Who's in charge here?

Parents can lead by example in showing children how to deal with shared authority

Parents can lead by example in showing children how to deal with shared authority

September 29, 2006|by LISA PREJEAN

How do you respond to the other authority figures in your child's life?

Teachers, administrators, coaches, club leaders, advisers, pastors and other adult leaders have an influence on your child.

Many times your reaction to leaders' decisions will determine what that influence will be. If you undermine authority, your child will lose respect for those in charge. If you remain quiet when you feel adjustments are needed, your child will never learn how to be a catalyst for change.

As a parent, knowing when to step in and say something and knowing when to remain quiet is challenging.

Let's face it. We won't always see eye-to-eye with the people who are working with our children. That's because we don't all think alike. If we did, life would be pretty boring. Differences of opinion make life interesting. The sooner our children accept that people aren't all the same, the better off they'll be.


Sometimes parents need to put themselves in the shoes of other leaders. Maybe we don't understand why a rule exists, but we can tell our children that there's probably a good reason for it. For example, teachers often need to enforce classroom rules so they can stay on schedule and cover the material that they are required to cover. A child will face similar rules in the workplace, so he might as well learn to adapt now.

However, there's a difference between enforcing seemingly inconsequential rules and treating others unfairly. Children come in miniature packages, but that doesn't give adults a right to disregard their feelings or their needs.

A tough leader can either fine-tune an organization or completely destroy morale. This scenario is magnified in children who often are much more sensitive than adults.

There's a fine line between using a different approach and abusing authority. When a leader is making unrealistic or unreasonable demands, that leader should be questioned.

What is the best approach?

Unless they are being physically harmed, children should not challenge adults. They should tell a parent or another adult they trust that they've been treated unfairly.

The parent should wait 24 hours and then approach the other adult, either through a written note, on the telephone or face-to-face. If a meeting is desired, a time should be arranged at the convenience of both adults.

Why wait 24 hours? As parents, we can quickly become angry with someone who we feel has been unkind to our child. They're our kids, and, by golly, we're going to protect them. By waiting a day, any anger that was present will have decreased. Thoughts will be clearer, and we will make a more reasonable appeal for our case.

When approaching another adult, we shouldn't make assumptions. Tell the child's side of the story and then ask for the other adult's side of the story. Listen carefully to what the other adult has to say. If you feel an appeal is necessary, be polite. Do not make personal attacks. If you don't receive satisfaction, leave the meeting in a cordial fashion. Then contact that person's supervisor and request a second meeting.

The mistake that many people make is not going to the source of the problem. They complain to people who are not in charge and wonder why change never occurs.

If we go through the proper channels and things remain the same, has all our effort been in vain? Certainly not.

Our children have learned the correct way to appeal to authority, and those in charge will realize that we are keeping close tabs on their behaviors.

After all, we're talking about our kids, and they deserve a watchdog.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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