Parenting 101

November 2011

1. My 6th grade daughter wants to “go out” with a boy in her school, but I think she’s too young. However, I don’t want her to feel she has to sneak around. I’m just not sure how to handle this.

While there are always exceptions, most 6th graders do not go out on ‘exclusive’ dates. For one, they do not have their own transportation, or the maturity to know what behavior is acceptable. Most boys and girls of that age meet at the mall, movies or beach with a group of friends. Typically, she would go with her friends, and he with his. The two groups meet and the ‘couple’ interact together while all the others watch and usually make non-serious conversations. However, it is not appropriate to leave them on their own.

By 8th grade there are a few who are taken by their parents or older sibling to the movies or a concert (some public place). They are usually dropped off and picked up when the venue is over. But at your daughter’s age, tell her you would be happy to have the boy over to your house, where they could spend time, but not alone or behind closed doors. They can have the living room to themselves while you are nearby and can walk in at any time. They can be invited along to sports events or family outings. Provide your daughter with as many options as possible, but tell her the rules are that they are not permitted to be alone or behind closed doors for everyone’s’ best interest. The idea is that as part of any child’s natural development, they need to learn appropriate behavior with the opposite sex. The concept of giving children freedoms that are not appropriate to their age simply so they will not “rebel” or “sneak” gives away parental power and assumes the worst of a child’s character. Set appropriate boundaries, know it is your right to do so and expect your child to live up to them (children often do live up to expectations).

2. Sometimes my 14yo son doesn’t seem to have any control over his actions or emotions. He makes poor decisions and I’m not sure I get through to him when we talk about long-term consequences. I’m worried that this isn’t just a phase, that it’s possibly a character flaw that could spell real problems for him down the road. Any advice/suggestions will be welcome. Thank you.

Brain studies for pre-teen and teens show clearly that the prefrontal cortex, which controls all impulsive behaviors, is not nearly fully developed. It is not unusual for that part of the brain to not reach full maturity until the early twenties. In individuals with attention deficit disorder, the prefrontal cortex is especially underdeveloped. This is a big contributor to what makes disciplining teens so difficult. Your best bet is to have consistent and firm consequences for poor decisions. Make sure that you explain that everyone makes mistakes and the consequences are there as a reminder to make good choices. Use the example of a parking meter. If you choose to ignore the law and not pay for parking your car, you will get a reminder ticket as a consequence. Getting a parking ticket has nothing to do with what kind of person you are, they are simply a way of reminding people to do what they are supposed to do.

The amount of a parent’s “parking ticket” should not be too little, nor too great, otherwise, chances are it will be ignored or rebelled against.

While more information about what your son’s lack of control and poor decisions would be needed to give you more specific advice, the fact that they have caused you concern is reason enough to reach out for some help. We would suggest a short consultation with a licensed therapist, who specializes in adolescents, to determine if there are further needs in addressing your son’s behavior.

Responses to the above parent questions 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 if you have questions you’d like our experts to respond to, contact:

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