Parenting A Teen Without A Manual Or Guarantee
The best way to parent a teen is with love, respect, and specific, well chosen boundaries. There were some specific items that were very important to me and I was RIGID with those boundaries. My children were expected to be home by midnight. If they were going to be late, they simply had to call. I was home and up whenever they arrived and we had a chat EVERY time. This discouraged the use of alcohol, because they could actually tell their friends that "I HAVE to face Mom! No thanks!" I also required a 24 notice BEFORE sleepovers and only at a home that I had met the parents before and we had talked about the home environment. That prevented the "sneak one over on the parents" plan and the possibility that they might be in an unsuitable environment. I paid for tags and insurance on cars, but they didn't get one until they could afford to buy it themselves AND pay for their own gas for activities. Being responsible for the costs made them more careful about their driving. That was more important to me than how long their hair was or what their clothes looked like. My sons had longer hair and wore shredded jeans. My daughter wore flip flops constantly, but they were all responsible drivers. They never came home drunk and they were glad to have an out from those who encouraged them to drink and drive. Love, respect and well chosen boundaries.
Choose Your Battles
Choosing your battles will minimize the battlefield! Is an extra inch of hair battle worthy? Is an inch too little of a skirt? That depends on the child and the situation, but I will bet that neither one is truly battle worthy. Learning to choose your battles will help you make milestones with your teen! Drinking and driving is an absolute concrete battle line. NO variance on that topic is allowed in my house! Today, I have adult children (the "baby" is 21!) who will call and get a ride or make plans ahead if they are going to be drinking. Two times I got up late at night and went to get one from a friend's house where they had been drinking. It was worth the time and effort to save not only their life, but that of some innocent person who might happen to cross their path.
I believe giving them the opportunity to make small choices that are less important in the scope of the universe, helps teens to be more cooperative when the essential decisions are laid out for them as rules.
Unconditional Love Is NOT Optional
Unconditional love is required to survive parenting any child, but especially a teen. It must be known by the child, and yes, they are still a child, that you love them. Period. Knowing that you will love them in spite of their mistakes, hassles and failures, will help them to be willing to sit down with you and talk about those things in their life. It is often the fear of being unloved that drives a teen into following peers into foolish activities. If they know that they will have your love when the day is over, then they will be more likely to do those things that will please you rather than their peers.
That being said, no one says you have to approve of their every action and activity! I said unconditional love, NOT unconditional approval of actions! Being calm and honest with your child when they make mistakes will be your best approach when these things happen. Don't be afraid to point out when you make a mistake and tell your child you are sorry and that you will have to make things right. Teach them how you correct your mistakes! Talk it through with them whenever possible! For example: "Man, I really messed up by not picking up milk on my way home! Now I have to get up early and actually cook breakfast for everyone. No cereal tomorrow! I guess I could go to the convenience store tonight, but that will cost me $2 more! I should paid better attention and thought about things!" This may seem insignificant at first, but having this conversation with a 10 year old will build a foundation for that talk that says "Man, you really messed up by not turning in your homework! What are you going to do to get your grades up?"
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Don't Be Afraid To Be Flexible!
You can be flexible too when needed! Some rules need to be updated as your child grows older. Give them ownership in making the rules when they are old enough to understand the reasoning behind the rules. My oldest son wanted a later curfew...even bargained for it! He started with 1:30 a.m., I offered back 11:30 p.m. (yeah earlier than midnight!), he went to 1 a.m. and I went back to midnight! Then he offered 12:19 a.m. I laughed and took it!! I figured it would never fly! For years, he faithfully appeared at the back door at 12:19 a.m. on the dot!! Never a whine or a grumble! It was worth the extra 19 minutes to get years of pleasant acquiescence from a teenage boy! We chose the boundary together and he honored it! Being flexible gave me a great advantage!
You Don't Need A Guarantee!
There may actually be times you do not LIKE your child, but make sure to always LOVE them! It pays off in the long run! EVERY time! Set clear boundaries, be unconditionally accepting, be flexible and be your child's biggest cheerleader! You will be pleased to find that they will evolve into pleasant compromising adults......eventually! You don't need a manual, you know your child better than anyone. You don't need a guarantee, together you two can figure out and solve any situation. You just need unconditional love.
Photo and Text Copyright 2012 Deborah M. Carey
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