A mom recently asked me what I would say to my son if he were 12 years old and wanted a mohawk haircut for the summer. I told her I’d say no.
“But is it really that big a deal?” she asked.
“The bigness of the deal is in the eye of the beholder,” I said. “You asked me what I would do in that situation. I’d say no.”
“But it seems so important to him.”
To be honest, I was beginning to wonder why she had asked my opinion in the first place. She seemed dissatisfied with anything I said. I took a deep breath.
“Children are dramatic. They make big deals out of anything and everything. The inability to obtain a mohawk haircut is not life-threatening, nor is it going to send him over the edge emotionally. Whether your son thinks it’s a big deal or not is irrelevant. What do you want?”
“I really don’t want him to get one,” she answered.
“What’s holding you back from simply telling him ‘you can’t get one’?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “I’m just confused, I guess. It seems like such a small thing.”
“No doubt you’ve heard the expression ‘give ‘em and inch and they’ll want a mile’?”
She had. I pointed out that the mohawk thing was just the first inch — that mohawks lead to eyelid piercing, which leads to lip and tongue piercings, which lead to those huge and very ludicrous earlobe stretchers, which lead to tattoos, which lead to being refused a job by many employers (and rightly so), which leads to son still living at home at age 28, probably doing nothing more productive than playing video games.
I may have sounded a tad over-the-top, but it’s not inconceivable that a good number of tattooed, pierced, stretched and unemployed 28-year-old males still living at home began their descent into ignominy with mohawks at age 12.
As was the case with this very conflicted mom, today’s parents have great difficulty (when compared with parents of two or three generations past) saying no to their kids. Unlike parents of not-so-long-ago, today’s parents (generally, of course) want their kids to like them. In the course of shooting themselves in the foot, parents avoid doing anything that might make their kids upset. That requires that they come up with all manner of justifications for saying yes when no is what they really want (and/or need) to say. Most prominent among those foot-shooting justifications is “It’s no big deal.” In any given situation that may be the case, but the accumulation of one “It’s no big deal” after another over time is likely to result, eventually, in a Very Big Deal.
In the final analysis, this is a character issue. The child whose parents rarely tell him no is at risk of not being able to restrain impulses of all sorts later in life. Impulse control is a hallmark of a life well led. It enhances personal, social and financial responsibility, all of which make for being a good neighbor. At an individual level, it is essential to good emotional health.
So please, lady — for your son’s sake, no mohawk.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions at his website, www.parentguru.com.