Hard and Soft Limits for Teens

Any parent who thinks raising toddlers is the toughest job doesn’t have teens in the house.

The “terrible teens” are longer-lasting and less predictable; as more than one mom has said, “I never know what child I’m going to get in the morning.”

Those of you enduring the teen years know that on some days the kids act pleasant, cooperative, appreciative and respectful, and other days they are absolute beasts, limiting conversations to monosyllables, leaving heaps of clothes on bedroom floors, sleeping well past noon and defying family rules.

“This, too, shall pass” is the mantra I repeat on those difficult days.

Don’t get me wrong: I have four great (not perfect, but perfectly presentable) children who – on most days – demonstrate love, kindness and respect.

However, as we prepare to send our firstborn back to college, I’m reflecting on the strife that we endured this summer.

We were warned. Community members with older kids told us that when a child returns home after his or her first year of college, the family inevitably experiences a severe culture clash: college freedoms vs. house rules.

For nine months, our son set his own hours, returning to his dorm room and waking whenever he pleased. He didn’t have a curfew and didn’t need to check in with parents late at night. He ate whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. No one asked him to clean his room or wash dishes. He didn’t have a job, so did whatever he wanted during the weekend. And, most likely he engaged in the weekend-night activities that most college kids enjoy.

Back at home, we parents wanted to know who he was with, what he was doing and when he would be home. We offered one seating for dinner, which didn’t always fit with the his schedule. We asked for dishes to go into the dishwasher and clothes to go into the hamper or laundry room. We made it clear that college-kid “activities” were not allowed in our home.  We expected our son to earn money for college expenses. We were, in our boy’s own words, “a buzz kill.”

I know that these conflicts were par for the course, as the child was ready to use his wings while we parents wanted to continue establishing roots. (“Good parents give their kids roots and wings,” Jonas Salk once said. “Roots to know where home is, wings to fly away and exercise what’s been taught them.”)

I explained that we have more parenting work to do, as he is not yet an adult, and that the part of his brain that guides judgment is not yet fully developed. “Researchers have studied young men’s brains, and know that the frontal lobe is not completely connected until the mid-20s,” I said.

“Well, they haven’t looked at my brain,” he countered.

At times this summer, I threw up my arms and said, “Okay, just stay safe. My bottom line, hard limits are to prevent irreparable life changes: no drunk driving, no unwanted pregnancy and no drug addiction.”

I’m curious how the rest of you handle your kids’ college breaks. What are your hard and soft limits (and no, not the kind in Shades of Grey) for teenagers? Please leave your tips, as well as your frustrations, in the comments box below.

 – Linda Williams Rorem, 17 Aug. 2012
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Comments

  1. Great article . I chuckled out loud when I read the words “a buzz kill”.
    Thanks for putting a smile on my face (again!)

  2. Carrie Lovsted says:

    It has been an interesting summer! Thanks for bringing up the topic! Hard limits; dishes in dishwasher, wash own laundry, tell us where you are going and when you will be home, be safe, earn spending money for school year!
    I could go on and on!! Soft limits; fill up car when it is on empty, smile at mom in morning :)
    I am much more ready this year to send my daugher away as much as I adore her! I found 2 kids are easier than 3 kids!!!

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