Sunday, October 05, 2014
Acting as teen's sounding board trumps leaping into family feud
A grandparent -- let's call him Pops -- received a text message from his teenage grandson late one Friday evening. The grandson revealed that he'd been fighting with his parents because they'd refused permission for him to do something he wanted to do.
His chosen activity didn't present any danger to himself, his family, or anyone else. The problem was, he'd made the request at the last minute, after the family had already made plans to do something else together.
The grandson didn't ask Pops to intercede; apparently, he just wanted to unload on someone about the situation. The text message indicated there was shouting on both sides, and that the grandson felt he was being treated unjustly.
Pops responded by suggesting that his grandson try not argue, but rather to state his case as calmly as possible. He reasoned that if the grandson really wanted his parents to agree to something, raising his voice was not the way to win them over.
The grandson texted back that his parents just didn't understand how important it was that he be granted permission for the activity.
Throughout the exchange, Pops tried to reassure his grandson that his parents weren't trying to be mean, but that they just disagreed with him. He reminded him that the parents were reasonable people, but that sometimes reasonable people simply disagreed. Ultimately, though, Pops reminded his grandson that as his parents, they had the final say.
Pops didn't feel his grandson was in danger of acting out over his anger, and never asked if it might help if he spoke to the boy's parents on his behalf.
Pops tried hard in his responses to advise his grandson on how he might behave if he wanted to have any hope of his parents hearing his concerns. He never took sides or suggested that he thought that the boy or his parents were right or wrong, beyond reminding his grandson that the parents had final authority.
Given how upset the grandson was, however, Pops couldn't help but wonder if he had an obligation to tell the boy's parents about the texts.
What was the right thing to do when weighing the responsibility to let the parents know that their son reached out to him, against the confidence his grandson presumably placed in Pops?
Granted, the grandson might have been reaching out in the hope that Pops would see the injustice of the situation and reason with the parents. All Pops had to go on, though, was that his grandson was confiding in him about the dispute -- something he'd done in the past.
Pops let his grandson know that he could always rely on him as a sounding board, but simultaneously reminded him to be respectful of his parents. As long as his grandson didn't seem to be any danger, Pops did the right thing by listening (well, reading) and not jumping into the middle of the family argument.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications programat Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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