Home Alone?

School’s almost out, and while many of us are rejoicing, some parents are facing the perennial quandary:  what to do with a young teen or pre-teen all day.  At what age are they ready to be left alone?    And when they are alone, how can you keep them from making bad choices?

Some 12- and 13-year-olds may be ready to stay alone all day, but many of them will tell you it’s scary being home without any adults in the house.  They’re aware of the danger of opening the door to strangers, and it’s easy to imagine those strangers lurking outside in the bushes, just waiting for the parent’s car to drive away.

Others may relish the freedom but be susceptible to temptation, especially when joined by a friend for the day, or when invited to join in shenanigans via text or Facebook.

And there are those who aren’t ready for the independence, who wouldn’t know what to do if the power went out or the stove caught fire.

If you have no other option than to leave your under-15-year-old home, try not to make it for 40 or 50 hours per week.  Look for alternatives, such as spending one or two days a week with a relative or a friend, or enrolling in a day camp of some sort.  At this age, there are many options for sports, drama, music, or religious camps in different price ranges.  There might even be volunteer opportunities at a nearby YMCA or Boys’/Girls’ Club.

Be clear about expectations when you’re not home, and don’t hesitate to take a power cord (to a video game system or computer modem), a cell phone, or a laptop/iPad/iPod Touch to work with you if you have to.  Consider setting parental controls to minimize usage time, or purchasing software that lets you see in real time what’s on your home computer, even from a remote location.

Summer break should be a time to relax, but just like any vacation, it takes some work to make it that way.

Whining Allowed. . .






. . .but only on Whinesday in my classroom.  If they whine on Tuesday, I’ll respond with, “It’s not Whinesday!”  If they whine on Wednesday I’ll say, “It’s not – oh, rats.  It is Whinesday, isn’t it?”  I’ll sigh heavily, say, ” Whine away,” and listen to a chorus of ‘Mrs. Acuuuuuuunnaaaaaa!  Do we haaaaaaaave to do this homework?  It’s soooooooo haaaaaaaard!'”

Whining is annoying, whether it comes from a toddler, a teen, or an adult.  Humor is a helpful tool when you’re faced with whining, as my friend discovered when dealing with her daughters.

When they were out for a walk and her youngest kept asking, “How much loooooongerrrr?” and complaining of tired feet, Mom made a deal with her.  She said she was free to whine whenever they crossed a street, but not anywhere else.  Every time they stepped into a crosswalk, this clever mom would say, “Here’s your chance – better get started before it’s too late!”  Her daughter tried to whine, but she kept interrupting herself with laughter.

On another occasion, this same mom gave her daughter permission to whine for three whole minutes.  As you might guess, she  found it difficult to keep it up for that long.

Of course, there’s always the direct method:  “I’m sorry, but I can’t respond to that tone of voice.  Would you care to repeat yourself in a calmer tone?”  That approach usually works for me.

Unless, of course, it’s Whinesday.

“I Ate the Lunch!”

A parent came to me recently, obviously pleased with herself.  “I have a blog topic for you,” she said.  “It was hard, but I stuck to my guns!”

She explained how her daughter had texted her from school that morning and said she’d forgotten her lunch in the car.  After retrieving the lunch, the mom considered her options for getting it to her daughter.  Unable to leave work, she asked around the office if anyone might be heading in the direction of the high school, but no one was.

As she was about to ask a colleague to run the lunch over to the school, she caught herself and paused.  This wasn’t the first time her daughter had forgotten her lunch, but it could very well be the last time she was rescued by Mom.  She texted her daughter just before lunchtime and said she was sorry, but she would be unable to get her lunch to her.

And then that mom took her daughter’s lunch and ate it.

As she laughed at herself, I congratulated her on landing her “helicopter.”  May it be the first of many such landings!

She’ll Get So Mad!

One day a mom asked me for a good consequence for misbehavior.  When I suggested confiscating her daughter’s cell phone, her eyes widened as she said, “I could never do that!  She’d get so mad!”

The same thing has happened when I’ve suggested hiding the power cord to a son’s XBox.  “I don’t think I could,” was the parental response.  “He’d be so mad there’d be no living with him.”

Parenting teens is not for the faint of heart.  They can smell fear, and they will take full advantage of it.  If they know you’re afraid of their anger and their tantrums, you’re in for it.  Angry teens are no fun to deal with, but imagine a world where parents never made their teens mad.  This would mean they’d never say no, never require chores, never insist on homework, never expect a clean bedroom, and hand over money and the car keys whenever asked.  Not likely to happen.

Sometimes you have to make them mad, but that shouldn’t actually be your goal.  The purpose of a consequence is discipline, not punishment.  The difference is that the root word of discipline is disciplina, which means “to instruct.”  The root word of punish is punir, which is related to inflicting pain.  You should never have the attitude of “She made me mad, so I’m going to make her suffer!”  There isn’t much point to that, other than to prove you have all the power (which you shouldn’t have to prove anyway).   Consequences handed down when you’re mad are more likely to be for the purpose of punishing.

Wait until you’re both calm (in my workshops I call this being “in the blue zone”), and then issue a consequence with an explanation:  “Respect is something we value in this family.  You haven’t been respectful to me lately, so I’m going to take away your phone/XBox/car keys for a week.”  When he argues that you can’t do that, or she says that you’ll ruin her life, reply with, “I know it’s hard, and I’m sorry you’ll be so miserable, but I want you to see how important it is for you to treat people with respect.”

Guess what?  This is going to make your teen mad.  Really, really mad.  She’ll do all she can to pick a fight, or hurt your feelings, or deflect your attention away from the real issue, or all of the above.  You have to be the adult and stay calm.  Repeat that you’re sorry, but that’s the way it is.  Don’t yell, retaliate, lecture, or resort to sarcasm.  Repeat “One week,” and then leave the room with the confiscated item in your hand.

Chances are good that doors will slam and music will blare, but that’s okay.  Let him have his tantrum as long as he’s not hurting anyone.  Stay firm, and stay calm.

It’ll be easier next time.  Or if not the next time, then the time after that.  Okay, it will get easier eventually.