Protecting your teenagers

By: Sue Blaney

Jackass stunts, high school hazing and herd mentality. How can parents of teenagers protect kids from doing stupid things?

The video clips are disturbing indeed. The melee that occurred in north Chicago was competing for air time with the Sarasota, Florida boys who jumped off a 5 story building into a swimming pool. “Why would they do that?" parents ask. And their next question, stated out loud or not, is “Would my teenager do stupid things like this?"

There are no guarantees. Group mentality has affected people for centuries. The adolescent sense of invincibility wasn’t invented with this generation. Thrill seeking is embedded in our culture. What are parents to do?

I have a friend whose son was arrested for arson. Another whose daughter was arrested for shoplifting, and yet another whose daughter ran off to live with her boyfriend in a crack house. Are these bad parents? Knowing them, I can say they are not. Do good parents have kids that do stupid or dangerous things? No question about it. What are parents to do?

I say it’s time for parents to practice some “herd" mentality and get together to make a difference. It’s too easy for parents to be isolated. It’s too easy for our teenagers, who may think they are invincible, to humble parents into “non-action."

Non-action is unacceptable.

Parents will not always be able to keep our kids safe. Parents will not always be listened to, or obeyed. But parents who don’t make an active attempt to keep the communication open, to express and teach their values, to apply some rules and boundaries, are guilty of abandonment.

A majority of teenagers in America live in households where the parents exercise minimal – if any - authority. Exercising authority isn’t always easy. But imagine if the parents got together and talked. Imagine the power parents could have if they created a forum to enhance their connectedness and their communication. That’s how safety nets are formed. Imagine how it could increase the chances of keeping our kids safe.

When do kids become responsible? When do they no longer need to be protected from themselves? My daughter is quick to point out that not all kids do stupid things like jump into pools from five stories up. Thank heavens for that. But even “good kids" do stupid things occasionally. What can parents do to keep them safe?

The answers will only come from parents who take the time to sort through the challenges themselves. Those who grapple with the issues, the questions. Those who are willing to live in the messiness, the ambiguities, the challenges and opportunities that come with raising teenagers. It’s a big effort. Are your kids worth it?

Parents should do this together. We should dig in, discuss, argue even how to raise our teenagers. The answers will come when we spend the time to examine the questions. Our positions become clear and easier to articulate and defend when we’ve discussed them together. We don’t have to agree on how we handle things, but our teenagers benefit when we’ve invested time and energy into a thoughtful examination of how we’re raising them. No parental isolation allowed. Herd mentality… talking and doing things together. We can take a page out of the teenagers’ book.

You’ve got to dig in and engage. What are your rules, and why? What limits are negotiable? Which ones aren’t? What does your kid think of them? Have you helped him/her figure out how he can live within the rules? What are his escape hatches? Does he buy into your belief system? Is she likely to engage in some of these stupid maneuvers?

There are no guarantees. Our kids are likely to surprise us – and not always for the better. Chances are they will make some mistakes along the way. But the best chance they’ll have is when their parents dig in, engage with them, establish a support and communications network in the community, and let them know we are there for them. Short of that, you’re leaving a lot up to chance.

Sue Blaney

Sue Blaney is the author of Please Stop the Rollercoaster! How Parents of Teenagers Can Smooth Out the Ride, a guide for parents and self-facilitated discussion groups. She is reachable at www.PleaseStoptheRollercoaster.com.
Copyright Sue BlaneyFree Reprint Articles, 2003

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