“You need to remove one of his privileges – they need to understand that he has broken your rules and, as a result, he is going to lose something you have given him …”
“But what could I take away?”
“Maybe you could take his phone or another device off him for an evening.”
“Oh no, we couldn’t do that – he needs his phone. I need to know he’s safe and he needs his computer for homework.”
“Well, if he’s done something really wrong, maybe you could say he’s not going to the next party he’s invited to?”
“No, he’s a teenager, all his friends would be going – that’s really unfair. We wouldn’t feel comfortable with that!”
And so the conversation goes on and on … a mum or a dad speaking to me after a parent talk asking what they should do with their teenager who’s acting out. As I always say, I am not a parent and I’m certainly not trying to say this is an easy thing to do but the reluctance of many parents to remove privileges from their teens when they do something wrong and break rules is beyond me. Imposing terrible punishments (e.g., grounding your son or daughter for weeks at a time) on teens who’ve broken rules is not going to work (and also makes your life miserable!) but taking away something you’ve given them is going to be much easier, particularly if you make it very clear that they can earn it back again! Unfortunately, a teen’s understanding of what a ‘privilege’ (that thing they’ve been ‘given’ by their parent) actually is has become very blurred …
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 where due to the dominance of social media it’s incredibly important to have the most up-to-date smartphone, no matter what your financial situation is you must have 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 astonishingly some of their parents) now regard them as their ‘right’ and, as a result, we are seeing some pretty concerning shifts in parent-child relationships.
The important thing to remember about any ‘privilege’ we are given is that it comes with a range of ‘responsibilities’ – certain things one has to do to earn what it is that you wanted and keep doing to ensure that privilege is maintained. Sometimes these responsibilities can come in the form of ‘rules’ but as far as young people are concerned they can just as easily be some basic expectations that are attached to the privilege they have been given. Schools do this brilliantly – a great example is the establishment of a Year 12 common room, a specific area for that group alone. In many schools I visit these are managed by the students themselves, they eat their lunch there, sometimes having cooking facilities available, they study in the area and can also chill out and get away from the rest of the school. This is a privilege that you get when you reach your final year of high school but with it comes certain expectations and if they are not reached (e.g., they don’t keep it clean or they use it inappropriately) this area is taken away from them. They can stomp around all they want and say that all past Year 12s have had this area and it’s their ‘right’ but schools are usually able to stand firm and make it clear to them that it is in actual fact a privilege and one that they have now lost and, if they want it back, they are going to have to earn it!
Unfortunately growing numbers of parents do not seem to be able to do the same, with more and more I am meeting buckling under pressure to regard attendance at teenage parties on a Saturday night as their teen’s right and, unfortunately, no longer see it as a privilege. You see the same thing with the use of smartphones and other devices. 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!).
The following story clearly illustrates how so many teens today clearly do not value (through no fault of their own in many cases) the privileges that they have been given …
I had just finished presenting to a group of Year 10s and the students were moving out of the auditorium and down some stairs towards me. As one of the young men reached the bottom stair his phone fell out of his pocket hitting the ground and made a sharp cracking sound. He reached down, picked it up and looked at it and then swore under his breath. Without a thought he then threw it onto the ground again and started stamping on it … I moved towards him and as I did he picked it up and the boy with him asked him what he was doing. His response floored me … “If it only had a crack on it my Mum wouldn’t buy me a new one, I had to make sure it was really busted!”
The scary thing is that you can almost bet that he did take the smashed phone home, showed it to his mother and a new one was bought almost immediately!
In a previous blog entry I wrote about US mother, Janell Burley Hofmann, who made headlines across the world in late 2013 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:
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. 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.”
Giving your teen everything they want without question also alters the way your child sees you. You may be the parent who puts on the big party where alcohol is 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 actually parents 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 or gatherings. 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 (the rules that you and your child agree upon) that they will need to accept and follow that accompany their attendance. 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.