On the Journey 

news reel: stories of People, places, and learning AT Aspen Country Day School
Parenting Adolescents: how to get back in the driver's seat
Posted 04/15/2019 05:28PM

By Brenda Stockdale

April 2019

Remember when you made what you thought was a really creative and cool suggestion to your daughter (like maybe yesterday), and all you got was an eye roll, or a disdainful, "Oh, mom!" or "WHAT-ever, Dad!" Or how about when you planned a great family outing (last weekend, perhaps), and your son grumbled, "All my friends are going to So-and-So's house to play Fortnight!"

As your parenting challenges mount, you might find yourself "wrestling with your sense of helplessness, panic, and nostalgia for the sweet elementary school days" (Wendy Mogel, Voice Lessons).

Some parents might think it's the advent of the cell phone and adolescents' preoccupation with social media that have exacerbated these moments of parental angst. Believe it or not, however, kids have always pushed the boundaries, slammed their bedroom doors, and refused their parents' brilliant suggestions.

There comes a time in most children's lives - let's say adolescence is the prime stage - when they yell, "Shotgun!" metaphorically grabbing the wheel and essentially relegating their parents to the backseat. Our children look to their peer group for guidance about what to wear, which selfie looks best, and how to spend their leisure time (which, by the way, is a normal developmental milestone). Meanwhile, parents consult teachers, school administrators, counselors, and parenting books, searching for answers about how to deal with these complex, moody, and demanding young people who seem to have started driving even before reaching a legal age.

I'm sure if you asked your own parents about raising you, they would have their share of survival stories, regaling you with memories of your obstinance, boundary-pushing, and insistence that you knew what you were doing. In her book Under Pressure, Lisa Damour says, "...irreverence and boundary-pushing are actually signs of normal and healthy development in teenagers." She goes on to say, "The biggest difference between our generation and our kids' is that our parents simply had no way of knowing what we were up to when we weren't home, how we spoke with our friends, or even where we were."

Sure, smartphones make today's parenting a series of on and off ramps with no map to guide us. On the one hand, cell phones are an "obstacle to normal teen separation" (Mogel), because parents are able to track their children's every movement. Also, kids have a harder time solving their own problems when they know their parents are just a text message away. On the other hand, though, smartphones are a constant source of unfettered expression and exploration, which plays into their growing independence.

While your children might think you're "anti-technology," you could emphasize that you're "pro-a lot of other things" like exercise, hobbies, creative expression, time with family, conversations, and sleep.

As we navigate these bumpy roads of child rearing, we should keep in mind some important goals we have as parents:

  1. To keep our kids safe and healthy
  2. To help them become independent adults.

While "making unpopular decisions is...an important part of being a parent" (Damour), if we keep these guidelines at the forefront of our decision making, it might be easier to stick to our principles.

Think about these ground rules when helping your child navigate some important facets of their development:

  1. Social media - Your child needs boundaries around social media/cell phone use, which parents can and should help develop and enforce. Remember, you're the one paying for the phone plan, which is another reason you ultimately get to set the rules.

  2. Homework - In middle school, two hours a night should be adequate; more than that might mean interruptions (such as classmates' text messages or Snapchat notifications) are interfering with their concentration.

  3. Nutrition - Children need nutritious food and proper hydration to fuel their brains and grow their bodies. Remind them that candy and chips are not a food group and that skipping meals is detrimental to their brain development and academic achievement (not to mention what happens to their mood when they're attacked by the hangries!).

  4. Sleep - Your child needs approximately nine hours a night. That probably means lights out by 10 pm or earlier on a school night - with the phone charging in your bedroom. And by the way, it's a good idea to buy them an alarm clock, which defeats the "but I need my phone to wake me up" argument.

If you're able to involve your children in creating rules by which they can live by (and you can reasonably enforce), you'll have more buy in. 

Remember, though, you as the parent are in the driver's seat. Have faith that conflict in the short run (whining, slamming doors, arguing) is worth the desired results (raising healthy, independent children) in the long run.

Wendy Mogel says it well: "You'll receive no formal recognition for the perilous rite of passage that is your child's adolescence, but if you're lucky, you will someday be rewarded with the company of a loving and reasonable young man or woman."

So, the next time you get the silent treatment, or you're compared to your kids' friends' "lenient" parents, remember that you're the one with the car keys and your kids are better off in the back seat (where you can't see them roll their eyes). Soon enough, they'll be driving, and you'll be next to them in the passenger seat, having meaningful conversations.

For an archive of last year's 
On the Journey, click here;
For the year before, 
click here.

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