Power to the parents: Dangers of discounting | Sex in the Suburbs

Have you ever expressed concern about a problem and had someone tell you it’s “no big deal?”

Or commiserate with you that nothing can be done?

This is called “discounting,” and it is a way of avoiding responsibility by asserting something is less than it is. Suppose you are talking to a friend and say, “I’m concerned about where to put my boundaries with my 12-year-old around sexuality. I’m seeing behavior I don’t like, and sex seems to be everywhere these days. I don’t know what to do to set limits and yet keep our relationship open and healthy.”

On the "Discounting Continuum" (courtesy of Jean Illsley Clarke), you might hear one of these responses:

• Level One Discounting flat out denies there is a problem. Your friend might say, “Things are just different for parents and teens today.”

• Level Two Discounting acknowledges there is a problem, but discounts its importance. You might hear, “Sure I’ve noticed, but what’s the big deal? Kids are turning out OK. People make too big an issue out of all this.”

• Level Three Discounting admits there is a problem and it is significant, but discounts the ability to do anything about it. This might sound like, “What can you do? Sexual images are everywhere — on TV, in the media, in clothing choices for children…there’s really nothing we can do.” Or you might hear, “Teens are impulsive and will take risks no matter what you do as a parent.”

• Level Four Discounting sees the problem, knows it is significant, acknowledges there might be something someone somewhere could do about it, but discounts personal responsibility. Some messages from this level are: “I am concerned, but what can I do? All my child’s friends are wearing sexy clothing, watching shows with explicit sexuality, and playing those explicit video games.” Or: “Everybody has told me I need to preserve the relationship at all costs. I don’t want to say no to everything. My child will think I’m a prude!”

Any level of discounting allows us to keep from moving toward solving the problem. We might feel relief that we’re not alone from a discussion with these responses, but the problem remains unsolved. In order to move forward, we need to take the next step to empowerment.

Here is a general empowered response to the above issue:

• “You can think about what is non-negotiable for you with your child, and what is negotiable. Talk with your spouse or partner about it. You might also ask some other parents you admire what they’ve done. Then find a way to communicate the non-negotiable rules to your children, and set up some time to negotiate what you are willing to negotiate.”

• Especially regarding sexuality, we must take an empowered stance with our children. Most media doesn’t. Many shows, sites and songs have messages on one level of the Discounting Continuum. Take the time to go through this continuum to see where the messages you’ve heard are, and come up with your empowered response. Remember, it is important for you to have empowered messages to give your children, even if they seem to be discounting them. Your job is to set the limits, and love them, whether or not you agree.

More information on discounting

• Books: "Growing Up Again: Parenting Ourselves, Parenting Our Children" by Jean Illsley Clarke and Connie Dawson. "How Much Is Enough?" by Jean Illsley Clarke, Connie Dawson and David Bredehoft.

• Fall workshop series: Based on "How Much Is Enough?" Six-week series. Contact Amy Johnson for more information.

• Web site: www.ta-psychotherapy.co.uk/discounts.htm

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