Parenting Advice Request Summary: A teenager is hanging out with another teenager, who is a bad influence, and the parents try to punish the teenager for actions he took with his new friend.
My son (16) has been hanging out with a 17 year old who has had disciplinary problems. This new friend just got a car and we found out that our son was driving to school with him even after we took our son’s driving priveleges away for a poor report card. Our son skipped an afternoon of school with this boy after a fire drill and they were suspended for 3 days. My wife and I have decided that our son needs to sever his relationship with this boy, and that we are going to restrict his activities for a month, including no driving. Naturally, he thinks we are being too harsh and that it isn’t a big deal. I’m interested in trying to figure out what punishment is fair.
Teen Response Summary: The teen counselor doesn’t think he would’ve responded any differently from the parents. As a result, the parent is going to automatically think that they are being completely fair. In the very first sentence, this teen counselor gives the parent exactly what they want, but doesn’t teach them anything or help them to better understand their teenager or communicate better with him. The rest of the response from the teen counselor will probably still be read, but does it really matter at this point?
While I can’t say that my parents would have reacted any differently than you, and if I were you, I’d probably be thinking the same thing, but because I’m not in the situation, I’m going to take a totally different approach. Bear with me…I’m going to go through some background of what your son is probably thinking.
Picture how your son sees it. One day, he meets this guy that is totally cool. It is irrelevant whether or not he realizes that this guy is against everything you stand for. This guy gives him the opportunity to feel free and have some deserved fun. Who’s not up for that?
So, this guy is now a friend, and maybe your son is being negatively influenced. It is irrelevant whether or not your son realizes this, he is getting instant gratification for hanging out with his new friend. So, when a fire drill gives them the opportunity to sneak away, they take it and have a great time. I’ll be honest, I did worse than that…my dad dropped me off at school, I walked into the school, and five minutes later, I got in a car with a friend and we left. I think we returned for one, maybe two classes in the afternoon. I didn’t get caught, and did I do it again? No…not as severely at least. Your son, most likely, will try again. He got caught…next time, his goal is not to get caught. This isn’t the news you wanted to know, but you should be aware of it. Anyhow, on to the actual punishment.
My view, and probably your son’s also, is that it isn’t your right to sever his relationship with this guy. He’s old enough to choose his own friends, even if they are the wrong one’s. Severing the relationship will only make hanging out with him that much better and that much cooler.
As for the driving, that’s probably fair…but, let me say one thing…my grades were dropping pretty low at one point in time in high school, and my parents blamed it on my excessive use of the computer. When they restricted my use of the computer, it didn’t help me study or improve my grades, so they let me back on the computer and my grades improved again. I’m not sure how this worked, but it did, just keep it in mind. As for restricting his activities, I’m not sure what you mean. My theory, is that if you take away something that they really like, or makes them really happy, it can work to your advantage, but can also do the complete opposite. If driving is the only thing that your son looks forward to on the weekend and now he can’t drive, he has no incentive to work hard, he’s already lost that happiness, and working is only going to make him more unhappy, and he may fall deeper into the trap that he is setting for himself. It seems logical that anyone should be able to recognize this and not let it happen to them, but it happens to teenagers across the world all the time.
Wow, this is getting long…
To continue…it’s your responsibility to facilitate his growth and personal freedom. If this means strict regulations on weekdays regarding doing his homework, it should consequently mean extended privileges on weekends…perhaps this means no curfew on Friday nights as long as he lets you know where he’ll be, and that you will check in on him if he doesn’t check in with you. If it means taking his friend on a family vacation to give your son supervised time with him, so be it. Throw a party at your house – bring your son’s social life to your house. Take the guys out for pizza because you want pizza. Get involved. Sometimes irresponsible behavior is in response to a need for privileges. If you extend his privileges, he has no rules to break, and will consequently behave properly.
So, is your punishment fair? Maybe, maybe not. In order to really come up with a fair punishment, you need to ask him what a fair punishment is. Don’t let him get away with “I don’t know.” “I don’t care.” “Whatever” or any other lousy response. Let him know that you want to come to a healthy compromise that you can both agree upon. Hopefully, this will lead to further discussion as to other rules he feels restricted by. You don’t need to change them all then, though, promise him that they will be dealt with once these other issues can be put past the both of you.
The Maven Critique: This teen counselor does a good job of painting a picture for the parents. It might even take them down memory lane to a rebellious time for them. What this teen counselor does not do a great job of, is explaining how his specific circumstances and experiences with skipping school and having computer usage taken away from him are similar to the circumstances and experiences of this parent’s son. It’s important not to make too many assumptions. This teen counselor suggests that the teenager will try to skip school again. Is that a safe assumption?
There is a lot of great stuff in this response. The part about severing the relationship between the two teens could have been beefed up a bit, but the simplicity speaks volumes. And the part about facilitating growth and responsibility in the teenager by becoming more involved in the teenager’s social life is a valid approach to communication and a healthy family.
What do YOU think?