“I’m tired of my teenagers treating this place like a hotel! They expect me to feed them – and their friends. But it’s all about them and their social life. They don’t do a thing to help out at home. It’s like life is one big holiday – and I’m the one who’s paying for it.”
Chloe, aged 14, has decided that the family dinner on Saturday night is less important than the party invite she has been given. Three of the popular kids at school, Jarrod, Sienna, and Abbey, have invited her and a few others to get together at Jarrod’s house and she is excited.
Do you let her go?
As our kids become teens we often allow them a lot more time to do their own thing. We feel comfortable leaving them at home when we go out. And we stop insisting that they travel with us everywhere we go.
Then, one day, we mention that the family is going to visit Grandma and Grandpa. Our teen complains. “But I don’t want to mum. I was going to hang out with my friends on Sunday afternoon.”
And we have a decision to make. Is it family? Or peers? Will, your 16 year-old son, is rarely home. He eats and sleeps at home, but he spends ALL of waking hours with his friends. You think (hope) he does some schoolwork after he arrives home late at night. But he and his skateboard are almost permanently absent. He makes mess, but he is never around to clean it up. You are willing to ‘look after him’, but feel like he needs to spend more time with the family, and more time helping out. What do you do?
Remember when our teens were younger than they are now? We could usually rely on them to help out with a few jobs around the house each day. They might help tidy the kitchen or the lounge room before dinner. Sure, they might complaint, but we would insist and they would do it.
Things often become different with teens. “Yeah, I’ll do it later” is a common response to our requests. Or “it’s not my job.” Often our teens will tell us “I’m busy!” We get frustrated because their idea of busy is hanging out with friends (either online or in person).
Getting the balance right
There is general agreement that kids spend more time with peers today than they have done in previous generations, in part due to technology, and possibly also due to reduced parental availability. We don’t know whether this strengthens them or makes them more vulnerable to challenges. Every family is different, and so is every child. But the following ideas can help you guide your kids to balance their social life with their family responsibilities:
Remember the value of peers
So long as your child is getting good social support, peer groups are incredibly beneficial to our teens. As they attempt to navigate the complex physical, emotional, and cognitive demands of puberty and identity development, peers provide relief, a recreational break, and a place for laughter and no responsibility.
The challenge for us, as parents, is to allow our children the space and freedom to spend time with their peers, but to still effectively obtain their involvement in family and home responsibilities.
It’s normal that our teens’ reliance on us will be reduced as they get older. But we should also shift our parenting style toward being a guide, a collaborator, or a consultant. We still need to be the parent, but our influence will generally be most effective when we listen and work with them, rather than direct and do things to them.
When family functions are planned, be sure to give your teens advanced notice, and give them regular reminders if you expect them to attend. If you’re flexible about their involvement, let them know your preferences and leave it up to them.
(A warning: if you do not consistently expect your children to attend every family get-together, they need extra warning when you do want them to attend. Otherwise they’ll think that every function is optional.)
When it comes to chores and family contribution, negotiate agreed commitments. You will almost certainly have to give your teens lots of reminders, but by being firm and maintaining expectations you’ll find that they will generally conform. If they don’t, be creative in the way you remind them. A note from you might be helpful. A note from the carpet might also work (such as, “Dear William, I haven’t seen the sunlight in four days. Please help me! Love, the carpet.)
It is normal – and reasonable – to worry when our kids become heavily involved in their peer groups. But not all peer groups are bad, and most of the time they can be a blessing to our children.
While the peer group can influence our children (sometimes profoundly) in either direction, the greatest threat to our children’s wellbeing is the extent to which they are attached – or detached – from us, as their parents. Our challenge is to remain emotionally connected to our children, help them build healthy relationships with their peers, and work with them to keep them engaged and contributing at home.