Limiting the Freedom of Teenagers

We get a lot of things backward. Due to our laziness and apathy, fathers can find themselves in a difficult position once their children become teenagers.

All of a sudden, the lack of discipline is no longer cute. The tantrums thrown when the child was six look downright ugly when the child is thirteen. The disrespect that got a laugh when the child was seven cuts deep to your heart when the child starts to come of age.

And here is where many fathers make a mistake that compounds on their past mistakes.

They see their teenager going downhill, so they clampdown. They get more strict. New rules and regulations. More chains.

This is the opposite of what should happen as the child gets older.

When your child becomes a teenager, you want to start giving them more freedom and more responsibility. You want them to start exercising more self-control.

Instead, these fathers go from permissive to controlling. The child goes from freedom to lockdown.

No wonder so many teenagers rebel and resent their parents. No wonder they want to get out from under their thumb as soon as possible.

To summarize: Move from strict to permissive. Not permissive to strict.

Examples of freedom

What kind of freedom are we talking about? It will depend upon what your child values and your own house rules. Some are on a graduating scale that expands as they show themselves trustworthy. But here are some examples:

  • They set their own curfew
  • They set their own bedtime
  • They set their homework schedule
  • They don’t have to ask for permission to watch a certain movie or read a certain book
  • They are in charge of how much time they spend on video games or electronic devices
  • They are in charge of buying their own clothes

Some of these freedoms they may need to earn. For boys, in particular, a rite of passage can be helpful. But you gradually move them to take responsibility for themselves.

What if it’s too late?

What if you are reading this and you know it’s too late? One of your kids is already a teenager and you have locked everything down. Or you have started looking at chastity belts.

Apologize to your children

Make sure they know exactly why. You abdicated. You were lazy. You take responsibility. Expect nothing from them in return. Just make sure they understand the situation.

Start reclaiming your authority

Follow some of the advice here as it applies to this situation. From the article:

You need to reclaim your authority a little bit at a time. That means reclaiming trust. Once they trust you more, you can start branching out into bigger things.

Time and playfulness

Spend more time with your children doing what they enjoy. Don’t overreact. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Agree and amplify their foibles.

Once they see they can’t get a reaction out of you, that may lessen certain behaviors. And trust is built with time spent together.

Start offloading some responsiblity

There is a paradox here to avoid. From Edwin Friedman:

The very act of trying to make others responsible preempts their own responsibility.

Scolding does not work.

You must challenge them.

Designate days of the week where they are responsible for their own meals.

Make them responsible for their own cell phone bill.

Or, if they have been getting tickets for speeding, offload their insurance.

“Son, you have a right to drive however fast you want, but the insurance is simply too expensive to cover you, so we are dropping you from it at the end of the month.”

You are in a precarious situation, so tread carefully. But have some fun with it or you’ll lose your nerve.

And always remember, you are in this mess because you put yourself in this mess.

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