Am I being too lenient?
Both those questions came within minutes of each other after my Parenting the Texting Generation workshop this weekend in New York. Today’s parents seem to struggle finding a balance between being to hard and too soft on their kids. Most parents know that they need to “set the bar” somewhere, but the world’s bar is barely above sea level… and that’s making our job as parents very difficult today.
Let’s be honest. It’s hard to tell your 16-year-old girl she can’t go to the homecoming dance when every other girl from church (including the homeschooled kid) is going. On the other hand, how do you send your little girl to a dance where you know about 80% of the girls in the room aren’t even face-to-face with their dates… they’re “backing it up” to the guy groping them from behind while listening to the “clean version” of Sexy and I Know It.
How should parents go about setting biblical standards without pushing their kids over the edge?
In my conversations with parents tonight I found myself saying the same advice again and again, so I thought it might be good to put some of these broad principles in print.
Here’s a few principles parents should remember when setting guidelines:
- Relationship first. All the rest of the principles below are assuming that you’re already hanging out with your kids, listening to your kids, and engaging in activities with your kids that catalyst conversation. If your daughter likes yogurt, do “fro-yo” runs once a week with her and just listen to her heart. If your son likes french fries and pancakes (at the same time), frequent your local greasy spoon and listen to him as you both load up with senseless carbs. The “where” isn’t important. Just connect with your kids regularly so they feel loved, noticed and heard. That being said…
- Parents are in charge– teens aren’t (despite what the Disney Channel tells us). Yes, this generation seems to declare entitlement even more than past generations, but in most cases, parents still pay the cell phone bills, provide food and shelter (I listed those in order of priority for teenagers today)… so feel free to take away cell phones, cars, and revoke other privileges if your teenager doesn’t obey. Let me say it even more clear: a cell phone is a privilege, not a right. If your son or daughter is violating your trust, take away their cell phone. They’d prefer that you deny them water.
- Always clearly communicate your standards and the resulting punishment that you’ll enforce if said standards aren’t met. Sound simple? It should be; but sadly, most parents don’t do this. Just lay it out. Tell Jordon, “If you download another song without permission, I’ll take away your iPod and computer privileges for a month.” Or, “If you text after bedtime, you lose your phone for a month.”
- Take the time to follow up with the standards you set. If you say, “no cell phones after bedtime,” (a good standard) jump online to your cell phone provider’s web site randomly and check to see that no texts were sent during that time. If you tell your kids that you can read their Facebook account at any time (another good standard), then log on randomly and read through their posts, messages and various friends’ pages. You can learn a lot. Don’t set a standard if you don’t plan on following up with it.
- Follow thru with your clearly communicated punishment “with love.” It’s actually possible to enforce punishment without yelling. This is the same kid that you spend time with regularly (see #1 above). Don’t let their violation of rules stifle your time together. They should clearly see that nothing they do could separate them from your love and desire to listen to them.
These are just a few broad strokes to consider. They’ve helped me; they might help you.
I spend an entire chapter of my book, Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent talking about discipline and follow-through.