Parents, there are some of you who give your teenagers rules and consequences, but are very fair about it. Bravo! Keep it up.
There are some of you who have completely rigid rules for your teenagers. You are grounding them all the time, and your adolescent can’t even remember the last time you had fun together.
There are still others of you who really want to be “cool” moms and dads. You’re the parents who let your teenagers have parties at your house and you just stay upstairs. You know it isn’t right, but you just don’t feel comfortable setting limits with your teenager.
This post is geared toward overly strict and overly permissive parenting styles. If you’re overly strict, there’s a decent chance your teenager feels criticized at every turn. They really don’t know how to please you. On the other hand, if you’re letting them do whatever they want, consider who will teach them about life. Since it isn’t you, they’re going to learn it from their peers. This means other teenagers are raising your teenager.
Setting limits for children is an essential part of helping them feel loved. When they are two years old you might let them run around on the driveway, but you stop them from going into the street. As they get older, they get more and more room. By the time they are teens, they ideally are allowed a lot of say in their activities. However, when they might metaphorically run into the street, you still stop them.
Here’s an example. It’s great for teens to date. Just as small children “pretend” to do adult activities, such as play house, teens “play” at adult romantic relationships. They are learning! It’s really good for them to do this while they still live in your house and you can guide them. However, if you see them heading into something that is beyond their ability to manage, you stop them. Here’s an example of what I mean: even though it’s a good idea for teens to date, it’s not a good idea for teens to have sex. Any teen will tell you the physical risks that come with sex such as pregnancy and disease. What they can’t articulate is the emotional risks that come with sex. You, as an adult who has had sex, do understand the emotional risks associated with being sexually active with someone. You understand the connection that occurs, and the emotional pain that comes if that bond is broken.
An overly strict parent will not allow their teen to even date at all because they don’t want their adolescent child anywhere near sex. An overly permissive parent not only looks the other way if their child becomes sexually active, they might even allow the teenager’s partner to spend the night at their house. A parent who teaches their child how to date without allowing their child to be sexually active is one who is allowing their teenager to explore who they are becoming, while lovingly placing protective limits on their teenager’s behavior.
Teen dating and sexuality is just one example. The real point is to help you understand where to set limits on everything your teenager does. Allow them a bigger area to roam as they earn your trust, and as they can handle it. Don’t be so strict that while you protect them from any failures, they are not learning how to live life. Don’t be so permissive that while they might like you better, they are exposed to things beyond their adolescent years. Find the middle ground that keeps you in charge as the parent but lets your child develop; this is loving your teenager well.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT