Parenting is probably one of the most complicated and demanding experiences in any adult's life. When you choose to have children, you are not given a parenting manual at your child's birth. Most of us learned how to parent by trial and error. Some of us have tried to imitate the positive parenting skills of our parents and grandparents. If we came from totally dysfunctional families, it was even harder parenting that first child, as we did not have a model to look to.
Early childhood development is challenging, but manageable. When our children enter adolescence and teenage hood, then the chaos begins. As parents of adolescents, we need to be conscious of curfews, friends, social choices around drugs and alcohol, school attendance, riding in cars, smoking cigarettes and so much more.
What has made parenting adolescents today even more complicated than it was twenty-five years ago is greater access to the media and modern technology. Our children are growing up so much faster. They are being exposed at an earlier age to a wider range of information, whether they are ready to process it or not. As parents, we need to be more vigilant in what our children are being exposed to so that they are better prepared to deal with the plethora of challenges put before them.
More than twenty-five years ago, if you lived in a neighborhood or on a single street, there was a good chance that you went to the same school as your neighbor and possibly the same church or synagogue on the weekend. It didn't matter what your nationality or religion was, if a mother saw you doing something wrong, she wouldn't hesitate to correct you and tell your parents. There was a sense of community and mutual solidarity, which was both protective and life giving.
If you got in trouble in school and the teacher called your home, you could be sure that you would be held accountable, even if the teacher were wrong. Unfortunately, today if the teacher calls home and gets your parents, too often parents make excuses for inappropriate behavior or non-compliance to school rules.
Although you may live in a neighborhood or on a single street today and your children may attend the same school and possibly the same church or synagogue as their friends, your parenting style may be diametrically opposed to that of your teenager's friends' parents.
Whether we like it or not, parenting is a twenty-four hour a day, seven day a week job. As parents, we need to be involved in our children's lives. We need to create a climate and an environment that supports positive decision-making. "No" is not a dirty word. As caring parents, we should not be afraid to use it. Our children, especially our teenagers, need to be clear as to what their social boundaries are. Family rules should be clear and enforceable. Don't make a rule that you cannot enforce. Also, attempt to be reasonable with your rules and the consequences for non-compliance.
Your teenage children should expect you to set a summer and a school year curfew for them. It is not unreasonable to expect your high school teenagers to be home every night for dinner. If your son or daughter earns an overnight at a friends' house, it is not unreasonable to expect the friend's parents to be home and supervising the overnight.
Probably the most challenging social behaviors for parents to set expectations and make decisions around are those concerning the illegal use of alcohol and drugs. It is unconscionable for parents to tolerate teenage drinking and drugging in their homes and outside in other social settings. It is imperative that you be clear as to where you stand on these issues when your children are at an early age. You cannot bend one inch in this regard or your children will take advantage. The new laws are very clear. There is no grey in interpreting them. Being tough on this issue will probably cause the greatest amount of rebellion in your home while your children are teenagers.
Don't let other parents sabotage your parenting, when it comes to teenage drinking and drugging. Too many parents are more interested in being friends with their children instead of being parents and holding them accountable for their social choices.
It's no secret - the teenage years are the most difficult for most parents, especially if other parents do not set boundaries and limits for their teenage children. How many times has your teenage son or daughter said, "But Mom, everybody is doing it; nobody has a curfew during the summer! Come on, what's the big deal about having a few beers on a hot summer night?" Parental peer pressure is infectious and very contaminating. As parents, you must stay the course and adhere to your basic human values and principles.
There is a new roadblock erupting in communities all around us that is making parenting much more difficult. It's the emergence of the teenage underground. Unbeknownst to some parents, a growing number of teenagers are giving shelter, food and clothing to teenage runaways who are openly defying their parents.
When some teenagers are in conflict with their parents and do not like the outcome, they choose to leave. Often they go underground and stay for days and weeks at a time with friends. They move from house to house, making it easy for them to be unaccountable and not go home. Some parents cooperate with this effort and think they're being helpful. Unfortunately, more often than not, their interference is counterproductive.
Being helpful would be encouraging the teenager to go home and try to work out the conflict with his or her parents. If the teenager is afraid because of violence and/or abuse, then intervening is appropriate. Sometimes, in the name of helping others, we are more hurtful to the process of reconciliation and healing.
TJ is seventeen. He is blessed with a wonderful family. In September, he begins his senior year. He is the middle child among very competitive siblings. He is an excellent athlete and a reasonable student. Unfortunately, he does not see his talent or his potential. After a sports injury, he was prescribed some pain medication that he ultimately abused. For months, he flew under the radar regarding the abused medication because he's such a great kid.
Finally, his parents caught on and confronted him. Initially, he lied, but after further conversation, he confessed that he was misusing his pain medication. He agreed to treatment and for a few months did very well.
Unfortunately, as summer approached, he started to make other poor social choices. He was connecting with friends who were smoking pot, drinking and staying out to all hours of the night. TJ was engaging in the same behavior. When his parents confronted him, he said, "everybody's doing it and no one my age has a curfew!"
His parents made it very clear that as long as he lived in their home, there would be a flexible curfew, within reason, but under no circumstances would they condone or tolerate underage drinking or the smoking of marijuana. Needless to say, he was not happy with that conversation. With reluctance, he agreed to comply.
A few weeks passed and out of the blue TJ and his Dad had a major confrontation. Before the conversation concluded, TJ stormed out and said he could no longer live with them.
He tortured them for three days before he called them. He made it clear that he had no intention of returning home unless some of the house rules regarding drinking and drugging changed. Although it was hard, TJ's parents held their ground. They were tired of walking on eggshells and tiptoeing around TJ.
After canvassing the neighborhood for almost a week, they found out the TJ was sleeping in a friend's basement. His friend was sneaking him in after his parents went to sleep. By this time, this was the third house that TJ was hiding out in. TJ's Dad tried to have a conversation with him, but TJ was not receptive.
As of this writing, TJ is still living in the teenage underground. More and more teenagers are escaping any kind of accountability and responsibility by hiding out in the teenage underground. Those adults who, by their silence, support this effort are enabling teenagers to act disrespectfully and irresponsibly.