Children need to hear their parents say ‘no’


I recently read an article in my AARP magazine. Strangely, I don’t remember crossing that bridge from Rolling Stone to Newsweek to AARP.

The article was something you don’t typically find in a senior magazine. It was about the mental health crisis of our youth today. I agreed with everything the author claimed to be the cause of this mental health crisis in our children: social media, school shootings, bullying, the pandemic, etc. But the most important impact on a child was not mentioned: parents.

What has changed over the course of my long career serving young people was Not the children, it was the parents. At some point over the decades we began to see adversity as the enemy for our children. In many ways, we’ve wrapped them in bubble wrap so they’ll never experience rejection, injustice, or hear the word “no.”

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The problem is that life is full of rejection, injustice and the word “no”. By denying our children exposure to these supposed negative influences, we were causing them incredible harm; it didn’t prepare them for the reality we all face Injury so many parents went on the offensive when little Johnny was dropped from the team, not accepted into the National Honor Society, or scolded by a teacher.

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In the last 10 years, a parent’s “complaint” about these issues has turned into a “harassment” charge. How many times have I used examples when meeting with parents like this, like only one team wins the Super Bowl, only one contestant out of hundreds gets the job, etc. We all fall or get knocked down in life. What teaches us the most valuable lessons is simply whether we learn to stand up.

I’m not talking about the abuse of our youth – that requirements our immediate protection. I’m talking adversity of not getting what we want. Let’s examine social media and phones. I have yet to meet a 14 year old who can afford to buy a phone and pay the monthly charges. Parents do, and yet so many, not all, have never imposed rules on their children.

More importantly, they do little or nothing to check activity on the phones. During freshman orientation, I would challenge parents to explain why every young person needs a phone or device when they go to bed. I heard “they need an alarm clock” (Walmart charges $8 for an alarm clock). With phones and children, only two things happen at night, and both are harmful.

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One of them is sleep deprivation. Children need at least eight to nine hours of sound sleep, and every text or social media notification breaks that cycle. The second issue is the ability to engage in areas that increase the risk of inappropriate behavior. You decide if your child needs a phone first of all, and you can certainly decide if that bedtime phone goes on your bedside table and not with your child.

Another problem I never experienced decades ago as a young educator, or even when I was young, is parents worrying about whether their child likes them. Up until the day I lost my parents, I never doubted their love for me and my siblings. I can’t remember ever hearing or thinking that they liked me either.

Critics will say we live in a different world than the one I grew up in. Mobbing? Always has been. Hurts, whether in person or on social media. school shootings? creepy stuff No argument here. I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis and people who believed nuclear war was imminent. That was pretty scary too.

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Undoubtedly, stressors have always existed in human nature and always will. We need a lot more therapists and social workers in schools. We should also ask the Board of Regents when they will mandate more than 20 weeks of health education in high schools. My former district was bold enough to mandate a year-round health class that specifically allocated double the time to teach students how to deal with life’s stressors.

However, the most influential factor when it comes to helping our children remains with the parents. No is without question the most difficult word a parent can say to their child. But at these orientation meetings, I want to remind these freshmen of this simple translation—when your parents say no to you, they’re actually saying, “I love you.”

Joe Lucenti was a teacher and administrator at Canisius High School for 19 years and then principal of Akron High School for 22 years. He is now an Associate Professor at Canisius College in the Education Admin graduate program..



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