In the last number of weeks, since the Vermont ski trip disaster and the house trashing in Merrick, much has been written about parental accountability and teenage responsibility.
Many have expressed that parents, no matter what their social circumstance, need to step up and start parenting their children more effectively. As parents, we need to know what our kids do, where they go and who they are with. We need to set clearer limits and boundaries.
Equally as important, we need to be clear on the consequences when our children are non-compliant or blatantly disrespectful in regard to what has been mutually agreed upon.
Probably the one skill that parents and teens are weakest at is communicating. Too often the communication dynamic in a family is grounded in avoidance. Oftentimes when a parent and teen attempt to communicate, it quickly escalates into a shouting match; ultimately ending with no real resolution.
Too many parents and teens talk at each other. There is no respectful listening. Teens feel that if they don't get what they want, their parents are not listening. At times, parents feel that if their teens question a parental decision, they are being disrespectful and/or abusive.
Somewhere in the middle there must be a common ground where parents and teenagers can genuinely talk with each other about all the hard issues and come to a mutual understanding.
Parents have to be willing to talk about the delicate social issues that are important to their teenage children like: curfews, school cutting, underage drinking, smoking weed, sex, overnights, teenage parties, body piercing, tattoos and driving.
The list mentions many teenage concerns that a parent might face, but it is a varied list. However, it probably represents some of the greatest challenges we face as parents.
As a parent, how do you face the issues of friends, curfews, overnights and parties? What about a weekend away with a tour company and minimal supervision?
Thirty years ago most of these issues would have been dealt with in a very black or white manner. Teenage choice was limited. Parents seemed to be more in concert with each other. Un-chaperoned weekends away were rarely on the list of choices.
Back then, parents talked more to each other. Parents and schools were partners, not adversaries. Parents did not excuse or attempt to cover for their children if they were non-compliant. Teachers were not afraid to confront negative behaviors whether they were witnessed in or out of school. More often than not, parents expressed gratitude for that kind of feedback.
Unfortunately, today a growing number of parents are afraid to parent. Some will say it is because their dynamic with their teenage son or daughter is already very fragile and they don't want to distance their teens any further. They believe that friendship is more important than traditional parenting.
In many ways, traditional parenting is not going to work effectively today. Unfortunately, the friendship model is not effective either; unless you have no desire to pass on certain values and social attitudes to your children.
When our children are born to us or we formally become parents, a handbook is not issued. Most of us learn by trial and error. Many of us have tried to apply the best of our own upbringing with parenting our own children.
These are very challenging times with some very different issues. Effective communication is key. We have to work harder at learning how to communicate with our children, and they with us.
As parents, we need to think about the hard issues. We need to prioritize those concerns that are important and those issues that are not so important. We should not be afraid to talk to our children about honesty, truth, openness, trust, drugs, alcohol, sex, dating, parties, overnights, curfews, piercings and tattoos.
The important issues are honesty, truth, openness and trust. As parents, we need to support certain issues on the side of what is legal, even if we think we have good kids who won't act recklessly.
The other social issues, where some might literally be centered on taste, should be looked at with an open mind, even if they make us as parents uncomfortable.
Curfews, overnights, parties, even friends, need the filters of trust, honesty and openness on both sides. We need to share with our children without shame, blame, guilt and judgment.
As parents, we have the right to set clear and firm parameters, but they should be fair. We should be open to explaining the "why and how come."
As our children have the right to expect and honest, truthful and open dialogue, we have the right to expect our children to be honest, open and forthright. Our teenagers need to be forthcoming with honest responses to reasonable questions.
The hardest area to deal with is the drug, alcohol and supervision area. Teens should not expect their parents to tolerate illegal drinking, pot use and unsupervised parties, if teens are still in high school, living at home.
Breaking the law (even if we believe it is an unfair law) is not okay. Parents who tolerate teenage drinking and pot use, with the attitude that "they are going to do it anyway" and "we just want them to be safe" are misguided. That kind of thinking borders on reckless. Additionally, parents who allow their children to hold parties but never come down to check on how things are going, by their silence they are saying it is okay to break the law and act irresponsibly.
Hopefully, parents and teens will see the value and the need to work on their communication skills and mutually work at finding sensible, responsible resolutions to the on-going challenges of living as a family.