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Teens aren't helped when parents don't enforce limits

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placeholder April 30, 2012   •   VOL. 50, NO. 8   •   Oakland, CA
Letters from Readers
Teens aren't helped when parents don't enforce limits

When I was in high school, I chose to have a party while my parents were out of town. I was a responsible kid who had never been in trouble, but like most teens, I took advantage of a sweet opportunity when it presented itself. And I got drunk. The worst part of the story was that I tried to lie my way out of it.

My mother, who always had a sixth sense about these things, found out the truth. I hurt and disappointed my parents, put them in a possibly compromising position as homeowners, and influenced others to make poor choices. Needless to say, I was grounded for most of my senior year and was not allowed to go anywhere unless my parents knew who I was with, where I was going, and the exact start and end times of events.

It was horrible, and I was resentful for a long time. BUT, I learned some very important lessons that have stayed with me, even 20 years later, and I am grateful that my parents punished me for my poor choices.

Being the parent of a teen may be more challenge than reward at times. No one gives us a "how-to" manual on raising adolescents. I have seen a profound change in the last several years in regards to parents and discipline.

Parents increasingly throw out the safety net to protect their children from failing, from falling, from feeling "bad" or from suffering consequences for poor choices. It is a difficult job doling out punishment. It feels downright horrible at times, but it is necessary for teens to understand there are natural consequences for their poor decisions.

Adolescents crave clear boundaries. If we are clear about the boundaries and the consequences for crossing them, our children will be better off. Madeline Levine, author of "The Price of Privilege," states that if we sidestep discipline, "the unfortunate result is that children do not learn how to take responsibility, control their impulses or be thoughtful."

As Catholic parents, our first and foremost responsibility is evangelizing our children. We are our children's first missionaries! The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the home is a place for the education of virtues, which requires an environment of self-denial, sound judgment and self-mastery, the preconditions of true freedom (2223). God entrusted His children to us to share the faith.

It is not just our job, but our vocation as parents, to make sure that our children are on the path to Heaven. If we want to spend eternity with our kids, we need to lead them in the right direction, and sometimes that guidance requires discipline. Happy, healthy, spiritually-sound adults come from homes where the authority and consequences are clear.

Consequences are a natural part of life. When you speed, you get a ticket. When you don't pay your taxes, you pay a fine. When you cheat, you receive a zero on the test (or get kicked out of college). When you foul someone on the soccer field, you get carded.

Teenagers are supposed to make mistakes. It is our responsibility, as the adults who love them, to make sure that they learn from their choices. If we continue throwing out the safety net, we are not doing them any favors. How else will they learn how to pick themselves up and move on? How else will they learn remorse? How else will they develop their conscience? How else will they learn to be parents themselves?

(Theresa Young has been in education for 19 years and serves on the board of Teen Esteem, a nonprofit organization dealing with adolescent issues.)

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