Recently, a friend on Facebook posted a link to a blog post titled, “5 Rules for Every Teenager.” These were 5 well intended, authoritarian rules along the lines of “I pay for your phone so it’s basically mine to do with as I please (cut it off, check it, etc. etc.), and I lock all prescription medication in a safe”, etc. etc. No one would disagree with the rules as logical, but the underlying messages kill relationship.
I’m not going to link it here, because I don’t want to offend the writer, who is a pastor, and most likely, with a big church behind him, and a team of moms of toddlers who would defend him. AND to his credit, at the very end, he wrote, “I don’t have teens.“ Since he isn’t the youth leader at his church, I can offer grace.
But there is a point to make.
Rules for teens should be based on trust.
Consider parenting in the younger years in a way that leads up to and prepares them for the teen years. If this wasn’t a focus, make it so now. Teens respond well and quickly to trust with connection.
Talk to them. Model for them. Be an influence in their life. Keep an open connection. Be available 24/7 if they need you. Use the power of natural consequences.
So, here are 3 ways to follow logic but kill your relationship with your teen:
1) Lock up the prescription medications. In a safe. At 16, they can’t really be trusted to make themselves a pizza instead of popping pills even if you have absolutely no reason to distrust them, they’ve never been caught before, and they’ve never been caught in your bathroom for no reason. Before your teen spends the night at a friend’s house, go over an hour before and hand out prescription pill safes, because, you never know when the first time will happen.
(Disclaimer: If they’re suicidal, or have proven in the past they steal from your pills, or addicted to alcohol, by all means put them and the Tylenol in the biggest safe you can find.)
2) Check the Phone. Make sure you check their phone every night when they go to bed. In fact, don’t even let them keep it in their room once they go to bed. Here’s the list to check every single night- all social media, all texts, all photos, all calls, and all passwords. Defcon 5, baby.
3) Follow them. Whether they are at school, or at a friend’s house, or driving around town with a shiny new license, follow them. They may be smuggling weed behind the cafeteria, or driving too fast to the nearest burger place.
You know what’s better than rules?
You know what’s better than relationship?
Natural consequences, respect for rules and for you and for themselves because they are connected to you.
When we push teens to “obey”, we create a power struggle that quite honestly, in the long run, doesn’t work. When we orient toward relationship, there’s always a way through and back when the tough stuff happens.
Because, as every mom of a child under the age of 23 knows – the tough stuff happens.
So, listen to your pastor’s advice, except when it comes to parenting… unless his kids are over the age of 30, employed, and on the other side of the tough stuff.
Thoughts welcome: When do teens deserve trust? How can they win it back?
Vikki Spencer, Mom Coach