Don’t be bullied into giving teens freedom too soon
Stephanie and Bob, parents of three children, have been having “issues” with their son for about six months. They say he used to be a model child. Now, at 17, Michael is in love with his first girlfriend and is testing his independence.
Michael recently acted in an irresponsible way, Stephanie and Bob say, by stealing from his job and getting fired. Now he’s asking to spend the night at his girlfriend’s house. He says he would sleep in the guest room. When his parents initially told him no, that he can’t spend the night at his girlfriend’s house, he got angry, sulked and complained that his parents should trust him.
Stephanie and Bob, for the first time, have begun to doubt themselves as parents. They wonder if they are being too hard on Michael or if they are failing to treat him like a young adult – as he contends. They say that they know he needs to start learning to make wise choices on his own without them having to tell him what he can and can’t do.
Stephanie and Bob ask: “If we don’t let him do things and let him make his own decisions sometimes, how is he ever going to learn to make the decisions himself?” They wonder, too, in light of his recent poor decisions, how they can trust him to make wise choices. They also wonder what they can do to help him earn back their trust.
Stephanie and Bob have quickly learned there’s nothing quite like a teenager to make you start doubting yourself. However, they need to hang in there and recognize there’s nothing wrong with their values or standards. When teenagers show they are not ready to make wise choices, parents have to step in and make those decisions for them. When the teenager starts making better choices, then they can give them a little leeway — until they show they are not able to consistently make good decisions.
That’s sort of the way it goes when parenting an adolescent. You give a little independence and trust. If they can’t handle it, you take it back for a while. Then you gradually try again to see if they can handle it.
My suggestion to Stephanie and Bob, and to you if you’re the parent of an adolescent, is to trust your instincts, stay consistent, and let your teen sulk when he’s told no. You can’t let a teen’s sullenness or irritability blackmail you into decisions with which you’re not comfortable.
There are, however, various ways a teen can show you he is trustworthy. Even if he is lying or not telling the whole truth, his behavior is what is most important — not what he promises or what he says he is doing.
Here are some questions to ask yourself and areas to look at:
● Does he come home when he’s supposed to, or when he said he is coming home?
● Does he get another job? Does he arrive on time and keep the job?
● Does he attend family events and participate appropriately?
● Is he telling you the truth as far as you can tell?
● Does he contribute to the chores at home?
● Does he treat you with respect most of the time?
If you can answer these questions yes over a period of time, you may be more secure in believing that he is acting in a fairly mature manner. When he demonstrates mature behavior, then you can give your teenager more trust. And you will be willing to allow him to make some of his own decisions.
Always, though, don’t be afraid to rein him in when he isn’t showing mature behavior or is not making good choices. That’s the maneuvering with an adolescent: Give more leeway when he is displaying mature decision-making skills; rein in his freedom when he is not acting responsibly.