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When NO Opens a Door

As a parent, sometimes it feels like all you say is NO. Have you ever worried about whether or not the net effect of your NO’s will be negative? Am I being too controlling? Do I need to lighten up? Will the NO’s turn my kid against me? It’s easy to second guess parenting decisions, especially when it comes to unchartered territory like social media and phones. But what if those NO‘s could end up being the very thing needed to catapult your kids toward greater purpose in their lives? What if the doors that hold the BEST for your child could only open if you courageously and lovingly say NO to things you feel are not helpful for your child’s emotional and spiritual health? After all, parenting often means choosing their growth and safety over their “happiness.”

By now you may have heard us talk about our son’s appointment to the Microsoft Council for Digital Good — one of 15 students chosen to serve as a sounding board and an ambassador, working with Microsoft to create a safer Internet. When our then 13-year-old son was applying for the council, he said, “Mom, they want to know about my life online. I don’t have a life online!” It’s true, we had said no to a smartphone and social media because we didn’t feel like these things were beneficial or entirely safe for our impulsive and headstrong new teenager. He was one of the only kids at school who didn’t have that kind of access. Thankfully, his closest friends outside of school were all in this same boat, which has made it more acceptable to him. It turns out, all of the NO’s we had said over the years ended up giving our son a unique perspective on the issues, which caught Microsoft’s eye and secured his spot on the council. The NO’s are what opened the door for him.

Our son and Melania Trump! (photo credit: @FLOTUS via Instagram)

We had no idea how much he would learn and grow throughout his time on the Council. We also didn’t realize the influential moments that would be ahead, including the chance to talk with policymakers in Washington D.C. about the importance of social media age restrictions (something he is passionate about). Along with the other members of the all-teen council, he even had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in July to meet and speak with First Lady Melania Trump about digital civility. Wow!

A local news station recently interviewed him about the experience, as well as his unique perspective as a teenager who is not on social media. While at one point in his life, he might have been embarrassed to be public with this detail, he is now proud of how being off social media has shaped his life and his sense of security. Does he ever get FOMO? Sure, who doesn’t? But those moments pass, and he is left with the bedrock of what is quite real in his life — his faith in God, the love of his family, his close friends and church community, school demands, sports, and his new after-school job. These things provide and require plenty of activity, responsibility, time, and attention.

I think my point is this: you don’t know how influential your kid can be unless you create space for them to uncover those opportunities. Not participating in something “everyone else was doing” ended up being the very thing that made it possible for our son to have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. (Which turned into a TWICE in a lifetime opportunity, actually).

Our son on a panel moderated by First Lady Melania Trump, at the Family Online Safety Institute annual conference in November 2018. Photo credit: FOSI

When we say NO or NOT YET to something that is unhealthy or out of balance on behalf of our kids, we could actually be saying YES to far greater endeavors for them. Could your kid’s social media time be reallocated to the instrument they’re learning? What if those extra hours of rehearsal every week added up to great proficiency or a college scholarship? What if the video game time could be replaced with exercise that became a life-long habit?

We are truly grateful for the gift of perspective our child has received by seeing purpose in the no’s and the NOT YET’s. What NO’s have you seen open doors for your kids as they grow?


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