One of the first things we notice as parents is that teens don’t respond well to the word “no.” Our once perfect, sweet little children turn into complete monsters at the mere mention of the “no” word. It’s almost as if the teen years are a horrifying repeat of the terrible twos, but without the relief of naptime.
Sure, there’s always the child who seems molded out of Stepford robot clay who does exactly as mom and dad say, when they say it. This child, straight from an Invasion of the Body Snatchers movie, never appears to challenge authority. Although I applaud any parent who has produced such a child, I also find such children a bit unsettling.
For most of us, there is at least a temporary period where the word “no” raises a red flag right in front of the good common sense of any teenager. As a result, the teen will buck any authority she perceives as controlling.
Controlling is the operative word. As teens navigate those turbulent years just before being declared a legal adult and being released into the world to make their own way, it is there job to learn how to make their own decisions and how to delineate which are their own thoughts and which have been planted like subliminal messages by their parents – and whether or not either is ok to hold on to. The last thing any teenager wants is to feel controlled by anyone other than herself.
So, the trick for us parents is to help our kids become assertive adults while keeping them in line. To do this we need, obviously, a lot of patience, combined with a huge amount of stamina, tempered with a bit of humility. One of the first things we learn as adults is that we don’t know a whole heck of a lot about much. Still, compared with teens, we know quite a bit. Kids are convinced that they know it all. It’s our job to let them discover what we already know – that there is still a heck of a lot to learn.
There is a way to balance a teen’s need to spread his or her decision-making wings without sacrificing our basic parenting tenets. To do so, as we’ve heard so many times, we have to pick our battles. Teens rarely respond to all-or-nothing parenting. Unlike the little darling who wanted to explore the hot stove, we can’t just say “no” and expect them to listen as if we are God-like. We’re not, and by now, they’re in on the sham.
Parents and their teens absolutely have to be crystal clear on the rules. Although there are generally such guidelines as a sensible curfew, rules about drinking and drugs, and rules about wardrobe and behavior, parents have to allow their kids to push the boundaries a bit in order to help them learn. Although we’d love to think that our kids are going to learn from our example of stability and complete reason, there’s no better teacher than experience.
A few years ago, as my daughter was just entering the teen years and beginning to spread her fashion wings, she got it in her head that she absolutely had to wear a pair of denim shorts and her new high-heeled wedge sandals to the grocery store. Although, to me, she looked like Nicolette Sheridan’s character, Edie Britt, from Desperate Housewives, she thought she was the epitome of haute couture.
Not long after we got to the store, she realized that she looked like Daisy Duke and regretted her foray into Hazzard County. And, although this is but a minor example of the ways that parents have to relax the rules a bit, it signifies the need for parents to let go. My daughter learned all on her own that some wardrobe malfunctions are avoidable.
Just as we have to pick our minor battles, we parents have to carefully plan our major battles as well. It’s ok to extend curfew if the occasion is a special one. It’s ok to grin and bear it when our sons and daughters bring a less-than-desirable pal home for dinner. The reality is that we’re not always going to like the choices our kids make, but we’ve got to give them the opportunity to make their own decisions. As long as we remain firm on the basics, such as no drinking, no drugs, and so on, we have to learn to extend privileges and rethink what may once have been set-in-stone rules.