Have a Question? Need Parenting Advice? Ask Michael Hawton

I have been thinking lately that living with teenagers is mostly a matter of live and let live… until they cross the line.

It seems to me that as our children get older and continue to mature in their teenage years, our job as parents should get easier.  That might sound like a bit of a surprising thing to say, but in my opinion there are just fewer times when we have to look out for scary stuff like stranger danger or whether or not to allow them to go to the shops on their own.  I truly believe that maintaining a stance of live and let live should be increasingly the prism through which we look at them.  All things being equal they are in a better space to understand their emotional selves and to make wiser decisions about situations.

Of course having this ability doesn’t always mean that they will make wise choices but hopefully having to intervene should be the exception and not the rule.

Nevertheless, intervening is part of our job role when parenting our teenagers.

Some parents – worn down by years of skirmishes – find it really hard to intervene because it’s all too hard, intervening I mean.  Believing that we have the right to intervene is also complicated by two  issues: knowing when to and knowing how to.  Our decisions about knowing when to intervene are ones that first-off should be based on how well we think our teenager has a handle on what’s happening – whether he or she can see the consequences of their behaviour or whether or not their behaviour offends our family values.

Read the signs:

  • Your 13 year old daughter appears to be getting angry a lot.  She seems to be using her anger to menace her younger sister.  You want to see less of this behaviour, and help her resolve her frustrations with her sister in a better way.
  • Your 15 year old son is spending lots of time wandering the streets with a group of older teens.  You know he is highly influenced by them.  You’ve heard that some of these kids have been in trouble for stealing.  You want to protect him from unnecessary risks and for him to be safer in the company of children his own age.
  • Your 13 year old son has been caught stealing money from a neighbour’s house.  The neighbour tells you that other money had previously gone missing but this time they caught your son ‘red-handed’ – closing up the neighbour’s purse after shoving fifty dollars in his pocket.  You want your boy to behave ethically and to understand the importance of being honest.
  • Your 17 year-old daughter seems to spend half her day on Facebook. Her life seems out of balance to you. She tells you that her ‘friends’ on Facebook are bitches and she tells you she’s going to ‘get back at a girl’ at school. She thinks it’s OK to make threats online. You want her to return to a more balanced life and use the internet properly.
  • Your 14 -year-old son has been irritable and short-tempered with everyone at home.  Lately, you’ve heard him talking to his friends late at night, and you’ve found him playing a violent multi-player game at 2am on a school night when you thought he was asleep. You don’t mind him playing games, but there has to be limits.

Each of these situations reflect a lack of ability for having a handle on what they are doing.  Problems like these nearly always get bigger, not smaller.  They usually won’t go away by themselves and our kids won’t ‘grow out of them’.

Having said all of this, I think that we, as a population of parents, need to get better at “calling” our teenagers out on problems like these. We need to be much clearer about when we can live and let live, and when we need to do something about what’s going down if it’s not okay.  When they behave poorly we need to show the courage to help them protect their well-being or to pull them up for behaving improperly.  They are not fully fledged adults and their brains are not fully mature either.  So, our role is clear – deciding what types of problems you’re not going to ignore and working out how to intervene.

I’ll let you ponder this article: what we can live and let live with and when we need to ‘call’ behaviour that crosses the line.

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