Have you ever had someone ask if you could make something for a bake sale or volunteer to coordinate a fundraiser for your child’s school? Did you ever just say no without explanation or follow-up? Probably not. That’s because in general people don’t like to say no. And certainly not without some kind of excuse to go along with it. It’s true most of the time, but it’s even harder to say no when someone we care about asks us to do something. Learning how to say no means building up your refusal skills.
Teens and "No"
This struggle is true for teens and their friends too. A friend asks your teen to try out for the baseball team. “I’m terrible at sports,” they say instead of a simple no.
On a Friday night, “Want to come over and hang out? My mom said you can spend the night.”
“I wish I could but my dad says we have to have family night tonight.” Not just “No.”
Nancy Reagan may have been an admirable first lady, but her strategy of “Just say no,” may not be the most realistic when it comes to teens. Young people do get offers to experiment with alcohol or drugs. And those questions come with a lot of social pressure. At times like these, a simple no probably doesn’t feel like enough. And so even though they may not want to, kids say yes and find themselves in trouble down the road.
Equipping Teens with the Right Tools
Many kids, even in the moment, think things like, “I shouldn’t be doing this…I don’t even want to…This is a bad idea…I don’t even know why I’m saying yes.” Humans have a terrible habit of doing things we don’t want to do. Teens struggle with this even more than adults. They have more social pressures than their parents do, and they tend to make more decisions that they regret later. They can feel like they got “sucked in” to situations that are harmful, and maybe even dangerous, just because they didn’t want to disappoint their friends. Their gut may be telling them one thing, but they just don’t know how to say no.
If we really want our children to be equipped to both make good choices and stick to those choices when they’re in the middle of tough situations, we need to teach them how to say no. One little word is not enough.
Tools for saying no are called refusal skills. And there are plenty of options for teens who want to turn down their friends without bringing repercussions on themselves. They can even do it without looking like a loser or a wet blanket. They can do it without losing friendships too. BASE Education offers an entire course on refusal strategies for teens you might find helpful. Here some that you can share with your kids today that may help them say no when that one little word is not enough.
Strength in Numbers
Have you heard the saying that a strand of three cords is not easily broken? That’s one way of saying there is strength in numbers. And that is true when it comes to saying no too. When kids have a group of friends who commit to standing with each other and making good decisions together, it’s so much easier.
Encourage your teen to i.d. between two and five friends who will go out as a group and stick together. If one of them is offered drugs or alcohol, they can all leave together. It’s much easier to say no if someone else is saying it too.
As a parent, you can help your teen find this kind of strength. Ask your teen to think about and identify some friends who might be able to fill this role. When they do, encourage your teen to hang out with that group. Foster those relationships. And let them hang out at your place if they choose to leave a party or other questionable situation.
Give Teens another Option
“There’s nothing to do in this town!” Ever hear that one? Some kids get in to trouble because they just don’t know what else to do. Having other options may make it easier for teens who want to say no. When invited to a party where the parents will be out of town, a teen can say, “That sounds lame. Let’s do [this] instead.”
Help your teen recognize the different options they have by talking about what there is to do in your town. It may take a little creativity, but there are always options such as going to a movie, hanging out at the mall, playing mini golf, going bowling, or any of a number of other activities. Some may require money, and it may be worth the investment to give your teen a few dollars here to save them from trouble over there.
It can also make a big difference if you offer to drive your teen who asks for a ride. Sometimes kids get in trouble because they don’t have access to other options. It may be inconvenient to drive your teen to the mall and pick them up as well, but that’s better than them drinking at a party that they can walk to down the street. Let your teen know you are available and will pick up their friends too, and they may just choose something better to do.
Take the Blame
No, not for your teen’s choice to get involved with alcohol or drugs. That won’t help anyone. Instead, take the blame when your child wants to use you as an excuse to say no to their friends.
There are lots of refusal skills kids can use to say no to dangerous offers from their friends. One of the easiest refusal skills for teens is for them to “blame” their parents. “My mom said if I ever drank at a party she would take my car away.” This may or may not be true, but for most kids it is a good enough excuse to get them out of a potentially dangerous situation. And though you may never have said any such thing, would you mind your teen’s friends thinking you did if it meant your child didn’t drink and drive?
You can tell your teen that if they ever find themselves in a situation where it’s hard to say no to drugs or alcohol, it’s okay if they put the blame on you. That way your teen won’t look like a loser to their friends and will freer to make safe choices.
Putting the Refusal Skills Tools in Place
We hope you can be sympathetic to what your teen has to deal with as they learn to say no to their friends. This is hard for them, but it is also very doable. When teens have strategies in place, when they know how to say no without drawing attention to themselves, they will feel better about their own choices, and you’ll feel better about those choices too.
All kids say that refusing to do something is a hard thing to do. If it were easy, this wouldn’t be a problem in the first place. But know that your teen is strong enough to put something in place. With a little help and direction from you, you can set your teen up for success when it comes to the why and how of saying no. The power to make changes will make your teen feel strong, and the stronger they become, the more leadership and knowledge they will bring to the table.