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Families Are Works In Progress

Are you being held hostage by your teenager? In the present climate, how does one parent one's son or daughter? What rules are appropriate? What about boundaries and parental expectations? How involved should you be ...

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Are you being held hostage by your teenager? In the present climate, how does one parent one's son or daughter? What rules are appropriate? What about boundaries and parental expectations? How involved should you be in your son or daughter's life? If the truth be told, the list of parental concerns could be endless. Our society does not make it easy.

Once your son or daughter reaches the magic age of sixteen, our society provides little or no help. Technically, the emancipation age was moved to eighteen. On paper, if you have an out of control teenager you should be able to see the support of the Family Court and Probation Department.

Unfortunately, before the recent law changed, they were understaffed and under funded. Now they are overwhelmed. Parents who are desperate are getting little to no assistance.

There is a teenage underground operational in every town that is disseminating information about teenage rights. It is a network that encourages non-compliance, defiance and parental intimidation. Too many parents are being held hostage by this misguided band of teenagers.

No one is more of an advocate for teenagers than yours truly. I have spent twenty-five years working on creative alternatives to empower kids to be who they want, stay out of jail and reconcile with their families.

If their families are dysfunctional and lethal, I am among the first to advocate for a respite from the home and/or for other loving, giving alternatives to a destructive home life.

What constitutes an unhealthy home life? Clearly, an environment that puts a teenagers emotional and physical life in jeopardy is not healthy. Physical and sexual abuse is not healthy. Living with parents who actively use illegal drugs or consistently abuse alcohol could be a very unhealthy environment that demands a life change.

However, parents who have rules that are reasonable are not abusive. It is not unreasonable to expect your high school age son or daughter to be home for dinner, be drug and alcohol free and come in at a reasonable time. It is not unreasonable to expect your high school student to go to school every day, attend every class and be respectful. It is not unreasonable to deny overnights during the school week, especially if your son or daughter is a marginal and/or weak student.

It is not wrong to expect your high school student to speak to you respectfully, without vulgar interjections. It is not wrong to expect your high school student to pitch in around the house. He or she should not be the maid, but should make a reasonable contribution to the household.

It is not unreasonable to expect to have some kind of substantive conversation with your son or daughter each day. You are not a warden and should not interrogate him or her each time you connect. That approach will only cause distance. If you want your son or daughter to share, be prepared to hear without judgment, shame and blame. You don't have to like or condone what you hear, but you don't want to stifle those difficult conversations either.

As a parent, you have the right to an opinion. You have a right to express a concern. However, be careful not to condemn or put down someone or something your student values or respects. That too will cause distance between you.

As a parent, you want to create a climate of openness so that your child will always feel free to come to you, no matter what the issue. Coming to you with a delicate issue and you listening, does not mean that you are condoning or approving. What it does mean is that you are listening and caring.

Openness does not imply that your son or daughter is in charge or in control. Do not let them hold you captive. Don't cave into the "everybody's doing it" syndrome or the "Mike's parents are cool" syndrome, those are attempts to break you down and make you feel guilty.

You are in charge. There is nothing wrong with changing your mind and/or changing your position as long as it is for the right reasons and not because your child made you feel guilty or inadequate as a parent.

There is no one manual for parents that has all the answers. Each family has to fine-tune their approach in a way that works for them. Be consistent. Have rules that are reasonable and enforceable. Be clear on the sanctions for non-compliance. Make sure those sanctions are fair and reasonable. Have a flexible curfew and flexible family rituals that fit the rhythm of your family. Don't let other people define your family. You define what is right for you and call your children to those expectations.

Remember, it is not about perfection. It is about progress. Healthy families are works in progress. They are growing, changing and learning each day.

MJ was sixteen and a junior in high school. By traditional definition, a good kid. However, once he turned sixteen, he thought all family rules were suspended and no longer applied to him. He held his parents hostage. They felt powerless. They felt embarrassed. So, they tolerated his out of control behavior. Every time they tried to hold him accountable, he threatened to run away and never come back. As parents, they were petrified.

By the end of junior year, MJ was staying out all weekend and getting drunk with his friends. One Saturday, he snuck out of his house in the middle of the night and took the car without permission. He and his friends were under the influence. They went joy riding and had a tragic accident. MJ hit a tree and one of the three boys in the car was killed. MJ is in jail serving time for vehicular manslaughter. The family who lost their son is forever destroyed. MJ and his family are forever burdened. It did not have to be that way.

Parents need to re-claim their children and parent them, even if it hurts.