- Family and Parenting
Your Relationship With Your Teenager Is More Important Than The Rules You Try to Impose
I grew up in the '80's. I was the oldest child of three, so I was the first to try testing the boundaries my parents tried to establish. I remember being the quintessential lousy teenager. I lied to my parents about my location and activities with no moral repercussions. They, in turn, grounded me, forbid me to associate with certain friends, took away everything from my car keys to other belongings, and it was all to no good end. Every rule they tried to uphold became a challenge for me to break. My folks had the "because I said so" mentality of forbidding certain activities. We never had conversations about alcohol, drunk-driving, drugs, sex, pregnancy, or any other subject teens may face. My parents gave stern warnings about the punishment that would be given if their rules were broken. Needless to say, I learned many life-lessons the hard way. Looking back, I realize it is a miracle I lived through those years. I vowed to do things differently when I became a parent.
My son was exposed to conversations ranging from sex to drugs by the time he was in 7th grade. I would sometimes initiate these talks when subjects came up on television or in a rented movie. I always tried to be not preachy and often used my own poor experiences to reinforce the message I was trying to impart. When he reached 9th grade, I allowed him to come and go as he pleased providing his "chores" were done. His circle of friends consisted of three young men that were all a year or tow older than him. This made it possible for him to travel because one of the boys was old enough to drive. Most weekends these boys spent at the oldest boy's home. I had several conversations with the parents at this home. They were pretty permissive. The boys were allowed to smoke and drink beer.
When he was in 11th grade, I allowed my son to drive a car load of teenagers to Chicago for Lollapalooza. He had earned the money himself by holding a full time summer job. He had demonstrated being a responsible driver by never driving under the influence. I trusted him to keep in contact with me through out the weekend.
My son continued to talk to me about life and friends. He would tell me if he was going to a party with alcohol. I told him about drinking too much and how awful a hangover can be. I told him stories about my classmates and how they had died in alcohol related accidents. I did tell him that I hoped he wouldn't drink so much that he lost responsibility for himself. I asked him to stay at the house hosting the party. I made him promise not to get into a vehicle after consuming alcohol. I prayed he wouldn't change his mind when he was under the influence. I did allow him to go, The next day we talked about the previous night's events. He told me, freely, what had taken place and I listened without judgment.
My son and his friends rented a condo in Colorado the summer between his junior and senior year. He got a summer job with a catering company out there. They had a ball! I am envious of the experiences they had rock climbing, fishing, skiing, and just having that independence at that age.
He continued to attend alcohol/bonfire/sleepovers throughout his senior year. By the time he entered college he had pretty much lost interest in "party" weekends. I think it was a good thing for him to know what alcohol did to him before going to college.
He graduated with a bachelor's degree in environmental engineering, obtained employment in his field and lives several hundred miles away. He is grown, but we still have meaningful conversations regarding the choices life offers us. The fact that we can do this openly and without judgment makes me proud of my parenting style. My son learned self-confidence, money management and map-reading skills as well as self-respect. I learned the right environment and communication helps to bring a wonderful boy into adulthood. He is getting married in July of 2016.