So often parents will ask me, "when is enough, enough?" In other words, when do we stop rescuing and enabling our out of control teenagers? The answer to that delicate question is not an easy one.
At first glance, some will think my response is harsh and/or uncaring. Others will call it tough loving. Candidly, I call it responsible and compassionate parenting.
If taken seriously, parenting is probably among the toughest jobs that some adults are asked to embrace. In these days and times, it is more challenging and complicated then ever before.
Parents today are faced with social and behavioral issues that no other generation before ever had to confront. Every day is an adventure that many of us are ill-equipped to embark upon.
Thirty years ago, parents were faced with drive-in movies, occasional drinking and high school coeds breaking curfew and not calling in.
Today, we are faced with internet technology that brings into a teenager's bedroom everything and anything. We live in an age with beepers, cell phones, instant messaging and my space. Instead of traditional dating, you can find your partner on line.
In that former life, the children of that time grew up with "Leave It To Beaver" and "Father Knows Best." In contrast, today we have virtual reality shows on every issue imaginable, with little left for the creative imagination. Video games and ipods have replaced any kind of consistent human interaction. Some teens get up great, go to school or work and then take the world on with the latest technology.
In times past, life was simpler. The issues we faced were clear and basic. There was a lot of support. If you lived in a neighborhood, you counted on your local neighbors supporting your basic human values. You did not have to fear that they would interfere or contradict your parenting or family values.
School, church and temple also reinforced those basic principles for living that were at the heart of every family (no matter how dysfunctional). There was a level of respect for teachers and school administrators that has disappeared from the present landscape.
If the truth be told, the influence that religion and religious practice once had is almost dead. For many teenagers, the practice of religion is a cultural, seasonal practice with little influence on the moral development of people today.
In too many households where there are two people, both parents work. In a single parent household, too often the single parent works two or three jobs just to make basic ends meet. Teenagers are coming of age at an earlier time and many parents are ill-equipped to guide and direct them. We have not done a good job of preparing this present generation of parents for parenting. Parents just do not have the time, or do not make the time to do their job.
Family life, in many households, is total mayhem. In the name of good activity, we have compromised some very basic principles. Few families have at least one meal a day together. What happened to family conversation or even family time? Everyone is running in a hundred different directions. For some families, it is easier to communicate by leaving notes on the banister rather than having a face to face conversation that could lead to a disastrous confrontation. Too many parents want to be best friends with their children. They choose being pals over doing what is right.
"No" is not a dirty word, nor is it wrong to stick to your sanctions when disciplining your children. Most of our teenage children have mastered the art of manipulation and guilt, and we get sucked in almost every time. A good litmus test that you are doing a good job as a parent is if your son or daughter tells you ten times a day that he or she hates you. That is hard stuff to hear, but more often than not, you are probably doing the right stuff.
Drawing the line and holding to it is probably the hardest skill to develop and maintain because the landscape of parenting and teenagehood is changing every minute.
JR is the younger of two children. Both of his parents are teachers. They have a loving family. JR would tell you that both of his parents are full-time parents who are really involved in the lives of their children.
When he was in high school, JR was an exceptional athlete and a mediocre student. He has a variety of learning disabilities that early on challenged his learning style. However, being very bright, he learned how to manage. Today, he uses his learning disabilities only when it is to his advantage.
Throughout high school, up until his senior year, JR was the perfect high school kid and son. Everybody loved him. Mid-year, he started drinking on the weekends with some of his teammates. Early on, he got away with it. He got over on his parents.
Unfortunately, he blew his cover. One night, right after graduation, he got drunk. He tried to drive his car home from a party and hit a tree. He totaled the car and ended up walking home. He stumbled in the front door. Both of his parents were waiting for him. They were upset. He was aggravated. He ended up having a fistfight with his Dad on the front lawn.
The police were called. He was restrained. He finally calmed down and went to bed. The next day his parents, much calmer, insisted on a family meeting to address the events of the night before and the fact that their car was missing. (They did not know that it was totaled.)
The conversation was very tense. Everyone was walking on eggshells. Initially, JR's parents were aggressive. Throughout the conversation, JR minimized what happened the night before. He accused his parents of always overreacting and being entirely too overprotective and intrusive in his life.
After that conversation, JR's parents felt totally paralyzed. They felt like real failures as parents. They felt a profound sense of estrangement from their only son. The same son who only a few months earlier they had an unexplainable closeness to.
Needless to say, a real coolness developed between them that JR's parents hated. JR felt some relief, but did acknowledge some guilt for all the stress he imposed on the family.
As the summer unfolded, the coolness lessened, but JR's parents were determined not to sweep the "incident" under the rug. A lot of their friends said it is part of growing up, a rite of American passage.
Unfortunately, for JR's parents, this was their eighteen-year-old son who almost killed himself and possibly others. He was taking no responsibility for this almost lethal circumstance. As parents, they couldn't look at it as others were encouraging them to.
In mid July, they had another big blow up around reckless drinking. JR elected to leave home. His three weeks out of the house were the most painful his parents had ever experienced. They were clear. He couldn't drink while living at home since it was against the law. If he were to come home, he would need to speak to someone.
Another week passed. The tension was life threatening. However, his parents held their ground because they loved their son. A number of times, they almost gave in. Thanks to "Families Anonymous," they had the support and strength to hold firm to their position. JR finally agreed and came home.
He ultimately embraced the principles of recovery for more than a year. In May, he told his parents he was going to be trained for a rigorous volunteer position in one of the Caribbean islands. He graduated at the top of his class a week ago. The night of graduation, he and some of his buddies went out and celebrated. They drank and got drunk. They were dismissed from the program.
JR's parents wanted to rescue him, but they didn't. They called him, said they loved him and assured him of their unconditional support. He assured them that he was back on track. Time will tell!