Monday, February 12, 2007

Raising Older Teens: Our "Only" Two Rules

Like most decent parents, we raised our four kids with a healthy dose of rules and structure combined with increasing freedom over time. Trust has always been the "default setting" in our family and the kids have known from the start that our trust is theirs to lose, that we trust them until and unless their behavior demands otherwise. And other than a few small hiccups, they have never betrayed that trust and, even when we'd rather not really and truly know all the details what they've been up to, they choose to tell us anyway. Raising kids with truly open trust and communication isn't always the easiest way to go because you have to be ready to know things you might not be ready for, but it feels to us like the most real way -- and really the only right way for us.

Which brings me to the only REAL rules we have around here anymore, now that the kids are older teens and young adults:

1.) Do not combine a motor vehicle and alcohol in ANY way -- as a driver OR as a passenger. If you drink (and of course we'd rather they didn't, but honestly, what 17 or 20-year-old doesn't?!), do NOT get near a car. Spend the night, call us, walk, do whatever... but do NOT get near a car. Defiance of this rule has no warning and no chances -- your drivers license (car, insurance, etc.) WILL be taken away indefinitely. The kids know this and although we'd of course prefer they don't drink, we'd rather they LIVE.

2.) Do not have unprotected sex until you want to become a parent. Fortunately, our kids are mature and responsible about relationships, so this one isn't that hard. But it's amazing how difficult this one is for some parents. Preventing their kids from having sex becomes some sort of obsessive mission and in the quest to discover/prevent sexual activity, a whole lot of lies are told and a whole lot of trust is betrayed -for everyone involved. Heck, I'd much rather appeal to my teens to be mature and responsible (and preferably committed) than to insist that they share every facet of their increasingly independent lives with us (or to motivate them to hide them from us). Again, the default setting is trusting that they're making wise, intelligent, SAFE decisions. And coincidentally (or not), they pretty much do.

Potentially life-altering decisions -- like driving drunk or having unprotected sex -- somehow become the focus of parenting (or at least of of ours) when kids become teens. Where it used to be "no TV till home work is finished" and "load your dish," it's now concentrated on behavior that can basically alter a life, like driving drunk or getting pregnant or contracting an STD.

I can handle a hung-over teen WAY better than a paralyzed one... and I can handle the knowledge that my teen is having sex WAY better than I can handle being an early grandparent. (See... it's ultimately all selfishly motivated!)

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Betsy said...

Very wise and well put. Man, am I ever dreading the teenage years.... :-P

Anonymous said...

Good advice. I'm going to have to remember these. Since my daughter is only two, hopefully I'll have a while before I have to think about them.


EuroTrippen said...

My eldest daughter just turned 14 and I can't tell you how thankful I am that in germany they aren't allowed to drive until 18, and even then it's not really necessary.

Now all I have to worry about is unprotected sex... oy!

vailian said...

Lionel was about to turn 16, the age at which you can buy alcohol here, and wanted to have a party at the house. I consented, but said I wanted to lay down a few rules: A keg of beer was allowed, but I didn't want any heavy sustained drinking; there was to be no smoking (a lot of his friends smoke); no drugs.. and things had to get quiet by 2am. He listened patiently and said, "OK... but we can have sex, right?"
It is not so easy to shock me speechless, but that did it... thinking back to my own childhood in a tiny town in western Nebraska, at his age I think I was still intently studying the graffiti in the park toilets to try to figure out what sex was, and had come to the conclusion that it was a strange and rare phenomenon, only practiced in huge distant metropoli like Omaha.

Maria said...

Ack!!! I am going to have to save this somewhere, because the boy is just four months old, but this post would be great to have for reference in about...oh... 14 years or so! Thank you!

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