Saying No to Your Kids – (Hint: It’s OK)

Val Curtis

Parenting is not for the weak of heart or spirit. However, if either of these isn’t a personal strength for you, you don’t get a pass. You just have to get better.

The other day I was talking to a friend about how frustrating and tiring it is saying no to my kids all of the time.

Can I play Fortnite? No.

Can I get a smartphone? No.

Can I text? No.

Can I watch “Deadpool”? No.

Can I get an Xbox? No. 

Should I have a girlfriend right now? No.

As we were talking, I realized that it didn’t end there with each of those questions. They all turned into conversations. I don’t say “no” on a whim. I don’t say “no” because I am a mean mom. I say no because I am taking my job seriously and part of that is preserving childhood.

In an age where our president says incredibly inappropriate things, high school shootings and the internet (AKA instant access to allthethings), my job is to preserve a smidgeon of innocence in their world when our world is most definitely rated R on the best of days. During a recent workshop on online safety, they shared that the average age for childhood exposure to porn is 10. 10. That is deeply troubling.

I know that preserving childhood isn’t forever and now that we have a tween, we are opening the gates a little at a time. I also know that every house operates under a different set of rules and the inevitable “but ___ gets to!” is interjected into the conversation, so I turn those questions into discussions on the bigger issues. The best tool I have been given is to ask them questions.

Can I play Fortnite?

Let’s talk about it. First, it is a first-person shooter game. We don’t allow those. Here’s the bigger issue. This is a game that is designed to make you addicted to it. Do you ever want anything to manipulate you in that way? We read several articles together that discussed the pros and cons and he decided against it. We also set up our household screentime rules and figured that this game would cause more friction than anything else. But hey, let’s play a little Fifa Soccer after you finish your chores!

Can I get a Smartphone?

The easiest target here was finances. If we are paying for a phone and service, what is he willing to give up? The short answer, nothing. Also, we don’t feel that our 7 and 11-year-olds need access to allthethings.

We did, however, get him an iPod for 5th-grade promotion and we set it up so it only plays music. He adores music and we share playlists and he is often our morning DJ to get us going.

When he was gifted the iPod, he was in total disbelief. “Really?!?” “Yes, you have shown us that you are mature enough to take care of it.” He was over the moon. It gave him some responsibility and freedom within a safer environment.

What do you think the rules should be? He came up with the rules: No songs with explicit lyrics. It gets plugged in next to our bed by 9. The iPod goes away during family time unless he’s the DJ. It doesn’t go outside.


Can I text?

This one came shortly after the iPod came. The answer was no because I have seen over and over how this trips kids up and makes the regular ups and downs of the tween and teen years magnified and it can quickly get out of control.

In our school district, we held a teen panel for parents and when the teens were asked how old a kid should be when they get a smartphone, they agreed on 16. “Too much drama, too quickly.”

Developmentally, kids during these ages are very impulsive. Even the BEST (what is that?) kids are impulsive and that’s ok, that’s how they are designed. However, adding tools as fuel to an already difficult time is scary. One friend shoots a video, sends it to another who sends it to another. It is faster than a wildfire.

Growing up, we wrote notes and when a friend tried handing it to another person, we ran over, grabbed it, tore it into a thousand little pieces and it was done. That just doesn’t happen for kids these days. Things are said, done and created and they get shared over and over. That’s incredibly brutal.

I always tell my students and kids, once you have something out there, whether is a picture, text or video, there is no bringing it back in. Don’t put anything out there that you don’t want shared on the news. Plain and simple. Parents, if you need something to push you one way or the other, please watch this video from Amanda Todd. Here is a link to her story. (trigger alert)

Can I watch “Deadpool”?

The easy answer to all movies and games for us is going to Common Sense Media. We look up the movie or game in question and I read the review. No, I don’t read the review with my kids because often times they are describing what is inappropriate about a movie. So, let’s use “Deadpool” as an example. When we type it in, it shows that the suggested age is 17+ and that it is “Gory, profane, sexy superhero story great, but NOT for kids.” Thanks, Common Sense! There are times it has said “12+” for a movie, but after reading through the details and the “What Parents Need to Know” and “Talk to Your Kids About” sections, we decided our 11-year-old was mature enough to deal with the “issues” and we would talk about them.

The beauty is that we have been using this tool since our kids were born and as a result, they default to it. Once there is a no, our next question is “Let’s take a peek to see what we haven’t watched on their lists!”

Can I get an Xbox?

We have a Wii and honestly, I love Xboxes. The hard truth was that it wasn’t in our budget. It’s ok for your kids to know that. I follow up by asking which new games interest her and maybe we could add those to her birthday wishlist.

Should I have a girlfriend right now?

In 5th grade, my son was getting a LOT of pressure to have a girlfriend and we talked about it quite a bit. Now this story is his and not mine to tell, but I can tell you that we talked about how awesome it is to have a lot of friends who are boys AND girls. We talked about the different stresses between being friends and “significant others”. The friend track was looking pretty inviting. I told him he would know when the time was right.


Are my Nos always met with understanding and cheery dispositions? Absolutely not, and that’s where we need to have a backbone, but it’s worth it.  It’s especially nice when we can follow up with a few new Yeses.

Sometimes I say “No” when others don’t and I am ok with it. I am also ok with the fact that some parents say “Yes” when I say “No”. Each household has its own story and that is not for me to judge, I just take care of my own circus and my monkeys.

Oh ya, and if your kids come over, we might say “No” to them. If you aren’t comfortable with letting them ride their bikes to the store or going to the fields to play soccer, I am ok with you saying, “No”, too. I completely respect that and offer you a parenting high-five.

Read More in the Family Room

Parenting advice for young kids, tweens and teens. As parents, we can say "No" and it's ok!