I’m sure discipline is the first thing that pops into most people’s minds if we are discussing “setting parameters,” but I’d like to go in a different direction. I’d like to explore the setting of parameters within relationships… specifically the ones your child forms during the teen years.
Some of the most dreaded words I hear from parents at the beginning of their child’s secondary years are “My child is not to ‘date’ anyone until after college.” I’m fine with their desire for the child to concentrate on his studies; I am not fine with the fact that now I have to become a “sitter.” With the exception of maybe two students who were so driven to make their dreams come true that they obeyed this parent-instructed rule, I have not met the child who can resist the lure of teenage love. Oh sure, they can make it through middle school. But in high school, when their feelings are magnified to one hundred times the actual size, crushes are inevitable. The funny thing is that, once they’ve had one “dating” experience, many usually decide to “concentrate on their studies till after college”!
Why do some parents insist on erecting a wall a teen feels he must conquer? My guess is fear. My best advice regarding romantic relationships during middle and high school is to expect them to happen, and before they do, set some parameters on the “dating.” Those parameters could include group outings rather than two-person outings, the intended boyfriend or girlfriend joining in family outings to increase familiarity, and, of course, all the usual parameters for dating once they can be alone (appropriate age, curfew, places they may go, etc.).
When parents declare that no dating will occur, the teens just try to hide it. I have a strict “no public display of affection” rule, but inevitably, the two will try to sneak-date here… prompting an outing to their parents and more babysitting opportunities for me.
Believe me, I am very happy to be through the dating years of my kids. I had many a dinner at Texas Roadhouse with a boy who had ordered half the menu and then wouldn’t quit talking long enough to eat it. But because I made those opportunities for he and my daughter to be together, she was not distracted at school by the young man. Work time was work time and together time was together time… with Mom along for the togetherness until they reached the age of sixteen (the parameter I set for the age of dating alone).
Setting parameters regarding friendships is similar. Don’t just say, “You are not to hang out with him… or him… or her. Why don’t you be friends with that nice (fill in the blank)?” Friendships form on the basis of shared interests, not Mom’s and Dad’s choices. If you ban your child from a certain type of friend, you risk being labeled as a hater. Instead of dictating with whom your child should hang out, why not set parameters for what will occur in spite of the friendship. For instance, set a limit on how much grades can suffer due to hanging out. If you expect A’s, then let them know that B’s will limit the opportunities to get together with that friend. If the pair are causing issues due to the friendship while in school (i.e., talking too much together), then provide opportunities for them to get together in the evening or on weekends.
The key to healthy relationships during your child’s teen years is parental involvement. If you actively seek to know the interests of your child, you will become their confidant when things go awry. Because you are invested in many of their relationships, you won’t just encourage them to “get out of” the relationship. You can teach your child early how to work through issues that are not really that big outside of the shadow of the relationship involved.