Every parent's dilemma when raising high school and college age children is what kind of expectations should you have? What should the social rules of your home be? What are the consequences if your children choose not to comply?
When our children were born, we were not issued a parenting manual. Many of us took the best of our upbringing and what we learned from life and tried to develop a blueprint for our family. Very early on we realized it was not perfect, but rather a work in progress. More often than not, we learned from experience.
Unfortunately, a growing number of parents today, still without a formal handbook on parenting, seem more reluctant to establish expectations or clear social rules for their children. They attempt to establish boundaries and rules as they go along. For most families that approach has proven to be disastrous.
We always seem to be battling extremism. Some parents are too rigid, narrow minded and controlling. Other parents are so casual you wonder who is running the show, the parents or the children.
Needless to say, balance is what we should strive for. We all need some kind of structure and some basic social rules to help us with our social choices and social behavior. We also need some kind of accountability that has consequences attached to the choices we make or fail to make.
Therein lies a major dilemma. Too many people are not willing to hold others accountable and if they say they do, they don't enforce the accountability consistently.
It borders on parental recklessness and irresponsibility if we do not hold our children accountable for their social behavior and their social choices, especially as it relates to school.
As parents, if we knowingly tolerate our children consistently breaking the law, we are acting irresponsibly. Granted that once our children reach college age, there are certain social behaviors that are hard to moderate.
You may not be able to have your nineteen year old totally abstain from drinking until he is of the legal age, but you can insist that there will be no drinking in your home or on family property. If your son or daughter chooses to be non-compliant, there needs to be an enforceable consequence.
The hard part here is taking a hard line and holding to it. Do not be manipulated by your son or daughter's histrionics. In fairness, accountability and consequences should be clearly established before these social conflicts develop. Be prepared. Many of our college coeds will push us to the limit to see if we mean business.
JK is a nineteen year old college coed from our larger community. He is the younger of two children from a tightly knit family. His oldest sister is a senior in college. Both of his parents are respected schoolteachers who have been very involved in their children's lives since early elementary school.
As a high school student, JK was above average and worked hard for good grades. He was also a varsity letter athlete. While he was growing up, he had an excellent circle of friends. His parents were very clear about their expectations and their social rules, especially around under age drinking and smoking pot.
With one exception, JK was socially compliant throughout high school. There was one incident. While his parents were away, JK used their home without permission for a drinking party. His parents found out and there were consequences for it. The other partygoers' parents were called and informed. He seemed to be sincerely remorseful. He graduated without another incident.
Like most families who send a son or daughter away to school for the first time, JK's parents had a sit down with him. They clarified their expectations and the social rules that he would be expected to embrace when he came home on break and summer vacation.
Academically, they expected that he would attend his classes, do the coursework and be socially responsible. They indicated that they would cover his tuition, room and board and books, if he maintained a 2.5 GPA. He enthusiastically said, "no problem."
They also indicated that when he came home for breaks and summer vacation, they would negotiate a curfew and some basic household chores. His parents wanted it to be clear that their home was not going to be a flophouse. They also made it clear, since he was only nineteen, that drinking would not be tolerated. They acknowledged that they could not control what he did at school, but they were not going to compromise on that point at home. They made it clear that if he elected to drink, they would not allow him to drive their cars or have him on their auto insurance policy. He paid lip service to those social expectations, but made it clear that he was not happy.
The fall of his freshman term was a disaster. He ended the term on academic probation. He reluctantly admitted that his partying had gotten out of control, but assured his parents that he would redeem himself in the spring.
The spring semester came and went. He was placed on academic probation with the postscript that if he did not maintain a GPA of 2.5, he would be asked to leave school at Christmas.
JK has been home since mid May. He has worked every day at a very demanding construction job. He has balked at his curfew and belligerently told his parents that curfews for nineteen year olds are ridiculous. He is drinking. Although very discretely, it is apparent when he comes home that he has been drinking.
A few weeks ago, he and his parents had a family meeting. They raised their social and academic concerns. They reminded JK that he had enthusiastically supported them last August. They said they must hold him accountable.
Therefore, for at least the fall semester, if he goes back to school he will have to cover all his costs through working and possibly a student loan. They said if he gets the 2.5 GPA in the fall, they will pick up the loan in January. The other condition for them co-signing a loan is that he has to stop drinking.
JK listened. He was not happy with the expectations for their support. He said he would think about it and get back to them. He said he might try to do it by himself and just go back to school.
Needless to say, his parents are nervous. A part of them would like to rescue him. Hopefully, they won't, even if he ends up being on the six-year plan. If he grows and becomes more responsible and accountable, it will be worth the wait.