Parenting 101

March 2011

1. My 16yo son is close to getting his driver’s license. We can’t afford to buy him a car (like many of his friends) so I need help with appropriate boundaries for his use of the family car. He’s basically a good kid, but does bend the rules now & then. Thank you.

When it comes to your teen’s use of the family car, it is best to make a clear agreement (in writing might be a good idea) on when it can be used. This would usually involve the times it is not needed to get you to work or run errands. But more importantly, an agreement must include sharing of the responsibility for the use of the car. This includes maintenance of the car, such as washing the car, keeping it filled with gas, and helping to take it in for service. Perhaps your son can help with household errands like going to the store or picking up dry cleaning. This will be critical training for the day when he does have his own car.

Make sure to spell out consequences should he break the law (i.e. speeding, driving friends when not legally allowed to) or for failure to return home on time etc. Avoid situations where he is scheduled to come home after you are asleep, for a kid who does bend the rules occasionally, this is a prime set up to do so.

It must be made clear that the use of the automobile is strictly a privilege that must be earned, and not a right. Explain that each and every infraction will result in a loss of this and/or other privileges. Because you have complete control over the use of your car, you have a great deal of leverage in teaching your child to earn their privileges like all adults.

Finally, parents should never feel badly if they’re not able to buy their child a car, even if they believe all of their friends parents are buying cars for their children. There are far more parents who can’t afford to buy their children cars than those that can. The important thing to remember is that this has never been a factor of good parenting. Good parenting involves teaching your children to appreciate what they have and to share in responsibility.

2. We have a 4 year old daughter who is quite precocious. Unfortunately, we have spoiled her rotten. Now she’s throwing tantrums and misbehaving to the point of embarrassment. How do we fix this?

You begin by rethinking your philosophy on raising children. It is not ‘spoiling’ that is the problem with your child, it is what we call ‘enabling’. Spoiling is the act of providing them with more than they need, enabling them is the act of not holding them accountable for their behavior and actions. We hold young children accountable in the same way we hold adults accountable, by having them earn their privileges. The act of holding someone accountable involves consequences and not punishment. While there can be a fine line between punishment and consequences, the main difference is that individuals are able to avoid consequences by making the right choices.

For example, your young child can avoid having her favorite toy being put in time out for a day if she picks up her toys before dinner time. She can watch her favorite TV program if her chores are completed or she has shown good behavior all day. She can wear her favorite outfit if she is ready for school on time. The key to good parenting is the effective and proper use of appropriate consequences. The only purpose of consequences is to get your attention, not to cause suffering. Like parking tickets – they don’t hurt you or punish you, they are a fine that you wish you did not have to pay, but you can only blame yourself for having to pay it. Remember, you do not control your child, or anyone else, however, you do control each and every privilege your child earns – and earn they must or you risk raising a child who believes the world owes them everything.

The questions above are from parents who live in the South Bay. The responses have been provided by members of the South Bay Coalition whose expertise and experience lies in parenting, counseling, and/or substance abuse prevention. The South Bay Coalition is a non-profit partnership of agencies working to prevent substance abuse among our community’s youth. For local resources or more information, please visit our website or contact: