Over the past two weeks, we’ve been talking about some of the many things teens need from their dad (and/or mom.) While this is the conclusion of our series, in reality, there’s no end to what our children need from us —or to how many times you might have to satisfy what looks like the same need. As you know (or soon will,) a 13-year-old is a very different from a 17-year-old, and the approach that works perfectly with one might flop with the other.
• Set clear, reasonable expectations and limits. Some activities (drugs, alcohol, R-rated movies) may not be acceptable in your home at all. Others, such as doing her own laundry, time spent with friends, screen time, and curfew, may be negotiable. If you don’t set limits, your child will go to her friends for support. The problem with that is that in most cases, those friends don’t know any more than she does. But because teens share a certain herd mentality with sheep, she’s likely to go along with what “everyone else” seems to be doing. Get her involved in coming up with the rules and setting the consequences. You enforce them.
• Give responsibility and encourage independence. This can mean everything from letting your teen babysit for younger siblings or neighborhood kids to letting him drive your car or helping investigate and plan overseas trips. Let him make his own decisions (within reason) and don’t bail him out unless you really need to. Teens, like the rest of us, learn a lot from making mistakes.
• Build financial independence. Sit down with your teen and chart out how much you expect to spend on clothes, cell phone, etc. over the next year. Then, give her 1/12 of that amount every month and let her make her own purchases. This teaches about money, gives her a lot of control, and reduces the amount of fights you’ll have over who’s paying for what or the difference between a need and a want. If you’re feeling adventurous, give her several months’ worth at a time. The catch is that if she blows it all on a Gucci gym bag, she may end up wearing the same tattered jeans for the next six months. Now’s also the time to get her set up with a checking/ATM account and to encourage her to start socking away some of her allowance or lawn-mowing money for a car.
• Choose your battles. Some things just aren’t worth arguing about, so don’t be afraid to compromise. Who cares what your teen wears, as long as it doesn’t smell. And if he doesn’t want to do his homework, great. Just as long as he knows that he’s responsible for maintaining his grades.
• Don’t take things personally. Your feelings are going to get hurt during this time. You’ll be challenged, told that you’re hated and that you’re an idiot. Fortunately, you aren’t alone in this, and eventually, your child will come around. As Mark Twain put it, “When I was 14, I couldn’t believe how ignorant my father was. By the time I turned 21, I was astounded at how much the old man had learned in just seven years.”
• Encourage community involvement. Volunteering at a recycling center or serving meals at a homeless shelter on Thanksgiving are important ways of reinforcing a sense that your teen is a citizen of a larger world. It’s crucial that you set a good example by doing some of the same activities. I still remember sitting down with my father and going through the dozens of solicitations he received from charitable groups and watching him write check after check to ones we both decided were most worthy.
• Keep in touch with your child’s teachers, coaches, counselors, and others. Chances are your child will hear that you’ve been snooping around but deep down, she’ll appreciate your concern.
Previously published on Mr. Dad
Photo: Getty Images