Dear Tom,
I’m a parent of a teenager. I continue to be amazed at how parents are afraid to say “No” to
their children. Actually, it is very sad when you see the end result. Can you please use this
month’s answer to reach out to all the parents and teens who battle this problem. I
know “Prom” time is coming up and the list of tempting opportunities for our teens is endless.
What encouragement or healthy guidelines can be given to parents?
Desperate

Dear Desperate,
Parenting a teenager can be the most challenging part of parenting and yet one of the most
rewarding times of parenting if done correctly. It is very natural and a part of the normal
developmental cycle for teenagers to challenge their parents when it comes to monitoring their
freedom. It is how a teen establishes their own personal identity and autonomy. It is also a
way in which they test the boundaries to see where they really are and find out what the real
consequences are for going beyond those boundaries. This can be very frustrating to parents
because they can not stop their teen from testing the limits and thus find themselves in a position
of having to implement consequences. If a parent is not sure what the consequences should be
and either comes down too hard or too easy, then they have subtly given permission to their teen
to try it again through either rebellion or choosing to do it because the consequence is “not that
bad”.
The real problem is that the rules and consequences for breaking them are not discussed ahead
of time. This happens way too many times because the parents have not first sat down and
discussed among themselves what the boundaries will be in the family. Because of this, they
have violated the principle of confident parenting. Teens will gamble then to see if the parent
really knows how to parent. If they don’t, then the teen takes control. Also, it is a way to see if
mom and dad are on the same page. There is a statement from a book of wisdom that goes like
this: “ Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For, if either of
them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not
another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one
be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him.” When both
parents are working together, even in a divorce situation, then their teen can feel more secure in
knowing the limits. So my first suggestion is for the two of you to sit down and decide what are
the limits and the consequences for breaking them. Next sit down with you teen and discuss with
them the rational of how you came up with those limits and consequences and be willing to
negotiate with them what consequences they feel would be fair and just. What you will
communicate then is respect for them and command respect for your self.
This brings me to the other two points I wish to make in this article that are the principles
of “trust” and “respect”. Both these principles are earned and developed mutually together.
Respect is something that is developed when we work at trying to understand each other. I
couldn’t even count how many times over the eighteen years that I have worked with teens that I
have heard the phrase, “My parents don’t understand me”. Understanding comes when we are
willing to sit down and listen each other. The willingness to listen and have a two-way
communication process will communicate mutual respect. If you don’t listen to your teen, they
won’t listen to you. Let your teen also know that if they are unwilling to listen you, they
communicate disrespect and thus don’t earn respect for themselves

The second point is trust. I could write several pages on this point. Trust is a valuable gift that
can easily be broken. There are two aspects in this area that I want to share. You first need to set
the example of trust to your teenager. “Do as I say, not as I do” never works. Have you broken
promises to them and then made an excuse? If so, they will follow your example. If you have set
a wrong example, be willing to apologize to your teen and let them know you made a mistake
and you bare the responsibility of that mistake. That would be a great example to set. The second
aspect is that trust is earned by making good decisions. A simple example of this is in the setting
of a curfew. When the curfew is met, trust builds. When someone proves themselves to be
trustworthy, by being responsible in word and deed, there is a demonstration of maturity and
more freedom and independence may to be granted. If they violate trust, then it shows a lack
of good judgement and you will need to sit down with your teen and discuss what happened.
Ask, “Why do you think this occurred? What do you think we should do now?” Once you’ve set
the penalty for breaking the trust in the first place, work toward rebuilding it. Never grant blind
trust. It will setup both you and your teen for some stormy times. All of us need to realize that
trust must be developed from a consistency of living with in the boundaries and being honest
with other people. With out trust, there is no real relationship.
I wish I could write more on this topic, but space limits me. Practice what I have shared
and you will be on your way of having a healthy mature relationship with your teenager.