Aly asks: Why should teenagers be given more freedom in social life?
Hi Aly –
My quick answer is “Because if they’re not given it, they’ll take it!”
But more importantly, they’ll take their freedom without your wisdom.
It’s like dogfood. See, Handsome tends to make and eat food that’s a lot more interesting to me than my regular dog food. But I know I’m not allowed to grab his food off the counter or the table. And because I’m eating enough of my own food, I can handle the rules, and just hope he’ll give me some scraps when he’s done. But if he didn’t feed me my own food, and I was really starving, I’d grab every bit of his food when he wasn’t looking.
Teenagers are like that. They want freedom, romance and sex, excitement, new things, and especially peer acceptance – all as much as I want a big fat juicy steak. And if their parents say “No, you may not have any freedom, any romance or anything implying sexuality, any excitement, anything new, or do anything that your friends are into,” they’re going to break out of their bonds and break some rules. And when they do, they’re going to do whatever seems right at the time. Which very likely isn’t going to be something you think is a good idea!
But what if, instead, you say “Okay, now that you’re 16, you can stay out till Midnight with your friends, you can go on dates but we have to meet the person and you have strict rules about your boundaries, you can go to that scary horror movie and amusement park, you can have a glass of champagne at your aunt’s wedding, and you can go with your friends to the lake.” Suddenly, you’ve rewarded your teen with freedom. And the fact that other kids are staying out till five in the morning, having sex, taking illegal drugs, and joining gangs… suddenly doesn’t look as exciting to them.
Now if you offer those freedoms, is it likely that your teen will still try to push past them, and try for more? Sure! But even then, you’ve set the general tone. So your kid smokes a cigarette, or stays out till one… you can live with that!
The more open and direct you can be with your teenager, the better. And because you’re the one who makes the rules, it’s got to be you who gives some freedom. Think of it as if you were the ruler of a country: You could be like a European ruler, offering lots of freedom and dealing with all the difficulties that creates… or you could be like the rulers of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, or Syria… who’ve had a really rotten time this year!!
Thanks, and Good Luck!