Because I Said So

I was talking to a young man last week about his struggles coming home from college between semesters. One of his struggles involved his parents setting rules with no parenting challengeexplanation. When he asked about the reasons for some rule, his parents would simply say, “Because I said so. I’m the parent and you need to listen. I said so…that should be enough!” I’m sure we’ve all heard that explanation in some form or another…and most of us have probably said it at one time or another. But, is it really true. Should our children obey simply “because I said so.” When we tell our children to obey “because I said so…”

  1. We expect them to respond simply because of we have authority and power. This may work while they are young. However, parents’ power wanes as their children mature. Parents’ power and authority will diminish if they attempt to control behavior only with power. As children mature, effective parental authority and power is directly proportional to the relationship they develop with their children. Teens rebel against their parents’ power not their parents’ love. They will use a strong parent-child relationship as a secure base, a place of safety, while attempting to discover their independent power.
  2. We send the message that our children are incapable of understanding the reason behind the rules and incapable of learning self-control. This message demeans our children. I understand the difference between a toddler and a teen and a college age child. Still, children can begin to learn self-control at any age. We can begin to offer age appropriate explanations for the rules when our children are young. I am not suggesting you offer long explanations and debates to your toddler, just a simple, short reason for the rule. “No cookie before dinner. It will ruin your appetite.” “Time for bed. You need rest to have the best time tomorrow.” These explanations can grow more involved as your children mature.
  3. Our children will have little to no motivation to follow the rule. They may even become resentful of the rule and the parent who enforces the rule. Opposition will increase. Parents will likely resort to nagging and lecturing since the only tool they know is asserting power. Children will dig in their heels or comply out of fear. The parent-child relationship suffers.

On the other hand, when we offer our children age appropriate explanations for the rules…

  1. Our children learn to follow the rules based on rational reasons and natural consequences of misbehavior. They learn to trust us as the reason for the rules match their experience. For instance, they learn staying up late really does impact their mood in the morning.
  2. Our children learn to obey their parents’ rules out of respect for authority. They learn authority can be trusted. Authority has their best interest in mind. Authority is benevolent and loving. Authority is positive and worth listening to.
  3. Our children learn self-discipline by internalizing our explanations over time. As children grow, they can learn the appropriate times to discuss various rules they would like to change. This discussion will involve both parent and child listening to one another and one another’s rationale…and, it may or may not lead to a change in the rule. Either way, it represents a child become more self-disciplined and self-controlled, the goal of discipline in the first place.

If you want to raise children who think for themselves, respect authority, and practice self-discipline you might need to offer more explanation for a rule than “because I said so.” It takes more work and more time, but the long-term reward will be an influential relationship with your respectful, loving young adult child.

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