by Foster Cline M.D.
The teen years can be the best of times and the worst of times. At no other time in your child’s life can things be more trying. One common mistake made by loving parents is that they don’t give teens enough responsibility soon enough. Too often parents don’t trust the values they have instilled over the years, so they attempt to force values on their children in adolescence, and the children rebel.
I believe in some important basic guidelines for raising responsible teens:
- Take into account your child’s growing intellect. It won’t do—no matter how loving you may be—to expect your adolescent to obey you like she did when she was younger. Now that she can think things through in an adult way, sharing ideas, thoughts and experiences will be more meaningful. Remember, a teen who doesn’t listen to your thoughts and ideas isn’t likely to pay much attention to your orders, either.
- Keep your teen’s problems as much as possible on his shoulders. Hope that he makes mistakes he can learn from while he is still at home. Every adolescent makes mistakes. However, many adolescents have learned that they don’t have to work things out for themselves because their parents will bail them out of any difficult jam. If you have always hustled around fixing your child’s problems in school, with others, or with the law, then it will an uphill battle trying to convince him that his life is truly in his own hands.
Of course, there are some situations where you do want to rescue your child but, again, try not to interfere when your child’s poor decisions bring about a valuable learning opportunity.
THE GOOD NEIGHBOR POLICY
One approach to following these guidelines with adolescents is to simply treat them as if they were a good neighbor. We may not always love our good neighbor, and that’s the point. What the home needs at times is less love and more common decency, because sometimes love gets in the way of what’s best for your child.
Fathers need to occasionally stop and ask, “What would I say to a good neighbor if he were having the problem my child is having, or if he were acting the way my child is acting?” With this rule of thumb, we can act more logically, dispassionately and helpfully without anger, put-downs or overprotection—all of which love can sometimes cause.
Let me illustrate. Sometimes kids can ruin a fun vacation with obnoxious behavior. And the parents pay for the trip! Imagine a neighbor coming by and saying, “Hi! I understand you’re going on a weekend camping trip. I’d like to go along. I’ll be moody most of the time; I won’t be much help; I’ll make life a lot less pleasant. Will you pay for my trip?” Obviously, no one would say to such a neighbor, “Oh, sure, come along.”
Or, what if your good neighbor lost his job because of some workplace infraction. You wouldn’t say, “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you get the picture? Shape up!” You’d probably see if you could help, but you probably wouldn’t take it personally.
But if a child gets suspended from school, the parents often get mad, take it personally, and act in a way that is not helpful to the child. It’s understandable behavior, but the more personally you take your child’s actions, the less personally she does.
Here’s another situation: 16-year-old Robert borrowed his dad’s car and dented the fender. Now, what would the father say to a neighbor? Here are some possible responses. See if you can pick out the “good neighbor” answer:
- “This makes me so mad! You’re irresponsible! I’ll never lend you the car again!”
- “Oh, no. How am I ever going to pay for this?!”
- “I’ve had about enough of you! If you thought you were going skiing with me this weekend, forget it!”
- “What a bummer. I understand how these things can happen. Do you have insurance, or how do you intend to pay for it?”
That last one, you see, works for good neighbors and for teenagers.
Most of us parents talk nicely to neighbors, but we may talk differently to our children. When children are talked to with respect, consequences, and choices without rescue, they tend to mature and grow to be good citizens.
Dads, we can prepare our teenagers for the real world by treating them as “good neighbor” adults during the last few years they are living at home.
Dr. Cline is the cofounder of the Love and Logic Institute in Golden, Colo., and a prolific author. He co-authored with Jim Fay, several books, including Parenting with Love and Logic, Parenting Teens with Love and Logic, Grandparenting with Love and Logic and is the author of Uncontrollable Kids: From Heartbreak to Hope. Dr. Cline and his wife Hermie are grandparents, as well as the parents of three biological children, one adopted child, and several foster children. For more information about Love and Logic parenting and teaching techniques, call 1-800-LUV-LOGIC or visit www.loveandlogic.com.