My 14 year old becomes 15 in less than a week. This is somewhat of a horrifying thought, as it only reminds us of how little time we have left with him to guide, teach and advise him on the ways of being a responsible adult. So when life lessons arise, we work hard to ensure every moment is utilised, as he inches one step closer to adult responsibility.
What makes this difficult however are the parents of his teenage friends. For some reason, many parents feel that as their children become young adults, they can loosen up and shift roles……becoming more friend than parent. That they don’t need to worry about consistent boundaries or maintaining the role of ‘guide to life’ and ‘wisdom council’. Instead they try to become a cool parent, for fear that their child will turn away, angry, mad or embarrassed to be in the same room as them. And in adopting this approach to their teenager, they then have to assume the same role with their child’s friends – because it is the friends that influence the final seal of ‘approval’ from their child. If their friends hassle their child “Man your olds are stink” or “oh my god is that what your Dad said….” their popularity ratings decline and the likelihood of your child ‘liking you’ decreases.
Which is what raising a teenager is about right? Them ‘liking’ you? Not in our household. We have decided not to look at the micro steps our teenager will take from age 13-20 years. We have our sights firmly focused on the young man he will be at age 25. The strength of character, moral compass and set of values that he will have to give him the resiliency to move through the adult world successfully. Which then allows us to make parenting decisions that will (and there’s always the fingers-crossed clause) assist him to get to this point. Our latest goal is to have him understand money does not descend from the heavens at any given time. That if he wants money for his mobile phone, or movie tickets, or lollies or the latest clothes, he has to do like everyone else and work for the money. We began this process early in the year by suggesting that if he wanted a fun, exciting summer holiday he would need to begin the process of looking for a job. Easier said than done in today’s employment climate. Lessons are continuing to being learned around gaining wilful employment. We have provided him with many opportunities to earn money doing labour around our property. We pay well and are somewhat flexible employers. However we stick to our bottom line, if the job isn’t completed to our satisfaction, you don’t get paid.
So when our teenager negotiates his taxi fare (aka Mums car) out to a friends beach house for an invited stay, we agreed to his terms. Lawns were to be mowed and bedroom was to be spotless. An employment contract was entered into. But when the time came for us to keep to our end of the deal, we had no option but to decline the taxi ride. Lawns had been left too late in the day and with the rain arriving could not be completed. The bedroom had not been cleaned. Instead, he had chosen to watch movies ‘putting off’ the jobs till the last moment. This is a current theme of life presently…..putting off for another time. And yet the look of shock and disdain that came when he was informed the taxi ride was not happening still surprised me. He genuinely thought that he could continue the approach and ‘finish it later’ as he had a deal with his mate to head to the beach. We had no choice but to stick to our guns and decline him his ride. We compromised and advised him that if we saw a change in his attitude and the jobs were completed by the following lunchtime, he had one last chance at the taxi ride. But he had to pull finger and show a change in his focus.
But this is where it gets tricky. I then had to advise the mother of the said friend at the beach. I was simply delivering the message that, providing the jobs were completed, my teenager would be arriving later than expected for the visit. I explained we were trying to grow a responsible work ethic and the value of integrity……something which was lost in translation as she conveyed to me that her son would be ‘guttered’. I had to continue to apologise for the inconvenience and reinforce what we were trying to teach our son. At no time did I receive a ‘good on you’, or ‘I understand completely’, or ‘absolutely, you do what you need to do, we can wait’. Instead it became about how she was going to keep her disappointed son happy for an additional half-day.
Where has Parent Power gone? What has happened to parents having each others’ backs? This is a tough gig. There is no rule book, no user manual. We are required to make calls in split seconds with minimal information, that can influence the character and integrity of our future adults. We need to support each other, rather than the fragmented, each-to-their-own approach that is so common these days. What concerns me is that as my son moves towards the teenage experiences of driving, parties, girls and alcohol who are the parents of his friends that I can trust will have my, and consequently, his back? Who will be the parents that will ring and say ‘hey have just heard our boys planning ….. we need to address this with them’? Sadly, I can’t count too many of them on one hand.
Parents need to be a team – they need to be that collective village that raises our children together. And it begins with knowing that you can’t be your teenager’s friend. As the parent it is your job to make the hard calls when they don’t have the developmental, emotional or moral ability to. They may be bigger than you (my son now towers over me), but they haven’t got the years behind them to allow them to make decisions that may be life-impacting. So being their friend isn’t the reality as the parent of a teenager. Being their advisor, chief of staff and moral compass is. Friendship comes when they have matured into the wonderful adults you worked so hard to create in their formative years.