One of the greatest challenges of contemporary parenting is holding our children accountable for the choices they make. Unfortunately, a growing number of parents are afraid to challenge and call their children to task. They are obsessed with being pals rather than parenting. Most teenagers need direction and guidance as they make their way through the complicated maze we call life.
There is probably not a teenager on the planet who likes to hear the word "no." Most teenagers want the freedom to do as they please, even if it means "pushing the envelope" to the edge. Teenagers believe with all their hearts that they are invincible, that the worst-case scenario will never happen to them.
Sometimes the painful litmus test that you are being an effective parent is when your teenage son or daughter tells you fifteen times a day that they hate your guts. Those words are hard to hear, but honestly should remind us that we are doing the right things as parents.
It is difficult to enforce some social rules that we feel ambivalent about, especially if they relate to seniors in high school; for example the drinking age and the driving age.
A number of parents feel when their teenagers rebel that all it is, is a phase and soon enough it will be over.
Unfortunately, this phase for some is lasting well into adulthood and causing some serious problems. Social non-compliance that goes unchallenged oftentimes gives the mixed message that the non-compliant behavior is okay! Our silence as adults can be lethal.
TJ is sixteen and a junior in high school. He is a good student and a good athlete. By most standards, he is an all around great kid. His parents are hard working, reasonable people. At the beginning of his junior year, TJ got his junior license. He was also taking drivers education. Thus, if he passes his road test, he will receive his senior license at age seventeen.
In October, TJ turned sixteen. By November, he had his junior license. Initially, he was very compliant to the state regulations about junior licenses. Unfortunately, by Christmas, he was hyper. He was constantly pushing his mother to let him use the car illegally. By January, he had saved enough money to buy his own car. He registered and insured it. Because it was his, he thought he could use it whenever he wanted, even if it meant breaking the law.
This perspective on his part caused a lot of friction and conflict at home. It pitted his mother against his father. His Dad didn't see a big problem with TJ using the car, even if it was breaking the law, because TJ was a "good kid." Mom, on the other hand, felt that they were giving him the wrong message, that it was okay to pick and choose the rules you comply with.
The "car crisis" finally came to a head. TJ wanted to use the car with friends on a Friday night to go to a party a few towns away. TJ and his Mom had a heated conversation and shared some intense unpleasantries. Ultimately, Mom deferred to Dad who said okay with a couple of restrictions, which TJ totally ignored.
Around 8pm on Friday, TJ left his home for the party a few towns away. He stopped along the way to pick up various friends. By 9pm he arrived. His car was overloaded with people. The party was not supervised and got pretty wild.
The police arrived because of a complaint around 11pm. Everyone was sent home. TJ left with even more people then he had come with. Everyone had been drinking. He even had a couple of beers, but was not intoxicated.
They started their sojourn home. A couple of guys started egging him on to accelerate the speed. To entertain his friends, TJ started speeding. He hit a familiar intersection at a high rate of speed and lost control of the car. He crashed into the embankment. The car was totaled. Miraculously, none of his passengers were hurt, just a few cuts and bruises.
The police were called by people from another car. TJ was conscious, but had broken his arm. The police asked for his license, registration and insurance card. Immediately, the officer noticed that TJ was driving illegally. He also smelled alcohol on TJ's breath.
TJ was ticketed for a variety of motor vehicle infractions. He was arrested because of his age and the fact that he was driving and drinking. If you are under twenty-one, the law is clear - zero tolerance. So, he lost his license, went to jail for the night and incurred tremendous legal fees, which his parents felt compelled to pay.
TJ was one of the lucky ones who didn't comply with the junior license laws. He broke the law, but fortunately did not kill, maim or hurt himself or someone else. However, did he realize the possible tragedy he could have caused because he elected to break the law so that he and his friends could have fun?
TJ's parents live with the guilt that they did not hold their son accountable and that they allowed his non-compliance to become a wedge between them. Painfully, but gratefully, they realize how they should have responded to TJ, especially when he turned up the pressure.
How many parents won't get a second chance? How many innocent people of all ages will be victimized because too many of us are too casual about a wide range of social rules that affect the health and safety of our children?
Parenting teenagers on a good day is challenging and stressful. The times we live in don't make it easy. In many ways, it is ten times more difficult. Most teenagers are great kids, but even great kids make poor choices and decisions that can potentially have lethal consequences.
As adults, we are not helping when we turn a deaf ear or blind eye to the choices and decisions of our children. If our children are our greatest national treasure, then we need to treat them accordingly, and sometimes act in ways to protect them from themselves.