The challenge of being a parent today is that life is not black or white. Most of life and parenting decisions have to be made in the gray. Twenty-five years ago computer technology was not mainstream. The Internet did not exist. Drugs and alcohol had a different life and a different focus.
The parenting network twenty-five years ago was very different. There was a greater camaraderie among parents, teachers and community. Today we battle adult rage and double standards in every arena of life.
Parenting is a complex enterprise. With the birth of your first child, you do not receive a parenting manual. Most of us have learned whatever parenting we use through trial and error. Sometimes our decisions were life giving, other times they were disastrous, especially when we elected to keep silent.
If you hope to be an effective parent today, your focus must be on progress, not perfection. You cannot be a part-time parent. You must be proactive and involved in every aspect of your son or daughter's life.
The model of parenting grounded in "go with the flow" or "take it as it comes" is a formula for disaster. Change is too rapid. Our children are constantly being exposed to new ideas and new experiences before we as parents can even process the experience.
Many of our children have convinced us that we are the "nerds of nerds" and that as parents in the year 2004, we are clueless. They are so effective in convincing us that we are nuts that our judgment is impaired and our decision-making is paralyzed.
Life is challenging and dynamic. However, every parent has the right and the obligation to be the principle architect of his or her own family. The world and other people should not dictate to us what is right and wrong. As parents, we should set those standards for our children.
We must be careful to practice what we preach and not live by a double standard. Our children are as sharp as they can be. They can see a phony or someone who lives by a double standard a mile away.
Therefore, parents need to think about family rules and what is and is not acceptable for one's family. As a parent, where do you stand on recreational drug use, underage drinking, driving illegally, teenage sex, cutting school and curfews, just to name a few volatile parent-child issues.
What are appropriate social boundaries for teenagers in high school? What about curfews and unsupervised parties?
If you are clear with your expectations, but your son or daughter is consistently rebellious and reckless, what should the consequences be? What do you do if your non-compliant child refuses to comply with the consequences for his or her choices?
Hopefully most of us won't have to cross the bridge of total non-compliance and defiance. If that painful circumstance faces you, don't cave in. There are alternatives and support systems that can help you manage the crisis without feeling totally powerless and/or like you must abandon your son or daughter.
The real tragedy of such a circumstance would be to do nothing and by your silence, sanction the non-compliance and recklessness. You can avoid such a social dilemma by taking your parental obligations seriously early on in the journey. When your children are very young, they should learn for every choice they make there is a consequence. As the child, they should quickly realize that you, as the parent, have every intention of holding them accountable for every choice made.
My experience supports that parents who are consistent and actively engaged in parenting their children from an early age rarely have to deal with every parents' nightmare: a teenager who is totally out of control and defiant.
Consistent parenting does not mean you will not have struggles and challenges, but that the likelihood of losing total control and any influence over your children will be substantially reduced.
Mr. & Mrs. Q. have three children. They are a hard working, middle class family. Their oldest is a girl who is a very successful first year college student. Their middle child is a boy, seventeen and on the run. Their youngest is a male, middle school student. Despite all the turmoil at home over his older brother, he is doing very well.
TJ is seventeen. He has an above average IQ. In early adolescence, he was diagnosed as suffering from ADHD. He began counseling and taking some medication, but resisted both. His parents hoped that things would get better. They didn't.
By the time TJ was fifteen, he was out of control. He was sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night, taking the family car, smoking pot and cutting class. His parents were beside themselves. They tried counseling and family intervention, but nothing worked.
Finally, the school filed a PINS petition. Under duress, TJ came to Family Court. The traditional protocol is to set up the least restrictive plan to empower the young person to be more compliant. Needless to say, TJ complied with nothing and got worse.
During this process, he became quite the expert at manipulating the system and getting over on people. He got so good at this that he began manipulating his parents to rescue him from being held accountable for his poor choices.
For the past two years, TJ has gone from program to program. Every time a program tries to hold him accountable for his poor decision-making, he runs and gets his Mom to make excuses for why it is not his fault.
Unfortunately, he ran once too often. His presiding judge had had it. TJ is now seventeen and more out of control than he was at fifteen. Part of that is due to a system that is inept and a family that has rescued and made excuses for a young man who has never been held accountable.
The boy has tremendous potential. Although his parents mean well, they have sabotaged any chances of his rehabilitation and/or recovery. He is still on the run and when caught, runs the risk of being placed in a punitive setting, one that is secure rather than therapeutic, because his parents were unable to hold him accountable.