This post will publish in the Press Democrat on Friday, September 7, 2012.
On a recent afternoon, my daughter DQ and I were on our way back from dropping my son, Taz, off at his friend’s house. I had assumed that DQ was going to spend the rest of the day bored since one of her best friends was grounded that day, so I racked my brain for something we could do together.
“What do you want to do?” I asked her, and was surprised when she said she already had plans.
“Katie and I are hanging out today,” she told me, even though her friend was not supposed to see the light of day for another 24-hours. From what I had heard, Katie had mouthed off to her grandmother pretty badly. As long as I had known Katie, I had never heard of any limitations being placed on her freedom. So she must have acted really badly for her mother to come down hard on her. But it wasn’t even a full day later and she was sprung from her cell and able to go free once again.
“What happened?” I asked DQ. “I thought Katie was grounded?”
“She was, but her mom changed her mind.” And then DQ said something that I’ll never forget. “It’s weird, but Katie has told me she wishes her mom would actually follow through when she punishes her. It would show that she actually cared.”
I’ve heard this theory before, that teens want boundaries to keep them safe whether they know it or not. But this was the very first time I had ever heard a kid actually voice this sentiment – that they wanted to know where the edge of their freedom stood through rules and discipline. It made me think that maybe Katie was purposely pushing boundaries, testing her mom’s reaction when she got caught.
My friend Sara recently described a horrifying scene she‘d been witnessing on her Facebook newsfeed that only seemed to be getting worse. As of late, her cousin’s 15-year old daughter had been very blatant about showcasing her negative behavior all over her Facebook page. There were photos of her with friends holding bottles of alcohol and posts talking about staying out all night while she was partying, as well as call-outs to friends when she didn’t have any plans and was looking for the next reason to party.
Her mother seemed to turn a blind eye to her daughter’s antics, even though she has access to her daughter’s Facebook page and can see all that’s happening on there. Sara described how countless people had reached out to this girl only to be told to mind their own business by her and her friends, and sometimes ignored completely. But it was the latest incident that left Sara shaking to her core and unsure what to do. The young girl had posted an actual video of herself and some friends partaking in illegal drug use – right out in the open for everyone to see.
Was this video to share with her friends to make herself look cool? It’s possible. Was she looking for approval from others? Judging by the negative backlash from anyone concerned, probably not. Sara’s guess was that this was a cry for help, that she was trying to get her mom’s attention – someone who had made herself more of the “cool mom” to her daughter than the parent who was in charge.
Kids don’t need their parents to be “cool”. They need them to provide boundaries to keep them safe.
There’s a natural pull to want to be our kids’ friends. From the moment they’re born, we love them immensely. They are familiar to us, and under our influence appreciate many of the same things we enjoy doing or experiencing. My dad used to jokingly tell me that he and my mom were growing their own friends by having my sisters and me.
It’s ok to be friends with your child, but with limitations put in place. Staying involved in their lives, getting to know who their friends are, and keeping up with what their changing interests are is a good way to be a parental friend to your child. Having a moment each day for one on one time, and more importantly, listening to them, is a great way to keep a connection with them. But when you find yourself caving when it comes to discipline, confiding in them with issues of an adult nature, or forgoing rules altogether to be known as the “cool” parent, you’re actually failing your child.
Kids are going through a constant motion of change. They’re physically and mentally growing, and at times it can feel pretty out of control. As they earn more and more independence, they need a constant in their life to hold on to. They need boundaries to keep them safe. They need someone to be in charge.
They need you to be a parent.