Parenting tweens and teens can make you say crazy things. If you are shocked at hearing your mother’s or father’s voice coming out of your mouth when you have toddlers, just imagine what you’ll be saying when you have big-kid problems. I guarantee, “You are grounded for the rest of your life,” will be said at least once in your house.
In the heat of the moment, tweens and teens can get you so frustrated that you make wild and empty threats that often backfire. “That’s it, you’re not going to the Packer game on Sunday” can translate to the whole family not going to the Packer game on Sunday because you don’t trust leaving her at home alone.
Clearly, you have to think these things through!
For starters, give yourself and your teen a 30-second time out (think, cease-fire) so you can take a few deep breaths and think through your next steps. Second, when things have calmed down, come up with a set of house rules that lists expectations and consequences so you don’t have to think on your feet the next time you are in mid-conflict.
My favorite set of house rules is from the movie "10 Things I Hate About You," as delivered by the perennially paranoid obstetrician to his teen daughters: “The two house rules are, Number 1: No dating ’til you graduate. Number 2: No dating ’til you graduate.” When they complain about its unfairness, he says, "the deep slumber of a father whose daughter aren’t out being impregnated.”
If you haven’t seen this movie, it’s worth checking it out. Later in the movie, when the daughters are dating anyway, the dad gives them these instructions: “No drinking. No drugs. No kissing. No tattoos. No piercing. No ritual animal slaughter of any kind.” To me, that sums up every parent’s hopes for a wholesome date, so I kept it in my back pocket for future use.
Ultimately, I had to come up with my own house rules during my daughter's sophomore year when she had her first boyfriend. I found those rules recently when going through an old folder, and I have to admit I’m not completely mortified by them. Some might say they are a bit strict, but dating was new for us, and a scary prospect for my husband and me. (By the way, we live in a part of town where kids congregate in our Village or park, and the early events I refer to were usually swim meets):
- Curfew of 11 p.m. but that may be moved up if there’s an early event the next day.
- The Village is okay in a group and before dark. After dark, go to someone’s house.
- A parent must be present in the house for any mixed group get-togethers.
- Phone off at 11:30 p.m. unless there’s an early event the next day.
- No riding in cars with anyone other than a parent (or older sibling with our permission).
- Solo dates must be in a public place other than a park or in the Village (movie, museum, bowling, mall, skating rink, etc.).
I don’t have the list of consequences any longer, but I suspect they all had to do with her cell phone or being grounded.
The key is keeping the rules specific to your teen’s circumstances. That may mean updating them from time to time. A year after I wrote the rules above, when my daughter and most of her friends were driving, the rules had to reflect that terrifying prospect.
When word got out that some kids in my daughter's class were drinking, her school’s athletic code of conduct was enough to keep my daughter in line, but I added some additional clauses: If you are out with friends and feel uncomfortable with what’s going on, you can pretend to feel sick and call us for a ride. That means any time, day or night, we will pick you up somewhere with no questions asked. She appreciated an easy escape without having to get her friends in trouble.
Believe me, you will know what are the critical hot buttons for yourself and for your teen. For us, our conflicts always revolved around dating. For others, it’s going to be smoking, gaming, the wrong crowd or drugs.
Finally, keep the rules in line with your teen’s actual behavior, not the rest of his peers’. You will be bombarded with messages from school and the media about all of the horrible things teens are doing. You know your child best and what he’s up to. If you think the worst, he may prove you right. If you think the best (but stay aware), he may reinforce that impression with his maturity and good decision-making.
Maureen Connors Badding is a Wauwatosa freelance writer, mom and habitual volunteer.