Kaitlyn (14) approached her mother one afternoon to ask if it would be okay if she and her boyfriend (15) could sleep together in her own bedroom on occasion. They were having sex together at times anyway and it would be much safer and more comfortable than in a park or in a friend’s car. And “Please don’t tell dad”, she added. Kaitlyn’s mom, Carolyn, was shocked at the request but had already suspected that her daughter was sexually active. She wasn’t comfortable with the idea but could see the logic in it, particularly with the fact that it would be much safer. She wasn’t sure how to answer.
Jason (17) approached his parents just prior to the date of his grade 12 graduation. Jason wanted to have a party with about 8 of his closest friends and indicated that they would be having a few beers but he promised that things would not get out of hand. He also promised to clean up after the party and they would all chip in for the alcohol and various snack items. They could all crash in the family room so no one would need to drive home. If dad was willing maybe he would even pick up the beer for them. Jason’s parents weren’t keen on the idea but would prefer their son to be in a safe setting with his friends if they were going to drink. They were also aware that drinking was a right-of-passage for grade 12 graduating students and that no matter what the parents said, the drinking was going to happen. They weren’t sure how to respond.
Kyle (16) had just received his driver’s license and now wanted to get his own car. He had a part time job and had saved some money but not nearly enough to buy a car. Kyle wanted his dad to co-sign a loan at the bank and he promised to make all the bank payments on time and to pay for his own maintenance and insurance. Kyle was heading into his grade 12 year and had done poorly in grade 11. His parents suspected that he used pot on occasion and he had come home drunk a few times. Kyle promised to not use pot or alcohol and to work hard on his grade 12 grades. Kyle’s dad considered his son to be somewhat irresponsible and that he generally managed his money poorly. Despite his misgivings he reasoned that Kyle might learn to be responsible if he had the commitment of a vehicle to support. But he still wasn’t totally comfortable with the idea and wasn’t sure what to do.
Teens have this innate ability to present parents with all manner of dilemmas and they excel at pitching their ideas such that they make perfect sense. In turn, most parents want to please their children and give them the benefit of the doubt. Parents also want to avoid the nasty confrontations that can result when a teen’s “perfectly sound and rational” request has no logical reason to be denied. “I’ve promised everything will work out fine. Don’t you trust me?” Parents are then placed in the awkward position of being “damned if I do and damned if I don’t”.
Decisions on issues like those presented above are never easy for many parents. But by asking themselves a few key questions parents may be better able to assess the situation rationally and come to a decision that will be in the best interests of all concerned, even if it isn’t the most popular decision. Test your own standards as you consider how you might respond to the scenarios noted above.
Here are a few guidelines:
- Has my teen demonstrated a consistent level of responsible behaviour in the past?
- Is the teen’s request in line with my ethics and values as a responsible parent?
- Is the teen’s request both moral and legal?
- Is the teen’s request free of potential harm to either the teen or others?
- Are you as the parent prepared to take full responsibility for whatever may occur if the teen’s request is granted?
An answer of “no” to any of these questions is an indication that approving the request may set a dangerous precedent. What message is sent when we are prepared to sacrifice our ethics, morals, and values for the sake of avoiding conflict or simply wanting to be seen as a “good guy”? Parents must honour and model these standards or there are no real values to pass along to the next generation. Saying “No” at times can take a huge amount of courage but it can serve as the true measure of our willingness to be an effective model for our children and our integrity as a parent.