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'Ask Mike'

The Saturday Early Show's family and adolescence counselor, Mike Riera, provided advice to parents who emailed us to "Ask Mike" about their problems with their kids.

No Means No

Dear Mike:
My eight-year-old son and five-year-old daughter tend to ignore what I tell them not to do, and do it anyway. For example, my son asked if he could wear his spring jacket, and I said 'no' because it was cold outside. When we were ready to walk out the door, he asked me again. I told him, "What did I say? NO!" They just don't seem to understand. Could you please help me?

Mike's Response:
Is there any parent out there not familiar with this one? One study I read said that when it comes to getting something they want, the average child will nag his or her parent 55 times before finally relenting. But the bottom line is that kids need us, their parents, to teach them that no means no. And as parents we need to understand that this is not a one-time lesson... We'll have to repeat it over and over again. Kids need to see that we are serious.

So as much as possible, stay calm -- avoid yelling or sharp cynicism. If you can, and I know this is a leap, expect them to keep coming back to the question and be playful: "And when you ask in another 5 minutes, the answer will still be no."

Another approach, one of my favorites, is that after you've said no the first time, but you just know they're going to ask again, you simply divert their attention: "No you can't wear the spring jacket. Now can you help me find my umbrella?" This just slides around the issue while still sending the clear message that no means no.

Finally, remember the old cliché: When your child asks you something that you're going to say no to, count to ten before you say anything. Then, even if you say no, your child feels listened to. But even more, during that 10 seconds, many of us realize that our no was an automatic reaction, and with time we change our answer to yes.


Dear Mike:
I have a 17-year old boy studying in a U.S. boarding school. He asked his Mum: Can I pierce my ears? How should we respond?

Mike's Response:
Sounds like this e-mailer is from outside the U.S., so let me quickly put teenagers and piercing into context. In the U.S., ear piercing is something more and more kids are doing, especially boys. We see lots of music stars and athletes with piercings these days.
With that established, it's great that he is asking. He wants to push the limits--get his ears pierced--and he wants mom and dad's approval.

Now it's up to you: How do you feel about him piercing his ears? If you're against it, tell him, just don't absolutely forbid him. I don't believe in forbidding something that you can't enforce. I also know that a parent's disapproval means a great deal to teenagers, even if he does go ahead and get the piercing.

But if you look deeper, there is rich material for you all to talk about. He is changing. He is wanting to get people to see him differently. Maybe even to see himself differently. So I would be sure to ask some of these questions.

When it comes to clothes, hair color, and ear piercings don't get bowled over by the act as much as curious about what your kids are trying to convey to the world around them. Yes, express your opinion, but don't get stuck in that power struggle because nobody wins that one.

What about tattoos?
They are as rampant and trendy as piercings. Did you see any of the recent NCAA Basketball tournament? Or watch an MTV video? What is different is that kids need parental approval until they are 18.

But again, use these issues as an opportunity for conversation, because once they are out of the house, they'll do what they want and you won't have the chance to talk about it with each other.

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