Parenting teenagers and young adults is probably one of the most challenging responsibilities that parents face today. When one becomes a parent, especially of a teenager, there is no comprehensive manual that goes along with this experience. There is not a parenting school for us to attend. Most parents learn by doing or by not doing what was done to them.
Unfortunately, in our fast paced society children are being exposed to a wide variety of social experiences at an earlier age. Drugs, alcohol and sex used to be the experimental behaviors of teenagers in their junior and senior years in high school. Many parents are dealing with various aspects of these social behaviors in middle school.
Parenting styles differ as widely as people differ. There is no one blueprint that is tried and true. Each parent has to develop a style that works for who he or she is. The key however is that you need to have an operating plan. In this day and age, you can't operate by the "seat of your pants." You need to have some basic principles that are clear and enforceable or you will set your children up for disaster.
All teenagers and young adults that live at home and expect certain perks from living at home need to be clear on the family rules, whatever they are. Vagueness will only incite conflict. Thus, curfews, rules about drugs and alcohol, the use of the house and its' appliances by teenagers and friends needs to be clear.
Consistency needs to be a major operating principle, whether you are permissive or rigid. As soon as your son or daughter knows that they can get over on you, no matter what their strategy, they will use whatever it takes to get what they want.
Too often, when we feel trapped our kids turn up the guilt. They manipulate our feelings and emotions and make us feel like we are the problem. They dramatically convey that we are the reason they are out of control, violent, disrespectful and irresponsible. Their academy award performance usually causes us to back down, compromise and/or give in, whether it is wrong or right.
Many of us are working two or three jobs to make ends meet. We want to give our children everything we did not have whether they need it or not. We give without condition and without expecting even respect in return. Many of our children are takers. They will take whatever they can get and then some. They make demands almost like they are entitlements, and do not care if they are pushing us to the edge.
This dynamic does not empower our teenagers to wholeness or wellness. Rather, it shackles them to a life of irresponsibility and a lack of accountability. Every parent wants his or her child to succeed. The question we must ask is: do we set our children up for success or failure? Enabling their negative behavior does not invite change or positive growth. More often than not, it reinforces patterns of destructive behavior that cause a teenager not to grow or move forward at all.
Too many parents think that if they set limits, expect certain behaviors, and call their children to accountability by saying "no" or "you cannot do," that will be automatically translated into "you don't love me." Unfortunately, many teenagers when they don't get their way, play that refrain and either guilt or wear their parents down to get their way.
The Q's are a strong middle class family. Both parents work very hard so that their (yours, mine and ours) children can have a very comfortable life. Between them, they have raised six children. They are all still home. The third oldest recently elected to move out. TJ just turned twenty.
For the past two years, since high school graduation, TJ has done little or nothing to improve his life. He graduated from high school by the skin of his teeth. Shortly after graduation, he had a series of jobs that he lost due to irresponsibility. He would not get there on time and/or took days off for very lame reasons. Each time his parents confronted him, he became hostile and nasty.
A few months ago, because of recklessness, he crashed his relatively new car and totaled it. When his parents suggested that he get a full time job before they would help him financially fix the car, he went ballistic. His all-star performance made his mother feel very guilty. Behind her husband's back, she lent TJ some money so he could at least get his car back on the road. He assured her that he would immediately begin payments to return the money he was loaned.
Needless to say, months have passed. TJ has made no effort at employment or at making loan payments. Every time his mother inquires, he becomes nasty and demeaning. Mom feels guilty, like she has done something wrong.
Finally, after one of their blow-ups, TJ got physical. He punched holes in the living room wall, shoved his mother into the breakfront, bruising her and assaulted his stepfather who from the time he was two, TJ has known as "Dad."
Mrs. Q was devastated. In her anger, she told this twenty year old to leave the house and not to return until he was employed and had apologized for assaulting his stepdad. TJ's response was "I am leaving this f.... house and f.... you all." TJ moved out. His Mom was devastated and his Stepfather was relieved. She feels very guilty. On a number of occasions, she just wanted to call and invite him home. On some level, she feels by not doing that she is not being very loving.
Loving is not always doing and rescuing. Sometimes the tougher side of loving is saying "no" and holding those you love accountable for the choices they make. TJ needs to learn accountability and respect. Rescuing him is not going to help him grow and become whole.
Parents should always keep their door open, but on their terms. Yes, they should dialogue with TJ about his issues, but the bottom line is that the Q's are in charge. It is their home. They have the right to expect their young adult son to live respectfully, responsibly and accountably in their home. If TJ is not ready, maybe the more loving response is to be patient and wait.