I’m going to consider getting that parent’s guide. I was just having an issue this week with my teenager lying to us about the silliest things, but I was reading on-line that you have to understand why they are lying and deal with that because all teens lie, and they just like to push their boundaries. In my son’s case, it was always about wanting more freedoms and not to be treated like one of his younger siblings. So I worked with him on a list of additional “teen freedoms” he wanted to have now, and we’ll go from there.

Yes, it is absolutely appropriate to give a teenager more freedoms and more responsibilities as they grow older. Actually, this is something we should be doing all along the child/adolescent developmental cycle and most parents do this naturally for the most part. However, it can be difficult when the parent feels the child is undeserving of added privileges or has not earned the trust to handle more responsibilities. It is also difficult, when a parent’s natural need is to protect and care for a child, to then turn around and allow this child to become more independent. The nature of parenting is full of dichotomies.

Children begin to play around with the idea of lying somewhere between the ages of 3-6. One message that I would try to be clear with children of all ages, is that HONESTY = TRUST. And the more trust a child is able to engender from their parents, the easier usually life will go (i.e. more privileges, less nagging, better relationships, less discipline, be able to stick up for them, etc.). In fact I encourage parents who have a child who has told them an unpleasant truth to point out that the disciplinary action is going to be less than if the child had lied. For example: “Since you told us the truth, you will only be grounded on Friday night, instead of the whole weekend.” This process strengthens the desired behavior. And also do the reverse. “Since you lied about this situation, you will be grounded for three days instead of one.” This emphasizes the importance not only of the bad behavior, but of the accompanying lie.

It is also important to make a big deal of developmental jumps with both responsibilities and privileges. For example: “Now that you are 6 years old and getting more responsible, it will be your job to help unload the dishwasher.” “Now that you are 13 and more mature, your bedtime will be moved from 8:00 to 8:30 p.m.” In both cases the child feels a sense of importance and off placed trust. This is an exhilarating feeling and kids respond to it well, adding to their self-esteem.

In cases of “freedoms” or “privileges” it is important for children to understand that they are directly correlated to the fact that they must be earned. Freedoms and privileges do not come scot-free, and if necessary they can easily be taken away. Children should be clearly told what is generally expected of them, and what punishments/rewards they can expect in return.

On a side note, I encourage parents to keep punishments short yet effective. Make sure you are taking away something that really matters to the child. In general, I recommend not punishing longer than a week or two (depending on the age of the child, the punishment should only last a few minutes like in a time-out for a toddler). For one, the parent has to keep track of the punishment (which can be a royal pain) and secondly, when a child is punished for what seems like an eternity to them – it takes away the incentive to be good in the immediate future (i.e. “Well I’m grounded anyway so who cares if I skip school”). Some punishments can be more open ended such as related to grades (“You’ll get your cell phone back when your F in Algebra is back up to a C). But notice, how this is the punishment – it does not include all other activities such as going out on the weekend, driving privileges, etc.). Don’t ground them from everything at once, because it leaves you with very little leverage. It can also be beneficial to have a system where a child can earn ways to shorten the original punishment (i.e. “I know you are grounded for a week, but if you are willing to do some extra help in the yard you can earn a day or two off your sentence”). There are all kinds of effective contracts you can come up with for your kids as long as you are willing to get creative enough.

One last thought: most teens do not consciously think to themselves that they “like” to push boundaries. It is just a natural part of being a kid. In essence it is their job – it is how they find out what their possibilities are. Especially in adolescence when the child is needing to experience some conflict or differing opinion from the home base. If we can understand this as a natural process we are less apt to villain-ize them or their behavior.
Keep up the good and challenging work!

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