In our last Teen article, we discussed some times to stay out of a teen's life. Here, we will turn that around and talk about when it's really important to be in your teenager's life. Your presence is required in the area of setting boundaries. You can call these limitations, rules or even guidelines for your child.
The responsibility of guiding your child's life is critical and one that you cannot avoid. It certainly won't be easy as teens resist having limitations put on them in any area. And your teen will go out of her way to get around these limitations and to get around you!
Here are some tips for setting rules.
1. Say them out loud and be clear. Never assume that your child knows that "we always do this and you know it!" If you have a requirement of your teenager, pick a time when you are not angry, and give them your instructions in as few words as possible. Tell them what, when and how. Here are some examples taken from real people I know! Your rules will be different according to what you do at your house. But this will give you an idea to start with.
Before you put your make-up on in the morning, you will clean the litter box. You must do this every day. (This for a 13-year-old who desperately wants to wear make-up to school.) Her mother keeps her make-up bag until she sees that the litter box has been cleaned.
As soon as we finish supper, you will clear the table and load the dishwasher, every weeknight. (This girl gets weekends off.)
Before you can leave the house with friends on Friday or Saturday, your room must be cleaned and vacuumed. (Be sure to define clean.)
You may not talk on the phone after 10:00 p.m. on school nights and after 12:00 a.m. on weekends.
Before you can work on your car, you must take out the trash every evening.
You must be home by 11:00 p.m.
you and your friends change locations, you must call
home and let us know where you will be.
Remember that some rules are temporary. When our girls were learning to drive, we didn't allow them to drive with friends in the car or drive with the radio on. Obviously, we lifted those restrictions as their experience grew. As they grew older, we allowed them to stay up later, even talk on the phone later, as long as they got up on time for school and did not disturb us. (I have to have my beauty sleep!) We made exceptions to curfew for special school functions or some church activities.
2. Be consistent in enforcing your rules. If you truly want your daughter to keep her curfew, then you have to be standing at the door making sure she is home at the right time. I work with lots of parents that want their children to behave, but don't want to do the work involved in making sure that they do.
My favorite example of this was a mother who brought her 14 year old daughter in for counseling. The "problem" was that the daughter would not stay home in the evenings. I told the mother that she could just stand in front of the door and refuse to let her daughter leave. But the mother insisted that she worked hard all day and needed to "go out" and enjoy herself.
She wanted the teenager to stay home and take care of younger children. I wanted to shake this mother until her teeth rattled. The daughter was just acting like a child with no boundaries. And the mother wasn't willing to forgo her own pleasure to enforce them. Being a parent is hard work and don't you ever forget it. If you are going to set rules, you must be willing to be present to see that they are obeyed.
3. Don't lecture. Teens will tune you out the minute they sense a lecture coming on. "When I was your age..." My guess is that when you were their age, you weren't worried about AIDS or fellow students shooting you in the hall at school.
My mother was raised in northern Kansas close to the Nebraska line. She used to continually tell me about how cold it was on their farm, doing chores in the winter, breaking the ice in the milk bucket and walking to school in the snow. At the time, we lived in Houston, Texas, in a suburban neighborhood. I looked out my window to concrete streets and more buildings. I longed to even see some snow and thought cows were probably cute.
Her lectures went right past me and often caused us heartaches. (This was during the age of mini-skirts and go-go boots. Good grief...) You may never close the "generation gap." That's ok. Don't even try while they are teens.
4. Don't explain. At least not while he is supposed to be mowing the lawn. As long as you are explaining, he is not doing his chore. Let your teen know that you will be glad to give them an explanation on their time. You want them to understand responsibility and being reliable. But not until after she is finished with those dishes.
In addition to making your life easier during these difficult years, remember that teens need these boundaries and guidelines. This will give them the security that they need during these turbulent years. They may be angry with you, but they will never doubt that you care about them.
Setting some specific rules can give your teen an "out" if they need one. I told my children that they were always free to make me and their Dad "the bad guys." And sometimes they did. When they were caught in a bind, they assured their cronies that their Mother would be furious if they went to a certain place. I was often painted as even more strict (and probably hateful!) than I really was. And sometimes I didn't learn about this until years later.
Remember that setting boundaries for your teen teaches them to eventually set boundaries for themselves. They learn to respect privacy, another person's space and belongings, and to be on time. They learn what it means to trust and be trusted and how important those are in our lives. These are all signs of maturity and areas where we long for our children to be adults. It will take a lot of practice and they won't learn these things without it. Be prepared to be "the bad guy" in your child's life for a few years. It will eventually pay off and someday your daughter may just come up and thank you for this demonstration of your love.
With all my heart,