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Just Say "No": A Guide for Parents (and Teachers)

Authored By: 
James Vescovi, English Teacher

In a recent column that appeared in The Federalist, managing editor Joy Pullmann noted parenting factors that she believes contribute to raising children who are stable, independent, and aware of the world in which they live.

She begins with the importance of responsibility, reaching back to her own experience when she had a friend, Nikki, whose parents believed in “giving kids their space.” Pullmann was jealous when “Nikki” received a car at sixteen, while her own parents made her buy her own wheels, insurance, and gas. As an adult, the author now realizes that accountability and responsibility have helped her in her own life. Pullmann writes, “Kids who learn self-control at an early age earn more money, achieve more in school, and have more satisfying marriages.”

Pullmann is also a great believer in parents saying “no”—respectfully yet firmly. Though seemingly counter-intuitive, saying “no” to children communicates that you “care enough to step in and teach that child how to live.” Again, Pullmann refers to Nikki, who came from a “warm, well-curated, middle-class home.” While attending to Nikki’s physical needs, her parents could have helped her more by sometimes playing the bad guys.  It’s not easy to say “no,” but children grow up where there are limits, they not only feel more secure but are “happier because they do not have to live in emotional chaos.”

Finally, Pullmann counsels restraint. “My parents were sugar police,” she writes. “And they were screen police. We were lucky to watch two whole kids’ movies per week, and subject to serious limits on computer time once we finally got one.”  Setting limits will trigger comments from kids that their parents are unfair and old-fashioned, but there is a payoff. Pullmann writes that in adulthood she is at greater peace being satisfied with what she has, as well as appreciating more of what she has earned on her own.