Parenting is probably the most difficult human enterprise that people might engage in. It is the only full time job that you really cannot be trained for. There are no manuals or degree programs to take to help prepare you for this most challenging responsibility.
Most of us have learned our parenting skills by trial and error, from some talk show or popular book on the subject or from how we have been parented. Responsible parenting is a full time job. It does not end with graduation from high school or college. It usually ends with death.
It does take on many different forms and focuses as one's child matures and ages. But the challenges continue. Parenting demands time, effort and energy, even when you have no more to give.
Real parenting does not mean giving in to your child's every whim and whimper. The greatest tragedy of parenting is enabling your son or daughter to be reckless and irresponsible when it comes to the challenges of growing and becoming.
In our culture, every day is a new adventure when it comes to parenting a teenager. Unfortunately, the rules seem to change like the wind. Few parents seem to agree on basic parenting responsibilities or on appropriate rules and boundaries for high school and middle school students.
For example, what is an appropriate curfew during the school week for a high school senior? Is 12 or 1am okay, even if your child does not get up on his or her own for class the next day? What about blowing off the family meal regularly, not because of work, school activities or sports, but because he or she want to hang out with friends at that famous place "I Don't Know?"
As parents, what should our position be regarding the use of illegal steroids, illegal drugs (weed included) and alcohol for our high school students? Should a seventeen year old be permitted to smoke weed whenever, buy it and sell it (from your home)? What about those casual keg parties on the weekend? No drinking and driving, but drinking and getting drunk on purpose because it is cool.
What about high school seniors who sneak out of the house in the middle of the night, stay out all night, can't get up for school the next morning, get caught and lie through their teeth? How should a parent handle this? Should we as parents just let it go, see it as a rite of passage?
Probably the most challenging issues for parents parenting high school students are the issues of weekend curfews, sleepovers and adult supervision.
Should a senior in high school have a curfew on the weekend? Should the average seventeen or eighteen year old be allowed to come and go as they please on the weekend? Should they be allowed to stay out all night wherever, with whomever?
What about high school parties? Should we expect that they are supervised? Do we have a right and/or obligation to check and see if parents and/or responsible adults will be supervising said party? If teenagers are staying over, will someone be chaperoning? The illegal consumption of beer and alcohol - do we just coexist with it and pray that no one overdoses, drives under the influence or kills someone?
If someone does drive home from an unsupervised party at a teen's home, has a car accident and kills someone, who should be responsible? Or is it just a rite of passage? Accidents happen, sorry family of innocent dead person.
JC is a bright, athletic, above average senior in high school. Since his parent's divorce when he was in middle school, his life has been on a downhill spiral. He moved into his present community when he was a junior in high school.
The transition to a new school was really tough. JC made a number of poor choices. Each time, he was held accountable for the choices he made. As he settled in, he became friends with a wonderful group of young people. However, their parents had different standards and different expectations. From JC's perspective, his friends were free and he was in prison.
He became more compliant in the new school. However, when he could, he would try to get over on his teachers, especially the female ones. All in all, JC transformed during his senior year. He was definitely college bound, but still felt that he was in jail compared to his friends. He had a curfew. He had to be home for dinner Monday through Friday and could not work during the week until all his grades were at least a "C" or better.
Even with all of his rebellion and dishonesty, he went away at Christmastime. As a gift, he was given the payment for his senior trip and the opportunity to take Drivers Education (even though he did not honor his agreement with his parent).
In the middle of his senior year, because JC was so out of control, he, his counselor and his parent signed a mutually agreed upon contract. This contract stated that if JC continued to sneak out of the house in the middle of the night and engage in other illegal behaviors, he would be signed out of school and sent to live with his uncle upstate. He agreed to and signed the contract.
By March, JC had violated his agreement with serious infractions a half a dozen times. The defining moment was when JC snuck out and got drunk. He did not believe his parent would hold him accountable. His parent did. JC decided to move out on his own.
After a series of phone calls, a good friend said he could stay with him. The well-intentioned family never called JC's parent before they said yes to see why JC could not live at home. Instead, the friend's parent called and blasted JC's parent for putting her son out. Whatever information the friend's mother had was, at best, one sided and incomplete. Although this family meant well, they were clearly undermining and interfering with another family's parenting.
We don't have to agree, but we must respect another family's approach to parenting, unless it is immoral or life threatening to the child involved.
Too many times, with all good intentions, we act inappropriately and undo work that has been in process for a long time. Instead of helping the teenager in crisis, we are only hurting him in the long run.
Parenting is complicated. Each family has to define their own approach and be consistent in how they parent. If we want to help each other, the best way to do that is with open communication. This communication should be grounded in respect and honesty for each other as parents/adults, not in anger, blame and shame. Our children need us to model that behavior.