Being 17 isn’t easy, I remember. Now our third child, our youngest is! You’d think after having been through it with 3 other children I would have it all figured out by now. Wrong! One thing I can tell you about the way my husband and I parent is we have always figured it out as we’ve gone along. Each child brings with them a uniqueness, a difference in personality… the answers are never uniform because each situation, each scenario deserves to be looked at with fresh eyes. That is how we respect our children. Not to mention, even with the same child nothing stays the same, they change daily, as do we. They grow and learn so much each day. This deserves to be respected.
The hard part is the balance. Finding ways to respect their own beliefs in what they should be able to do and our parent ideas of what they are ready to handle. This is the reason I choose to be transparent. I want them to know my thoughts and ideas, so there can be clear understanding when we do not allow them to do something they’ve asked to do. I also want them to share their thoughts with us. My husband and I are both great team players, I believe this is what has helped us be successful parents. With he and I respecting each others ideas, we can stand united in our decisions for the kids. We do not undermine each other in front of the kids, we often will not give an answer right away, we give them a “let us discuss it”. The kids have learned that this is better than a “no”, because we are willing to take a deeper look into what their needs and wants are. We do not want to be authoritarians, and just have them obey. We want to treat them with respect and ask for the same in return. This has worked beautifully.
Where we live is unique. Small towns are a challenge, but try a small town on an island! To give you some perspective…Our pizza places close in the winter at 9:00pm! My husband and I were both born and raised here, it is a special place, we love it. Raising young children here is a dream. The school systems are great, the atmosphere for raising little ones is wonderful. For teenagers, not so much. When they reach high school age and want to be social… our island is lacking for things to do. House parties have become the cultural “norm”. Parties thrown by 20 somethings who have not gone off to college or who attempted it and are now back home. Either way, it presents problems in our community. I do not find that drunk 20 somethings and drunk high schoolers are a good mix.
It is not unique to our island that parents differ in beliefs when it comes to raising their children, certainly their teenagers. By the time kids here get to High School, there seems to be a “right of passage” message, for many, that it is okay to smoke weed and drink alcohol. In my experience, it is either blatantly right in front of the parents and they choose to turn a blind eye, or weekend sleepovers are the norm where Sally says she’s staying at Suzie’s and vice-versa and there is no parent communication, no accountability, and then they both stay out all night and report to no one. The way we have found to combat this with our own children is to have high expectations of communication and responsibility. Their involvement in sports and keeping open lines of communication has been key. Sports is a great outlet for kids on this island and we have found it very important for their social lives. In my opinion, by the time they get to the High School they need the social outlet of being a part of sports and organized activities. Our oldest was a 3 sport varsity athlete for all 4 years of high school. The amount of time and energy it took to be a part of these teams served him very well. He has been a phenomenal role model to our younger children, and continues to be.
Being involved in sports at the High School level is not the answer for all kids to stay out of trouble. There were many, many teammates through the years, and continue to be, who have also found plenty of time for the party scene. This is where communication comes in, we have clear expectations for drug and alcohol use. Again, not strictly a command to obey, but an expectation to be responsible and constant discussions surrounding the topic. Discussions of our understanding that it is available to them at their age and how they might handle this. Discussions and an understanding of how alcohol affects different people differently, that alcoholism runs deep in our family and to be fully aware if they choose to try it how it is affecting them. We make it very clear that we have trust in them to be responsible and make good decisions and that their will be consequences if that trust is broken. These are consequences way beyond parental punishment and staying in on Friday night (that is not how we discipline). We teach consequences of real life. Like, all the hard work that’s gone into working toward a future goal could change instantly due to a bad decision. Dreams of being recruited, being successful in a particular field, keeping the respect of others… the list goes on and on. Pointing out the importance and the reasons for being responsible have always meant enough to our children to act responsibly. Our belief is that at age 17, 18, & 19 we are helping to guide them into adulthood. I believe it is understood that we do not want to dictate what they can and cannot do. We want to see them finding ways of having independence while staying responsible. If they show responsible behavior and make good decisions the freedom is theirs… If they show lack of responsibility and poor behavior we will intervene and help. We believe this is our job.
Our talks with our children do not only surround drugs and alcohol. We have open communication for anything that needs discussion. Getting a driver’s license is a privilege. It is understood that if this is abused (in our eyes, not only the law) that we will take away that privilege. That goes for cell phones, computers, etc. We have taught them right from wrong since they were born, we do not believe stopping when they become a teenager would serve them well in adulthood. We feel strongly that this is our job.
Our family is strong. Our children are respected in their schools, on their teams, and in our community. We feel strongly about helping others when they are in need, we foster this any chance we get. I feel proud of this. I feel proud of the family my husband and I work hard to build strong each and every day. I believe they are proud of us too.