What does it really mean to hold your son or daughter accountable for the choices they make? How strict should you be? What kind of consequences should you impose when your teenage son or daughter is non-compliant? Or, should you play everything pretty loosely? As the kids would say, "go with the flow."
Parenting on a good day is a challenge. When most of us became parents, we did not receive a comprehensive parenting manual. We didn't take classes in parenting. If the truth be told, most of us learned by trial and error. Many of us tried to hold on to the good things from our upbringing. We have tried to build on the positive things learned and have discarded the negative things.
However, parenting at this time is so much more complicated than it was forty or fifty years ago. The days of things being black or white are long gone. Most of us parenting children, whether we like it or not, have to live in the gray. So much of what we face is complicated and multifaceted. Sometimes you feel like you need a roadmap just to navigate around some basic life issues.
Summer is upon us. It's very frustrating, if you are attempting to parent high school age children. Some of your closest neighbors and friends might have diametrically opposing viewpoints regarding parenting teenagers during the summer.
For example, one of the more explosive issues for teenagers during summer vacation is curfew. They feel they are mature enough to come home at any time they feel is appropriate. They take the position that if they have work or summer school, they will get up on time and get to where they need to go punctually.
Believe it or not, a growing number of well-educated middle-class parents think it's fine for their teenager children to have no summer curfew. They feel for the most part that their children will exercise good judgment. What becomes complicated is, what is good judgment? On a weekday night, when there is school or work the next day, is 1:00 a.m. a reasonable curfew? Some parents say yes!
My question to those parents is: what do fifteen, sixteen and seventeen year olds do until 1:00 a.m. on a weekday night during the summer? Are they at someone's home? Is there adult supervision? Are they possibly at a movie? Or, are they just hanging out in downtown Port Jefferson, the village or town beach or maybe the neighborhood park? Is a steady diet of this unstructured, unsupervised social behavior in the best interest of our children?
Don't get me wrong. I do not believe summer vacation should be like boot camp. The only way children will understand how to use their social freedom is by gradually experiencing it. However, the emphasis should be on gradual. As parents, we should know where our kids are and what they are doing. I don't believe that this is being intrusive or overbearing. Rather, I believe it's acting responsibly as caring parents.
During the summer, we will tend to be a little bit more casual, but casual does not mean reckless and a free-for-all. I think it means that we are all a little more flexible and informal. We coexist with stretching the limits just a tad!
The tendency during summer vacation is for our children to press us to suspend all rules and take on the attitude that anything goes. Honestly, that kind of thinking is dangerous and potentially lethal. Even the most mature high school student needs structure, discipline and accountability.
During summer vacation, as a parent, what parenting model do you adhere to? Do you let your children call the shots? Are you more flexible? Are you more rigid? Or, are you the same? Do your children have anything to say about the parameters around their social life? Hopefully, as a parent you have some model that you draw on as you parent your son or daughter, especially during these summer months.
Based on my experience parenting other people's children, I think it's important to be flexible but clear during the summer; to be consistent and not rigid; to be open but not too casual. I think it's imperative not to multiply the rules, but to be clear on what the rules are and to be clear that you intend to enforce them consistently and fairly. You must hold your children accountable, if they choose not to comply.
It's important to remember that most teenagers are smart and very clever. They have raised parental manipulation to a new level as an art form. Before you know it, if you are not astute enough, they will have maneuvered you into going against some of your most basic principles regarding summer living.
Life is much more sophisticated when it comes to our teenagers. Social choices are complicated and complex. So often, things aren't as they are presented. Unknowingly, even good kids are being placed in very volatile and dangerous circumstances.
More than any other generation, this present generation of teenagers is driving at a much younger age, whether they have a license or not. A growing number of parents, especially during the summer, are very casual when it comes to enforcing the regulations around the junior license versus the senior license. Too many teenagers with junior licenses are being permitted to drive at night to a wide range of social activities. It's against the law and puts the teenager and others at risk, even if the underage driver is a good driver.
During the summer months, teenage parties increase exponentially. There are a growing number of parents who permit partying at their homes without adult supervision. Some parents who are home and are supervising, permit underage drinking. Too often, they do not supervise some of the other illegal social behavior that tends to be present at teenage parties today.
The summer teenage party scene consists not only of drinking beer and smoking weed, but also the consumption of other alcohol and the use of street drugs and all kinds of over the counter and prescription medications.
During the summer, there is a social attitude among many of our teenagers that suggests getting stoned and drunk is a social objective for every good party! If you don't, then the party was not successful!
In many ways, parenting a teenager during the summer is more stressful than parenting a teenager during the school year. During the school year, there is always a wide range of activities for children to participate in. During the summer vacation, structured social opportunities are much more limited and in some communities are nonexistent. So what do high school kids do if they don't go to summer school and/or work?
As parents, we have to be creative and consistently look for engaging things for our children to be involved in. We also have to be clear as to what we expect from our teenage children, especially as it relates to social choices and behavior. They need to know that no means no! If they choose to break curfew, drink underage, drive the car illegally or stay out all night, there will be non-negotiable consequences.
The hard part for us as parents is that we must have the courage to hold our children accountable, even when it is uncomfortable. Our consequences must be fair, reasonable and enforceable.
If our children know that we don't mean what we say, be assured they will do everything in their power to sidestep the consequences and get over on the system. Remember, they are teenagers and that is what teenagers do best!