Most of what we’ve said about
the middle-school years can be said again, underlined,
then highlighted, for the high-school years.
Teens are more mobile and more
immersed in their own peer society. They may stay out of the
house — in after-school activities, part-time jobs, or just
hanging with friends — most of the day. And when they are home,
they may spend time barricaded in their rooms, shut off from
the family by closed doors and a wall of loud music.
It’s hard for parents not to
wonder what they’re up to — and hard, sometimes, not to assume
the worst. Your ability at this point to shape your teen’s life
depends on the foundation of mutual trust and respect you’ve
built your relationship on. And whether we like it or not, their
ability to emerge as independent, competent adults depends on
our willingness to let them make increasingly independent choices.
Suddenly, there’s a lot about
your teen’s life that you’ll know for sure only if they’re willing
to tell you. Trying to establish whether or not you’re being
told the truth can be futile and may even create further conflict.
You may have to accept the fact
that you won’t always know where or how or with whom they spend
their free time.
Still, you should still be clear
about your own values, preferences, and house rules. This is
the basis of your working relationship in the home, and for exerting
whatever leverage you can in helping to shape your child’s life.
Remember, though, that you may
not be in a position to extend your rules very far beyond the
confines of your home. You may not have the information or the
physical control to ensure that your rules are followed or enforced.
But there are ways to continue to get your message across.
- Let your teen know what you
expect. It then becomes
his or her job to live up to your realistic expectations. That
task probably isn’t compatible with drinking or drug use. By
communicating, you develop a framework for ensuring that expectations
are met. You may not always be able to see whether your teen
is drinking or using drugs, but you can tell if he or she is
keeping other rules.
- Discuss and develop family
rules together. Your
job as a parent is easier if your children understand the need
for rules that reflect your values and preferences. You’ve done
your job as a parent if they can acknowledge the fairness of
limits you set on their behavior. Work to build this kind of
relationship, realizing that you won’t always be fair and patient,
and your kids won’t always understand. Also, realize that your
rules will need to evolve as your kids do.
- Avoid power struggles. Focus on behaviors that are important
to you and the family (like staying in school) no matter what
else comes up. Emphasize your teen’s responsibility for school
work, attendance, grades, and conduct, whether they work part-time
or not. Responsibility for household duties and for cooperating
at home are important, too.
- Be sure of the consequences
you’re willing to impose.
If your child breaks house rules, set consequences in a firm,
clear, and impersonal way. By “impersonal,” we don’t
mean uncaring or cold; simply let your child know that a rule
was broken or your expectations weren’t met, and you have to
set limits or impose consequences as a result.
- Don’t degrade, judge, or
diagnose the child. Never
try to convince your kids that they’re bad, crazy, or stupid.
That’s not fair — and it usually isn’t even true.
Whenever you have to impose discipline,
make it flow as a natural consequence of the misbehavior itself.
Don’t store up resentments, then unload “consecutive sentences”
for minor misdeeds that you didn’t bother to correct when they
occurred. Negative reinforcement only works if it immediately
follows an infraction. In building character and accountability
in your young person, justice delayed really is justice