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How to Handle Differences in Parenting Styles with Your Kids' Friends' Parents

This question spans all stages of parenting. Your teen comes to you asking for a credit card because their friend got one, or your 6-year-old is realizing some friends get to watch different movies then they do. Whether you have a teen, toddler, or a child in between, they all come saying the same thing: “But their parents let them do it!!” I would be lying if that didn’t make me stop and reconsider sometimes, but at the end of the day, this isn’t just about access to a credit card or watching different shows. This is about your values as a family. 

As a parent coach, one of the foundational skills is parenting from your values. This helps you parent responsively (from reason), not reactively (from emotions). The key is to make values a part of your everyday language. Our family values should not be a secret from our kids. They need to know and understand them. What’s even better is to come up with your family values collaboratively. That way when your kids come to you saying, “but their parents let them,” you will be able to respond confidently and within your value system. I do also have to note that sometimes we make the decision not to share a value because it may not be developmentally appropriate. For example, I don’t tell a 6-year-old that he’s not allowed to play video games because I don’t want him exposed to mature themes. 

So, how do you respond? Let’s take an example. Say your teen comes to you asking to have their own credit card (on your account, of course). Let’s say your answer is no. Next, consider: Which value does this align with? Let’s say it’s a value of financial responsibility. Your conversation might sound like this: 

Kid: “Parent, can I have a credit card?” 

Parent: “Tell me why you want a credit card.” 

Kid: “Well, my friend Susie has one, and her parents let her spend whenever she wants.” 

Parent: “It sounds like Susie and her family are making choices that work for their family and are based on their family’s values. We have to make choices that are best for our family and one of our family values is financial responsibility. The way our family shows that is by communicating about purchases with one another first and keeping our credit cards to one family card that we share. Each family does it a little differently.” 

In this example, the main parenting skill demonstrated is parenting from your values, not just “because I said so.” It’s okay for each family to have different values, and these situations open a wonderful opportunity to talk about family values and how you make choices. It also offers the opportunity to re-evaluate your family values and include your child in the conversation. And at the end of the day, you’re the parent, so if your child is just not budging, it’s okay to say something like, “I’ve heard your opinions. Thank you for bringing them to me. At the moment the rule is not up for negotiation. We can talk about it again when you are older.”

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