strategy is the one with the highest likelihood of success or compromise.
The “negotiate everything” approach: I can already tell you which one of our teenagers has the best chance of landing a sales job. Because this kid has never met a negotiation he wasn’t willing to tackle. Even something as simple as “take out the trash” becomes an opportunity:
Me: “Take out the trash.”
Teen: “Okay, how about I’ll take out the trash, and then you spray down the empty trashcans with Lysol and put the new trash bags in the bin? Deal?”
Me: “How about you do all of those things because it’s all part of taking out the trash, which is what I told you to do? This is not a negotiation.”
Teen: (Walks off to face the chore but lives to negotiate another day.)
The “but why?” approach: I love logic and reason as much as the next person. But when a teenager employs the “but why” debate strategy, it can make a mama want to drive to the nearest Sonic and stay there until the kid goes to college.
When a kid questions EVERYTHING about every parental mandate he or she doesn’t like, it’s exhausting. Mentally draining. As a fan of rational explanations, I sometimes fall prey to this debate strategy. I try to explain and then re-explain the reasons behind why I’ve said yes or no to a request.
But after the fifth or sixth version of the “but why” response, I realize there’s no amount of explanation that will satisfy and resolve things. He or she just wants to be right and is looking for any chink in my wall of logic, in hopes the whole thing comes tumbling down.
This strategy is the sole reason why the popular phrase “because I said so” has been and will always be so popular with tired parents.
The “dig in and wear them down” strategy: The final and most frustrating of the teenage debate strategies involves hunkering down and holding out, often coupled with persistent requests and becoming a storm cloud of adolescent angst and misery.
Somewhere along the way, kids figure out that most parents really do prefer to see their children happy. So, this technique plays on our emotional needs in hopes that, if the teen turns sullen or icy enough, we parents will eventually crack and relent.
Because it’s one of the most manipulative of the debate strategies, it’s the one that must always be forced to fail. It’s the teenage equivalent of screaming in the grocery store until you finally give in and put the candy in the cart. Caving to this tactic might mean you re-establish a temporary peace, but it also means you are now effectively “owned” by a teenage tyrant.
All a mama moderator can do is ignore the eye rolls, the interruptions and the exasperated finger-pointing. Then listen to closing arguments and vote her conscience in the great debate.