“What’s your position on allowing teens to go out on school nights?”
That’s the question we received from a dad not long ago. All parents face similar challenges and decisions as part of everyday life. Some other examples might be:
How much computer, TV or iPod time is appropriate for your child?
What’s the right age to get your child a cell phone?
How should you handle sleepovers?
There are many different specific challenges and situations we could bring up. And you might have strong convictions about these, with good reasons behind them.
But honestly, at the National Center for Fathering we don’t have official positions on all these. Since each child and each situation is unique, we prefer to talk about the larger principles involved that can help guide these decisions.
To illustrate, let’s look at this dad’s question about allowing a teenager to stay out late on a school night…
First, we would talk about the importance of a father’s awareness, a key area of being an effective father. We encourage dads to know their children’s interests, tendencies, strengths and weaknesses. Some teens are responsible and trustworthy, so being out late once in a while wouldn’t be much of an issue. Other teens might not be as dependable, so parents would be wise to pull back the reins a bit.
Your awareness as a dad helps you make wise decisions when an issue comes up.
Of course, you also want to be involved as a dad, so you know what the child will be doing, who she is with, and so on. This one should seem obvious, but too many kids don’t have parents who monitor their behavior, their friends, their habits, and so on. Even if they don’t like it, it’s a parent’s role to keep children in check and hold them accountable for their behavior—and dads should be a big part of this.
So don’t apologize when you make it your business to know where they’re going and who their friends are. Monitor the movies they attend, TV shows they watch, websites they visit, and video games they play. Set curfews. Build in high expectations. Require chores, check their homework, and make sure that their poor choices have real consequences.
As you navigate all of this, keep the big picture in mind. For example, there are some late weeknight events and activities that we believe are good for our kids—like something that will help develop their character or nurture their faith. Sometimes we want them to be at those events even if it means a late night and they might be tired at school the next day. Some things are worth that. But if they’re just going to see a movie or hang with friends, that’s probably a different story.
It isn’t a cop out for to say that it’s impossible to make specific recommendations that cover all the variables. But this much is worth saying:
Know your child. Consider his tendencies. Be involved and optimistic. Keep the big picture in mind. And each child is different.
We suggest studying this chart about the big picture of parenting, from Tim Smith’s The Danger of Raising Nice Kids:
The curved line represents a child’s growth toward adulthood. As he grows in responsibility, he gains more freedom and earns more trust. At the same time, a parent’s role gradually moves from mostly control and direction to being more of an influence as the child takes on more responsibility.
These challenging questions are a good motivation to get with your child’s mother and review your basic principles for parenting. Be willing to make adjustments as your children grow and change.
ACTION POINTS for Dads on the Journey
- Schedule special one-on-one “dates” and outings with each of your children.
- Ask each of your children, “Would you like to hang out more?” “How can I be more involved in your life?”
- Tell your kids you’re keeping track of them—monitoring their activities and interests, and watching out for anything potentially harmful. They need that sense of accountability, and your “voice” in their heads as they make decisions.
- As your children grow and change, bring them into the conversation about their growing responsibilities and freedoms, and your changing relationship. Show them the chart above to help them understand.
- When making parenting decisions, try a “big picture” exercise. Ask yourself (and your child’s mother), “How significant will this likely be in five (or ten) years?
Help other dads by sharing. What insights would you add about this or similar questions? Please join the discussion below or on our Facebook page.