Each day, teenagers approach their parents with new scenarios about if they can drive here, or spend money there, or hang out with so-and-so. Parents of teenagers face the challenge of determining their child’s readiness to take on responsibilities and freedoms as well as knowing when they need to set appropriate limits.
For most parents, blanket recommendations about appropriateness due to age is not a good enough determiner. It is not the age of the adolescent, but rather understanding where the particular teen is developmentally, emotionally, and socially that are the better deciding factors. This is also why the same parents of two different teenagers may be accused of being “unfair” because they determine one outcome for one child and it is appropriately different than another outcome for the other child.
Dr. Ken Ginsberg recommends 3 questions that parents can memorize and use to determine the “whens” and “hows” for each unique scenario that will be presented in any given day by their teens.
Is it Safe?
As a responsible and loving parent, you know that you need appropriate boundaries to help you child reach independence safely. You know that having appropriate boundaries around curfew and driving that you can help your kids prevent problems. So, whatever the question posed by your teenage daughter, first do a gut-check. Is there something that makes you uneasy about the situation? If so, make an unwavering stand when safety is the concern. Your teen may say things like, “You baby me too much,” but do not be deterred when it comes to safety. Rather, take the attitude, “I cannot control all of the factors, but I will play the odds the best I can with my eyes wide open when it comes to safety.” Another way to get more buy in from your teenager may be to make friends with his parents and discuss some norms that you can agree on among yourselves. If you can do this, then you will perhaps not feel so alone in the thankless task of maintaining safety first.
Is it Practical?
Second, question if the request is practical. Knowing if the request falls appropriately into the family budget, schedule, or priorities can help determine the outcome. Without questioning your boundless love, it will help your child learn to plan ahead, to respect your time, delay gratification, or recognize that last minute requests are not always possible. If you know that they are going to weary you with the endless debates with one request after another, head off the argument in the beginning by holding limits due to practical reason such as “You can’t sleep over after trick-or-treating, because we have to drive to grandma’s house and be there by nine o’clock in the morning.”
Is it Moral?
Ask yourself if the answer to your child’s question is moral. Is it maintaining your family standards for what is right and wrong? Does it maintain your values of honesty or undermine the nonnegotiables such as under-aged drinking? The most powerful influence you will have setting limits due to moral reasons is if you behave consistently with the standards you wish your child to have. Teenagers are expert at spotting hypocrisy and holding it against you, so be congruent. Set high expectations for morality and common decency and your child will be more likely to reach the ideals.
As parents of teenagers, you want your child to be happy, working toward independence, and feel powerful to determine their future. However, you are not just making them happy for one moment by giving them what they want in the moment that they ask. You give a firm and unapologetic answer when safety and well-being are at risk. You are helping them be prepared for successful and balanced adulthood by controlling momentary pleasure that risks safety, learning to be practical, and develop a deep moral sense that considers how their actions impact others.