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Rights, privileges and responsibilities: Sorting out which is which around teenagers and parties

Parents want nothing more than to give their child the best life they can – the phrase I hear more than any other is “I want them to have so much more than I ever did.” I’m sure that this does not necessarily mean that the parent concerned had a ‘bad life’ or that their parents didn’t try to do the best for them, it’s just part of the human condition to simply ‘want more’. We live in a material world dominated by social media where it’s incredibly important to have the most up-to-date smartphone, the biggest plasma television currently available and whatever other electrical appliance is all the range at that time. Where once these sort of things were something an adolescent earned and were viewed as ‘privileges’, many young people (and surprisingly some of their parents) now regard them as their ‘right’ and as a result, in my opinion, we are seeing some pretty concerning shifts in parent-child relationships.

The important thing to remember about ‘privileges’ is that they come with a range of ‘responsibilities’ – certain things one has to do to earn what you want and also to keep it. Sometimes these can come in the form of  ‘rules’ but they can just as easily be some basic expectations that are attached to the privilege that an adolescent has been given.

Late last year a US mum, Janell Burley Hofmann, made headlines across the world when she gave her 13 year old son Greg an iPhone for Christmas, along with an 18 point contract that he had to sign before he received it! The contract began as follows:

Dear Greg

Merry Christmas! You are now the proud owner of an iPhone. Hot Damn! You are a good & responsible 13 year old boy and you deserve this gift. But with the acceptance of this present comes rules and regulations. Please read through the following contract. I hope that you understand it is my job to raise you into a well rounded, healthy young man that can function in the world and coexist with technology, not be ruled by it. Failure to comply with the following list will result in termination of your iPhone ownership.

You can find the whole list of rules on Janell’s website and there is a great YouTube video featuring both mum and son being interviewed on the topic which is great, if for nothing else just watching Greg’s response to how he felt when he received the contract! There is an element of tongue-in-cheek in some of the contract items but essentially what the mother is trying to instil in her son is the whole idea of responsibilities accompanying a privilege, or as she so beautifully puts it – “with the acceptance of this present comes rules and regulations.”

More and more I am meeting parents who are starting to buckle under pressure to regard items such as smartphones and computers, as well as attendance at teenage parties on a Saturday night, as their teen’s right and, unfortunately, no longer see them as a privilege. When this happens a seismic shift in the parent-child relationship occurs, particularly if it happens early in adolescence. It’s no surprise that a teen believes it is their right to have the best smartphone available, but it becomes a major problem when their parent starts believing that this is the case. Of course you want the best for your child, but you also want them to have some basic values and appreciate what they have – if they get given everything and they believe that it is their right to have these things they’re going to experience some pretty upsetting times in the future (that is, unless you continue to give everything their little heart desires into the future … what a terrifying thought!).

Giving them everything they want without question also alters the way your child sees you – you may be the parent who put on the big party where alcohol was tolerated and see yourself as your son’s or daughter’s best friend, but sooner or later that teen is going to want and need a parent. They will need a person who sets boundaries and rules, who provides direction and support – in the short term, being a best friend who gives them what they want may seem like a great way to go, but in the long term, it is the parent who wins out!

When it comes to attending a party (or gathering) on a Saturday night, my views on the topic are simple – I believe that young people should go to teenage parties – that is where they learn to socialise but they should only go when their parent knows as much about the event as possible. When a 15 year old starts talking about their right to attend they need to be reminded that going to a party is a privilege and there will be certain responsibilities that they will need to accept and follow that accompany their attendance.

I am not for one minute suggesting that all parents start developing contracts around all adolescent behaviour, particularly teenage parties (although I have been involved with some families where this has proven to be extremely useful), but it is extremely important that adolescents appreciate that going out on a Saturday night is a privilege, it is certainly not their right. It is also vital that they understand that it is a privilege that can be taken away from them should certain responsibilities not be met. These responsibilities (rules or expectations, whatever you want to call them) should be decided on by parents and teen together (top-down rules dictated by parents never work – this doesn’t mean your child makes the rules but meeting in the middle is often the best way to achieve a positive outcome) and of course, good behaviour should always be rewarded.

Some of our young people are so lucky. Don’t get me wrong, their life is so much more complex than ours ever were and there are so many new issues to consider now that were not even on the radar when we were young, but basically so many of them have access to things that we could only have ever dreamt about. Teaching them to appreciate all that they have, whether it be a lot or not so much, is a vital part of parenting. Sorting out privileges, rights and responsibilities with your child is incredibly important.

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