Parent Right #4: You have the right to be unfair.

One of my main jobs as a Clinical Psychologist these days is to continuously remind parents that they, not their children, are in charge. I say this explicitly, both in person and while coaching parents over the phone. I actually get paid for that. You can blame the now defunct "child-centered parenting" movement of the 1960's for that last part.

Gone are the days in which, "As long as you live in my house, you'll obey my rules" was in vogue. But of course, what's old becomes new again, and my private practice is Macklemore-ing "because I said so" out of the proverbial phrase discount bin. My own parents used "because I said so" with a twinge of glee in their eyes. Their parents probably invented the phrase, and their parents' parents never would have dreamed of using it. Because you know why.

My practice specializes in "difficult" cases. We take the ones no one else will take. A large part of our clientele are teens with serious, life-threatening behavior like repeated suicide attempts and self-harm. We also see kids that terrorize their households, screaming, hitting, and throwing things, refusing to go to school, do chores, or comply with basic rules. Each of those families needs help NOW, not in a few months. As it turns out, the key is to train caregivers in how to respond. It doesn't matter what happens in a kid's individual therapy if the environment isn't set up for success. We learned that for therapy to actually work, we had to revive some of the old school parenting principles and put them in place at home.

So we started to educate caregivers. Not only do parents have the right to direct their children, but doing so is vital to developing psychologically sound adults. Now here's the big one: Allowing children to be upset isn't just a negative side effect to discipline, it's actually a caregiver's job. Without providing them with ongoing opportunities to experience disappointment, frustration, anger, and embarrassment, kids never learn to manage uncomfortable emotions. Physical resistance builds muscle in the body in the same way emotional resistance builds "grit." Just because something is uncomfortable doesn't make it harmful.

Someone's got to be "the heavy" and traditionally, this has been parents. But modern parents tend to want to be liked by their kids and don't want to be seen as hard asses. The problem is, when an child gets to call the shots, it actually makes them extremely anxious. They'll never tell you that, but it's true. The younger and more emotionally vulnerable the kid, the more that is the case. They know they are not ready to be in charge, yet they have the ability to force a grown person to give up and give in. They see their power and it scares them. It always makes me think of my Pomeranian escaping to "freedom" that he clearly doesn't really want, but just can't resist taking advantage of if the opportunity arises.

Practically, this means things like saying "no" and putting restrictions on the duration and frequency of a teen's online activity (whether they like it or not). It involves warnings and then accruing chores for complaining or arguing ("...and that's another chore.") It also means that kids are required to contribute to the functioning of the household on a daily basis, that they use manners, and at times, that they stand in front of a parent with an appropriate expression while they are reprimanded. It is notable that there is no requirement for this to be comfortable for the child.

It can also mean having a rule that self-harm is simply not allowed in this house. Yes, you can make that rule AND you can conduct body checks to maximize adherence. It could be that for each self-deprecating comment a child makes he or she writes 3 "things I can be proud of about myself" (because I wouldn't let anyone talk about you like that and I won't let you talk about you like that either). Or it could mean that privacy is now a privilege for that child and therefore, his/her doors are to remain open at all times until further notice. These are frequent recommendation at our office.

Children have challenged each of these interventions, using a level of logic and strategy that would make a timeshare salesperson proud. At times, the only chance a parent has is the old standby "because I said so." Try it out. See how it rolls off the tongue. Don't be surprised to find a small gleam start to form in your eye.

But of course we know that this hurts you more than it does them.