Parents' responsibilities for teenagers


Spaghetti on toast spelling sex, drugs and rock and rollTeenagers look grown-up long, long before they're truly adults. And in the period when they can look 25, but sometimes behave like 2.5 year olds, you have to negotiate the path of how much freedom you let them have, how much you treat them as adults, and when you have to lay down the law and remind them what the rules are.

The fact is that boundaries are every bit as important when you're parenting teenagers as they are when you're parenting toddlers. They're very different boundaries, but - just like small children - teenagers feel safer, and more secure, when they know there are clear rules around the edges. And just as with smaller kids, the trick with older ones is to mean what you say.

"I have been pretty tough (I think) on my son at times.. and, yes, you can ground a 17 year old. It's my home so they're my rules. We sold my son's moped when we discovered he was using it stupidly. OK, it means I'm a taxi - but it also taught him that if he screwed up there were consequences." Macforme

One difference between younger kids and teenagers is that your own behaviour - always, of course, vital in terms of role-modelling - will now come in for overt scrutiny. Expect no mercy if you're saying one thing and doing another. Take care that you're not being hypocritical in your views and your expectations; it will be noted.

"I bravely and nobly sacrifice myself hogging the computer Mumsnetting, so that my 13 year old will not be exposed to the corruption of the internet. Not quite sure what she fills her time with; she reads a fair bit." Cory

Supervising teens vs leaving them home alone

How much supervision to provide is one of the perennial questions of the parent with teens. Dilemma number one is when they're old enough to leave at home alone; the answer is, there's no actual age (either legally or morally) because it comes down to your instincts - and to your environment.

If you live in the middle of nowhere, and you have a timid kid, you can't leave him or her alone; if on the other hand you live in the centre of a city, with friendly neighbours all around, and have a confident 11 year old who's happy to be left for an hour while you're out shopping, do leave her.

Make sure there are ground rules: don't open the door to callers; phone the neighbour if you need help; and make sure you're only as long as you say you'll be.

The same thing applies to leaving teens overnight - it's all about how they feel about it, as well as your environment.

"I teach 16 year olds and even the lovely ones I would not feel OK about them being unsupervised all weekend... think it might all get a bit experimental when they are let loose for the first time. Much better to all go for a pizza then back to someone's house for mini-party with adults in different part of the house, I reckon. But is that a bit Famous Five?" Oovavu

Messages on alcohol

This particularly applies to alcohol consumption: it might be difficult to refuse your older teenager any alcohol if you're drinking it yourself on a regular basis. On the other hand, teens often don't want to drink with adults - they want to drink with their own friends.

Try not to supply alcohol - watch out that it's not being nicked from your spirit bottles - and don't role model its use as essential to any down-time.

Piercings and shock tactics

Part of the raison d'etre of adolescence is the need to shock: so you have to expect some outrageous suggestions, and to have decided beforehand how you're going to deal with them.

Body piercings, weird hair colour and cuts, odd clothing trends - these are the emblems or badges of 'growing up', and we have to take them in our stride but, at the same time, know when to rein things in.

You might decide that two piercings in each ear and a pierced belly button is fine at 16, but that further piercings (tongues and nipples, perhaps) should wait until they're 18 - or perhaps till they've left home.


Last updated: about 3 years ago