Parenting Rules and Expectations: "But Everyone Else Is Doing It!"
Your child: "Everyone else is going to the party. Why can't I?"
You: "I don't care what "everyone else" is doing. You can't go and that's
Your child: "Why are you so mean? You never let me do anything. I hate you!"
Do you ever wonder if your rules are too strict-or too lenient? When is it time
to reel your child back in, and how will you know when it's safe to loosen the
reins a bit? Most importantly, is your child ready for more independence, or
showing clear signs that he's not?
If your child is asking for more independence, it's important to realize that
this is normal. Kids really should want more freedom. They should want to do
more with peers as they get older rather than isolating themselves at home. On
the other hand, don't let your child bully you into giving them more freedom. If
your child is pushing and pushing in order to get you to agree to something, you
don't have to respond right away. You can always say, "I need to think about it.
I want to talk to your father and your friend's parents first." Take that time
to figure out if you're comfortable with the request, if it's safe, if your
child is ready for more freedom, and what the normal expectations are for kids
in his age range. Remember, it's okay to say "no"-and in fact, sometimes that's
exactly what your child needs.
Here are 5 things you can do as a parent to determine if your child is ready for
more freedom (or not), and how to give it to him or set firmer limits.
1. Develop reasonable expectations. In order to strike the right balance as a
parent, it's important to lay the groundwork first by doing your homework. That
means finding out what normal expectations are for kids in your child's age
group. Norms differ for every age range: younger kids might want to stay up
later, watch a special TV show, or play a new video game. Maybe they're starting
to ask if they can stay overnight at a friend's house. Older kids, on the other
hand, are looking do to things like borrow the car and attend concerts and
Investigate. Talk to others. It's important not to stay isolated as a parent
around these kinds of subjects because then you run the risk of having your
child be the one to tell you what the norm is. They might try to push things on
you by saying things like, "Tommy's mom lets him do it."
You don't necessarily have to abide by his friends' parents rules, but it's good
to know what others out there are doing. Make your own judgment about what your
child should be allowed to do based on your family's values and what you know of
your child. How do you know when your child is ready for more independence? I
always tell parents, "You're the best judge of what your child needs. Listen to
2.Be clear and complete with your expectations. Let your kids know what the
rules are. If you have a rule that's really important to you, feel free to say
it over and over, like a slogan: "No drinking, period." Or "Only one other child
in the car when you drive," or "Follow the speed limit."
3. Know the Facts. If your child is asking if he can go to a party, you want to
get the facts first and attend to safety concerns. Ask the following: "Who's
going, how are you getting there, where are you going, and who's going to be
home?" If he can't give you those details, then he may not be ready for that
kind of activity. If he can and you decide it's okay, you can say, "Yes, you can
go, but you can't drive anyone else. And you need to be back by your curfew."
(Don't worry if your child grumbles. Believe it or not, kids actually feel safer
when parents set some parameters around their behavior.) Let's say your child
goes to the party, follows all the rules, and comes back in good shape. Chances
are the next time it will be easier for you to give him that kind of freedom.
Eventually, you might let him take another step toward independence by allowing
other kids to go with him in the car.
4.Make incremental steps. When it comes to giving your child more
independence, start with small steps. If she successfully meets the expectations
of each step, then you can add more responsibility or more freedom. For example,
if your child wants to have a curfew of 12 p.m. instead of 11 p.m., you might
start at 11:30 p.m. If you can come in at that time for two weeks, we can talk
about moving it to 12 p.m." This way, your child is showing you that she can
follow the rules. If you always say ?no? out of fear that something bad might
happen, the risk is that your child will never learn how to manage independence
because she won't have had the opportunities to learn.
If your child is acting up and can't follow your incremental rules, this tells
you that she's not ready for more independence. Generally kids want more freedom
and can learn how to earn it.
Here are four questions you can ask your child before you give them some
1. How will we know it's working?
2. How will we know it's not working?
3. What will we do if it's working?
4. What will we do if it's not working?
Those are powerful questions, whether you ask them in regard to your child
staying up later, using the car, or going to a dance. Here's how you can apply
it. Imagine this scenario: Your teen wants to go to his first concert with some
friends. Let's say as a parent, you're nervous, but open to the idea. The
conversation might go like this:
"This is a pretty big step. How will we know it's working-that you're able to
handle it-if we let you go?" Your child might say, "I'll go to the concert and
come straight home afterward." You might want to add the following: "That's
right, you'll go straight to the concert and call or text me when you get there.
Then you'll text me when it's over and let me know you're coming home."
The next question is, "How will we know it's not working?" And the answer: "If I
don't hear from you all night. If I find out you drove other kids in the car or
were drinking. If you come home late."
End the conversation with the last two "what" questions:
"What will we do if it works out? I'll be more likely to let you go next time."
"What will we do if it doesn't work out? We'll take a break on concerts for
awhile until you can show me that you can be more responsible."
Those terms are the elements for any discussion around your child meeting
responsibilities or doing new things. This is especially effective because it
focuses your kids on the rules while giving you a structure to fall back on if
your child can't meet the expectations.
It's also important to be aware of the fact that there are going to be missteps
on your child's part along the way when they don't meet the expectations. Let's
say your child drives to the party safely, doesn't drink, and doesn't have
friends in the car, but he comes home 30 minutes late. Along with the
conversation listed above, talk with him about what was going on at the time and
the choices he made. Ask, ?What can you do differently next time so you don't
come home late again and get in trouble?? With kids of all ages, let them know
that they're not going to be given more freedom until they can meet the next
Believe me, I'm a mom myself and I know that none of this is easy. We worry, we
agonize and we spend many sleepless nights hoping we've made the right decisions
as parents. Behind much of our reluctance to reel out more freedom is our fear
that we won't be able to protect our kids-that they'll do something that's
unsafe or scary. If you realize you're way out of sync with other parents in
terms of your expectations, it's worth looking at what's behind it. Does it have
to do with your child and the risks involved, or does it have more to do with
you and your fears? Understand that as your child grows, you really do need to
offer him the opportunity for age-appropriate independence. After all, how is
your child going to learn to be independent on his own if he's never given the
chance to try new things? It's difficult, but we need to make those leaps
sometimes as parents so our kids can learn to fly.
("Parenting Rules And Expectations" reprinted with permission from
by Janet Lehman, MSW
Janet Lehman, MSW has worked with troubled
children and teens for over 30 years and is the co-creator of
The Total Transformation. She is a social worker who has held a variety of
positions during her career, including juvenile probation officer, case manager,
therapist and program director for 22 years in traditional residential care and
in group homes for difficult children.