Shaping Your Kids
After posting a blog item about how Robin and I raised our sons believing that they should be able to make their own choices, I got a call from a friend who said, “Yeah, Phil, but what if you can clearly see things that worry you? After all, you have often said their brains aren’t even finished growing until years later. What do you do then?” He went on to tell me about his 13-year-old daughter who, a few nights earlier, had drained a glass of milk at dinner and said with a proud grin, “Hey, Dad, I’m learning to chug.”
“It’s not the first time I’ve gotten the feeling that she wants to try alcohol or at least has it in her mind,” he told me. “So what do I do, right now, to keep her from gaining momentum toward a bad life choice?”
Good question! So, as a parent, what should you do when you see early warning signs that your child might be headed down the wrong path?
I strongly believe in prevention, early detection and early intervention. I’ve never been one to “freak out” on my boys, and I was not overly suspicious, although I had a clear-eyed awareness of how teens can make really bad decisions. I found that a slow and steady, sleep-with-one-eye-open approach always worked best. Let me use drinking as an example. Although I can’t say for sure why my sons never got involved in teenage drinking, I do know that one of the factors that kept them from indulging was knowing that Robin and I disapproved and furthermore, we were always watching them. When one of our kids came home, for instance, it didn’t matter what time it was, or what I was doing or what deadlines I was facing, I would stop everything, make eye contact and start a conversation.
That conversation might have seemed casual — just a simple back and forth about what they had been doing — but I was definitely debriefing and evaluating. I was making sure that pupils were not dilated and that there was no slurring of words. I had my antennae out for any warnings signs that they had been up to no good.
I always made it clear that for even just one slip, there would be consequences — there would be some sort of early intervention. They knew that it was up to them: mess up and pay a high price; don’t mess up and earn even more freedom.
If you see early warning signs, whether through their words, attitudes or behaviors, the timing is ideal to start a dialogue with your child — one that could very well last for many years … or at least until he or she is out of the house.
I believe freedom is an earned privilege, and my attitude was always that they were allowed to do what they could handle. Meaning: If I let one of my sons go out on a Friday or Saturday night without supervision, and he demonstrated that he couldn’t make mature, intelligent decisions on his own, then from that moment forward, his Friday and Saturday nights would be supervised. Just like that, his freedom was gone and not easily earned back. There was no question he was going to think twice before pushing his boundaries again!
What do you do when a warning sign first emerges? I’d love to hear from you, and I’d also love to share your ideas on the blog with other readers. When it comes to keeping our kids out of trouble, we can all use as much good advice as we can get.