Forcing My Teen To Talk, By Extortion

[From The Washington Post's "On Parenting" Section, March 30, 2016] 

Parenting by extortion came to me naturally one morning during the regular breakfast hustle.

My 16-year-old daughter was rushing to get out the door for school, wrapping her peanut butter sandwich in cellophane, when she stopped suddenly. Her face went white. “Shoot. I forgot this was my day to bring snacks to European History.”

Never mind the potential for a time-traveling pun. In an academic culture where brown-nosing is blood sport, this was a serious oversight. In the split second I had to respond, I sensed I had a few choices. I could be Magnanimous Mom and sweetly offer to save her you-know-what by handing over our household granola bar supply for the week. Or I could be Teach Responsibility Mom, and explain stoically that this is how you learn to write things down in your calendar.

I decided to be Opportunistic Mom.

“Okay, here’s the deal,” I said, as she slowly raised her eyebrows. “I will pick up some ginger snaps at the supermarket and drop them off at the school before work. But I want something in return: This evening, I want to hear three full sentences from you about your life. Each has to have a subject, a verb, and at least 2 adjectives.”

As she pondered the deal, I sensed I had aimed too low. “Also, one piece of harmless gossip about someone in your school.”

She knew she had no leverage; first period started in 18 minutes. She also knew why, out of all the cruel promises I could extract from her, intimate conversation was the most valuable to me….

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