Being “Like-an-Authority” to Your Children

by Rick on January 11, 2020

Driving Allison Home from an evening basketball game one Wednesday evening she said:

“I listen to my father,” said Allison, “because I have found that he tells me things that turn out to be true. Like ‘Never go out without money,’ he says.”

Allison needed someone to talk to. Last Saturday night there had been a party where some of her classmates got drunk and trashed the house of a classmate.

She went on: “I wish I could talk to the parents of my friends and tell them how to talk to their kids. I wish they would tell them things like ‘Never go out without money.’ Like, there we are at Starbucks, and they’re all, ‘Allison, can you pay for this? I didn’t bring any money,’ and I go, ‘Sure.’ But it get’s annoying. They do pay me back, but it’s annoying. Parents ought to be careful what they tell their kids, so that when they give them advice, the kids will listen. What those kids did to that house was gross.”

“But you don’t always do what your father says, do you?”

“No, but when he talks, I do listen. Sure, it makes me mad when he tells me to get off Facebook and to start doing my homework, but I know he is telling me the right thing. That’s the point. I know it is the right thing for him to tell me. It makes him mad when I don’t do it right away, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be between parents and their teenagers. I know he’s right. I just have to do it myself. He has become like an authority. When he speaks I listen.”

If you want to become “like-an-authority?” Listen to Allison. She is on to something very important. Children are scientists. When they are young, it is important for parents to back up their statements–with force if necessary. If a parent says: “No, you can’t have a candy cane before dinner,” then it is very important that the child does not eat a candy cane before dinner. How can you trust a parent, who says it’s bad for you and then lets you do it. Why would a child listen?


However, by age thirteen, the human brain is working to develop and consolidate the pre-frontal cortex–the CEO of the brain. By 18 the teenage brain has all the circuitry of an adult brain, but not enough practice. They know drinking to excess is not good for you, and that trashing a house is very bad, but the adolescent mind is open to other possibilities which must be tested to be known.

Close relationships with adult authorities are important for helping kids know which end is up. But just because they don’t obey, doesn’t mean they didn’t listen. If kids listen to parents it is because parents have proven that they are authorities worth listening to.

How are you being like-an-authority?




{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jon Madian January 12, 2020 at 9:57 am

I’m noticing more & more that if one’s wisdom is wrapped in authority, or the wish to control, have power, be right, that it inevitably backfires because from a very young age people want autonomy. But when we respect a person’s autonomy and let go of our need to be in control, then communication changes dramatically and we are much more likely to have some of the influence we wish to have to nurture those we love, whatever their age. And, at the same time, we nurture our own process of individuation / maturation.

Bobby Richman January 13, 2020 at 10:34 am

Jon, I disagree with the assertion that children want autonomy.
Children do not want or seek autonomy. With their limited experiences they find the decision making concomitant to autonomy onerous, threatening, and irrelevant to their immediate consciousness.

What they do want is some decision making power in affairs with their friends, family members, school mates and educators.

Children want a demonstrably caring authority who will make the decisions necessary to create and maintain a supportive environment from which to operate. Then they seek the Truth and the acquisition of
skills to befriend and love others in their world.

Kay Thornton March 12, 2020 at 10:17 am

My 5-year-old said it right out. Every time I said something like “I told you to do this, you do that, why didn’t you listen?”, he would reply “I heard you, mommy, I heard you, I just wanted to …” Amazing that he already can separate the meaning between hearing and listening at this age. So I guess this conflict between parent and child will go all the way to adulthood, only complexity will change.

Rick March 22, 2020 at 3:34 pm

right. so make it fun.

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