Defining Accountability

Do you know where your children are? A very interesting question to raise in an age with cell phones and instant messaging. However, if you were to poll a dozen parents of junior high and ...

Print Email

Do you know where your children are? A very interesting question to raise in an age with cell phones and instant messaging. However, if you were to poll a dozen parents of junior high and high school age children, you would be amazed at how many parents would express uncertainty in regards to their child's whereabouts.

During the day, depending on the time of year, the possibilities are somewhat limited. However, after school, at night and on weekends, the possibilities are endless and potentially dangerous, depending on the age of your child.

What kind of accountability should our junior and senior high school coeds have? When some parents and teenagers hear the word accountability, they immediately think that one does not trust or want a teenager to have freedom.

Candidly, accountability is about trust, freedom and responsibility. However, we as parents have to be willing to step up and be parents. Children need parenting (in various forms) from birth to death. If one is going to bring a child into the world, one needs to accept that parenting is a pretty intense and demanding job.

There are many different family systems and many different parenting styles. Those systems and styles need to be adapted and adjusted accordingly. The one concept that is not negotiable is being responsible and involved with one's children.

Children under eighteen who are living at home should have a curfew, especially during the school week. That curfew should be shaped around age, social maturity and what our children would like to do.

A curfew should not be rigid. If a teenager is conscientious, takes care of his/her schoolwork without incident and is consistently cooperative and responsible, it is totally appropriate that his/her curfew can be adjusted based on what he/she wants to do. Leaving a junior high or high school curfew open ended could be potentially dangerous.

One of our children's great social venues is "hanging out." For the most part, "hanging out" can be harmless, when it is after school or during the day on weekends. It clearly needs to be defined. Most businesses and neighborhoods do not rejoice at large groups of pre-teens and teenagers hanging out. Unfortunately, that kind of hanging out leads to trouble.

If we are talking about hanging out in a park, playing a sport in a school gym or engaging in an activity, that is a different circumstance. Those settings usually have some kind of supervision present. They also do not tolerate illegal social behavior like drugs, alcohol or smoking.

The nights and weekends are every parent's nightmare. Where are our children going and with whom? How are they getting there and when they get there will they be reasonably supervised?

These social circumstances are polarizing parents everywhere. There are parents that are so controlling that they are repressive and force their children to lie and scheme. There are other parents that are so laid back that one wonders who is the parent, the adult or the teenager?

Needless to say, we as parents need to find a responsible balance. Defining that balance becomes complicated and at times exceptionally stressful, depending on the age of your child.

It is not appropriate for teenagers under eighteen who are living at home to have no curfew on the weekend. During the week, there should be some family structure and interaction, i.e. an evening meal, conversation, home time and bedtime.

On the weekend, as a parent, you have a right and an obligation to know where your teenager is at all times. Not to be like a reform school warden, but hopefully in a way that our children realize our concern and support.

Our children should not be in settings without some kind of supervision. Even with supervision, disastrous things are happening, but at least we might help them to be less.

House parties need adult supervision. Teens that are invited and those who are not invited show up with material that is illegal and could create other difficulties.

We have a growing number of parents of high school students who tolerate underage drinking. The attitude is that "they are going to drink anyway, so at least at my house they won't be allowed to drink and drive." Although noble on one level, on a more fundamental level that kind of thinking is reckless and potentially lethal.

No parent has the right to make social choices for another parent's child unless they have spoken directly with the other parent. Most teenagers despise their parents calling other parents to check out the social parameters of the party. Unfortunately, there is little or no communication in that area.

Our children are very effective at convincing us that we are ruining their social lives by interfering. They use the line that "if you really trust me, you will take me at my word."

Every parent wants to trust and believe his or her teenager. Unfortunately, sometimes our children have a very impaired understanding of trust, honesty and being responsible.

The bottom line is: if you are living at home and you are under eighteen, you have the right to differ and challenge your parent's guidelines. However, unless what they are doing or saying borders on abuse or immorality, you really are obliged to comply or take the consequences.

Parents need to be clear on their social expectations. They need to be reasonable on their expectations as well as reasonable on the consequences for non-compliance. As parents, we need to be consistent. In English, we need to do what we say!

Sleepovers are the other challenging social venue. You must be sure there will be parental supervision. You should confirm that with a parent. Even good kids make poor choices.

TJ is a sophomore in high school. He is a good student and athlete. He does not smoke or drink. He comes from a good family. Last fall, he and his buddies decided to have a sleepover at a friend's house. The parents were away for the weekend. They all got permission from their parents. They were all dropped off. The family car was in the driveway as the boy's parents had taken a trip by plane.

Each boy convinced his parents that there was no need to call and confirm. Each parent trusted their son.

The boys gathered. There was no drinking or drugging, but they did take the family's car out in the middle of the night. None of the boys had legal drivers' licenses. They were speeding and did not navigate a curve in the road. They had a terrible car accident. The boys all lived, but each has a permanent injury that has altered the course of his life forever!