Archive for Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Double Take: Protecting kids from themselves

September 27, 2005


Dear Dr. Wes & Marissa: My parents are incredibly overprotective, and in the back of their minds they must think I'm out at parties every weekend getting stoned or boozing it up. The reality is I'm sitting at Pizza Shuttle at midnight asking for a curfew extension, and the only thing I can hear on the other line is "Twelve o'clock is your curfew, and we're not changing it." For being a senior in high school, I think my parents should give me a little room and know I'm not one of the "naughty girls" stumbling in the door at curfew. So how do I get them off my back so much and more on my side?

Wes: The fundamental dilemma of parenting is this: How much do I push my kid, and how much do I hold her? In your case "pushing" has to do with structure and protection, versus the "holding" of trust and acceptance. Since you read the column you know that I am not a huge fan of trusting teenagers. This is not because I am old and stodgy or overprotective myself. In fact, I think kids have to make mistakes to learn. Nor have I forgotten the days of my own youth. I can remember them well, as can your parents, and we all know that we were not so trustworthy ourselves.

So the issue is not trust. It is, as you suggest, protection from self-destruction. Yes, some kids are more self-destructive than others, and you argue that you are one who is more likely to overdo the pizza than the Jack Daniels. I say, more power to you. While I do see a lot of kids who get in pretty bad trouble, I also see kids like you who have learned some pretty good values and attitudes toward themselves and now feel punished because the very parents who instilled those virtues won't let go so they can practice them.

So I must go along with you to some degree and warn parents that a failure to reinforce good values with age-appropriate privileges may make well-behaved kids feel alienated. Worse, it may cause them to say, "What the heck : might as well live up to what they think of me." Of course, getting in trouble to prove your parents right is about as foolish as you can get, so I hope you don't fall into that trap. But if you are as upstanding as you claim, your parents would do well to encourage that.

However, getting them to do this means you may have to agree to some verification. Your parents can't trust you blindly, no matter how good you are. So if they want evidence of good behavior, and you want to create a magnificent impression of who you are, let them smell your breath or even suggest they run a Breathalyzer test. Call in when you are supposed to, and let them call you (parents should be careful about this - don't be intrusive). Let them give you the good old urine analysis once in a while. Get the camera phone and send home pictures of Pizza Shuttle.

If you are willing to demonstrate your good judgment, then I can suggest that your parents lighten up. You are about to turn 18, I assume. You are probably moving out next fall. They should help you learn to function as a young adult within the protective system I suggest above - or any legitimate one you come up with in your family. This way, your parents can both hold and push you, and both of you can benefit.

Marissa: I think your best shot would be simply to sit down and talk to your parents about your curfew and restrictions, and why you feel that they are unfair. I would like to point out, though, that not everyone is as fortunate as you when it comes to curfew. There are plenty of seniors out there who are still adhering to a before "a.m." curfew. So if your endeavor fails, know that you are not alone.

As I've said in a previous column on communication, you should broach the subject by first picking the right time to talk. Do not pick a busy night or one that falls after what you can tell was a rough day at work. Do not bring it up in the middle of an argument about something else.

In my house, the standard location for a family meeting is the kitchen table. Everyone sits down and looks at each other and shares their concerns, ideas and complaints. The best thing you can do is try to remain calm and not overly emotional. These two things will demonstrate your maturity.

Explain that you feel you have shown responsibility by following your curfew in the past, and that you think you deserve a more flexible one. Come up with a time that is not extremely far from the one that you already have - 1 a.m. or 2 a.m., tops.

Don't ask for or expect to receive an answer right away. This may take some contemplation on your parents' part. Try to remain patient. If time goes by without a decision, remind them of your request no more than once or twice a week.

One thing that my parents point out when I bring up the fact that my curfew has been the same since sophomore year (11 p.m. or 11:30 p.m.) is that after 11 p.m. there is not much to do in Lawrence that is appropriate for high school kids. You might want to consider how you will counter that argument.

If you are going to be at someone's house, then they should not have a problem with it as long as they know where you are before they head off to bed.

There are also statistics that show the chance of an alcohol-related accident increases after midnight. Their reluctance to allow you to stay out later may not be about you. It could be solely due to the fact that they do not trust the other people out and about after midnight.

I hope this discussion goes well for you. If not, you only have one more year before you can go away to college. Though annoying at times, in the end I appreciate having parents that show how much they care about me. I hear from my friends who already have moved out that you end up missing someone waiting up for you.

Next week: Dr. Wes and Marissa provide an update on the problem of date rape drugs.

- Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Marissa Ballard is a Lawrence High School senior. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues to All correspondence is strictly confidential.


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