Tyler, who was in a higher grade than 15-year-old Mariah, asked her to the prom. Mariah's parents were okay with her going - she'd gone out with him a few times and he seemed like a nice boy, and the formal was scheduled to end at midnight, a reasonable hour. Then she asked if she could go to the after-party that one of Tyler's friends was throwing. To this Mariah's parents had a firm answer: absolutely no way.
"But you don't understand. All the other kids' parents are letting them. Jessica will be there. Reena will be there. Meredith will be there. Everybody is going. I will be the only one to miss out."
"But all the other kids' parents…" is perhaps the most popular of all teen battle cries. It is so popular because it is so effective. It hits parents right where they are vulnerable: They may feel adamant about curfews, new cellphones, designer jeans, you name it, but when that phrase comes out their resolve crumbles.
Parents worry that maybe their kids are right. Maybe they are out of step with the current accepted parenting practice. Maybe their personal beliefs are blinding them from seeing today's world, and their kids will suffer for it.
"You're like a parent from the 1950s. George Washington's parents or something."
They worry that their hard-line stance will cause their daughter to be ostracized by her friends, who will see her as nerdy and start to leave her out of things. She'll become a social wallflower because they deprived her of what all her peers were doing.
"I'm teetering on the edge already. One more social misstep and I'll have to spend all the rest of my high-school lunches eating by myself and crying."
Parents worry that, because of them, their kids will miss out on the good times that make adolescence special.
"I swear to God, I won't go to any of my high-school reunions because there won't be anything for me to reunion about."
Nobody wants to significantly damage their child's happiness because of out-of-sync parenting. We want our kids to be popular. We want them to have good high-school memories to look back on. We don't want to stand in the way of our kids getting the most out of life. But at the same time we don't think our limits are so unreasonable.
"Yes they are. I've just completed an Internet survey and none of the other parents agree with you."
So what do you do?
Certainly, what you don't want to do is get caught up in trying to counter their arguments. What if a poll of parents shows you are in a distinct minority? Does that mean you have to give in?
"Of course my parents have to give in. They were outvoted."
It is good to discuss with other parents what they do in dealing with their teenagers. But ultimately the decisions lie with you. You have to go with what makes you comfortable.
The basis of your authority is not whether you are infallibly right, but that you think you are right. You will make mistakes. But as a parent you must make decisions.
"No, I am sorry. Maybe your friends' parents think differently than we do, but no, you cannot go to the party after the prom."
You can't be certain you're doing the right thing, but you have to make the decision anyway. The true disaster isn't making wrong decisions, it's being unable to make decisions - which in effect gives over the decision-making process to your children. You don't want to let your teenager make mincemeat of your resolve.
"What? What are you afraid is going to happen? It will be a drug/sex orgy? That is what you think, isn't it?"
If you still worry that your decision may somehow ruin your child's life, you can always imagine a future time when you can say to them: "I decided following my best judgment at the time - based on my caring about your well-being, my own life experience and my knowledge of you. I thought it was right. If that decision ruined your happiness, I apologize."
Clinical psychologist Anthony E. Wolf is the author of six parenting books, including Get Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall? A Parent's Guide to the New Teenager.Report Typo/Error
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