William at age 15 felt like he was grown up enough to make his own rules about where he was going and when he should come home. He thought it was unfair of his parents to place restrictions on him. “They shouldn’t treat me like a baby anymore,” he said. “After all, I’m fifteen years old.”
Kelli, too, felt like she could take care of herself. At 16, she was working at a part-time job, getting decent grades at school, and didn’t want her parents to impose a curfew on her. “I’m almost an adult,” she proclaimed. “I don’t need my parents or anyone else telling me what to do. I know what’s best for me.”
Gerald wasn’t much different from Kelli and William. He was 16, a sophomore in high school, and he knew he was capable of being an adult. When he was caught drinking and driving by his mother (fortunately, he was not stopped by the police, nor did he get into an accident), he resented her taking away his car privileges and grounding him.
“I’m too old to be treated like that,” Gerald protested. “Sure I made a mistake, but I can correct it on my own. I certainly don’t need my mother grounding me as if I were a little kid. It’s about time she started treating me like an adult.”
Most parenting experts say that parents should set limits, enforce consequences, and supervise their children closely. Certainly, most agree that younger children need the structure that comes with close parenting. Most middle school students benefit from parental limit-setting and structure. But, what about when you have a high school student? Should you still set limits, enforce consequences, and monitor their behavior very closely?
Those are the questions many parents ask. And teens like Gerald, Kelli, and William also think these are important questions. As these three adolescents indicated, they consider themselves as young adults and in their opinions they definitely don’t need punishments when they’ve made a mistake or consequences if they broke a rule.
But what are parents to do?
Most of us parents, by the time our kids get to be middle teenagers – around 14, 15, or 16 – begin to realize we are no longer in control of them. Often, as I realized with my son, at age 13 he was already taller, weighed more, and was stronger than I.
As children become adolescents, I think it is foolhardy for parents to think about control. Instead, you should be thinking more about cooperation and working together. You may want to enforce consequences, but you must realize that this can only be done through your teen’s acquiescence and their cooperation.
Hopefully, before you get to the point of trying to use punishments or consequences, it’s important to work out some of the fine points of how you and your teen are together are going manage to live together in peace and harmony. That necessarily involves communication and compromise.
If you have been gradually allowing your child more freedom and responsibility, by the time they are a middle teenager, they should be very clear about your expectations. They should know what pleases you and what disappoints you. And if you have been trying to maintain a friendly and harmonious relationship as they’ve been growing older, then you have not been trying to deal with them based on power and control.
This essentially means that as they have matured you have developed alternative methods for handling problems and been able to avoid getting stricter or imposing greater consequences. For instance, when your adolescent daughter comes in later than the curfew you’ve both agreed on, you are not likely to tell her she’s grounded. Instead, you will talk to her and ask her how this problem can best be handled so both of you get your needs met.
Of course, this is not always an easy process. But if you treat each other with respect and you both want to maintain a smooth relationship, then a solution that meets both of your needs – at least to some extent – will be found.