Three Laws for Parenting a Teenage Lawyer - Part II
Updated: Jul 10, 2019
Teenage Lawyers will argue and debate their way out of trouble or into something they want. They can be exhausting to deal with... if you don't know the Three Laws.
Last week we talked about Law I: Control Your Emotions. This is imperative due to Teenage Lawyers' Flaw I: they are emotional.
This week, we move on to Law and Flaw II:
Law II: Never use hyperbole
Flaw II: Teens are illogical
Law and Flaw II
If you break Law I, controlling your emotions, the Teenage Lawyer will certainly exhibit Flaw 2: being illogical.
Remember learning about logical fallacies in high school English class? I don’t know why every teenager doesn’t ace that part of the test because logical fallacies are a teenager’s bread and butter.
There are two main logical fallacies teenagers utilize in arguments.
First is the classic logical fallacy of credibility. Attack an opponent's credibility and any argument they pose, no matter how valid, is perceived as weak. This is called argumentum ad hominem, or argument against the man. But with the Teenage Lawyer, it becomes argumentum ad parente, argument against the parent.
The second highly used fallacy is argumentum ad misericordim, which is an appeal to pity. This often manifests as the phrase “this isn’t fair.” If they can convince you of how unfair they are being treated, you’ll take pity on them and change your decision.
The Teenage Lawyer is actually very calculated and logical in their use of illogical arguments. They are usually aware of the weakness of their position, whether consciously or unconsciously, and will go through great lengths to avoid having to admit reality.
I was coaching a 13-year-old client who was talking about how she recently got in trouble. “They punished me for no reason!” she attested (an attack on her parent’s credibility). After asking her more questions, she slightly changed her claim. “I didn’t know what I did was going to get me in trouble” (an attack on the fairness of the situation, an appeal to pity).
Later in the session, when she was in a less defensive mood, I explained my 90/10 teen-awareness theory–when a teen makes a poor decision, they are aware it is a poor decision 90% of the time but decide to do it anyway. I asked my client to think about her choice and what category it was really in.
A sly smile crossed her face and she said, “the 90%.”
She was fully aware that her actions were out of line and the consequence was appropriate, but the lawyer in her wouldn’t let her admit it. She didn't want to lose the case.
The teenage lawyer wants to avoid punishment, even when they know they are wrong. This is why the best course of action for them is to attack your credibility.
A parent’s biggest mistake comes in making that easy for them. This is why Flaw II leads to Law II: Never use hyperbole.
“You never listen!” “You’re always late!” Using hyperbole in accusations will just lead to the Teenage Lawyer pointing out the one or two times they did listen or were on time. Then the conversation becomes about a time in the past they did good, rather than the time right now they should have done better. It also leads them to start labeling the things you say as untrue.
“You’re grounded for a month!” “You can’t see those friends anymore.” Using hyperbole in punishment isn’t good for anyone. You both know you will never enforce such an outlandish punishment and the Teenage Lawyer will attack your credibility and appeal to pity.
Declaring extreme punishments is a result of losing control of your emotions and is really just for "show." The last thing you want when in a serious debate with your child is for them to start viewing your words as theatrical.
Statements like “because I said so,” “because I’m the parent,” etc. are also hyperbole. They suggest that because you are their progenitor, they must listen to and obey everything you say. I can think of several instances, both personal and historical, where that should not have been the case.
This doesn’t mean you can’t claim authority, obviously you know what is best for them as their parent and you can (and should) enforce rules. But remember, you’re dealing with a Teenage Lawyer and statements like “because I’m a lawyer!” or “because I’m a cop!” aren’t very effective in the courtroom.
Hyperbole is the feeble attempt of a desperate mind to control the argument.
Once you get Laws I and II down, you are ready to move on to Law III: Be consistent.