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The Informed Parent

Parents and Kids Are Not Always Friends

by Shanna R. Cox, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Apr. 24, 2006

It seems frequently during my office visits with parents and their children there is a disconnect with the expectations between parent and child. Children need to know what is expected of them and where the boundaries lie within their family structure in order to function healthfully. Parents need to be consistent with their enforcement of these boundaries to ensure the stability their children need. While families may differ in the particulars of their rules and regulations, the consistency of these items should be a universal law. This not only should be easily understood by each family member but should be routine enough that it is expected. Thus, all family care providers must follow the same standards, and these standards must apply both inside and outside the home.

As an example, recently I met with a young teen and his mother. The teen was not happy with many of the decisions being made by his parents. When I asked for a specific example, the teen put forth, "I don't want to make my bed." When I assured him that at his age that wasn't a choice, he countered with, "My bed is too hard to make, because I twist and turn in my sleep."

I then assured him that I was confident he could make his bed as well as any bed presented to him. Clearly, this simple task had not been enforced over the years since the teen began sleeping in a bed. At the time of our appointment this very simple act was a source of argument and strife within the family. Asking the mother's opinion, she confirmed that she expected her son to make his bed as well as perform several other basic tasks. She added, it was difficult, though, with her son yelling, slamming doors, and quickly switching between hot and cold attitudes in order to feel good about their relationship. She wondered if it was worth the discussion to address this item.

I encouraged her to think about how she wanted her family to function. If she chose not to address this item, certainly there would be many more that might also slide by. This would leave the teen with no real sense of what true expectations there were for his behavior.

In contrast, if she chose to address this and the other items that she felt were reasonable responsibilities there wouldn't need to be arguments because the expected outcome would always be the same. She must be willing to follow through with the consequences set up for her son, whether they be positive or negative. If her son completed the tasks he maintained certain privileges; if he didn't he lost them.

Of course, there will be situations that are not "black and white". But starting with the ones that are, such as family responsibilities, will set a solid platform. This will be the beginning of addressing those issues that are somewhat more gray. Living these standards is not easy and will often require the parents to be the "bad guys". It could temporarily disturb what may have been previously interpreted as good parent-and-child relationship. However, the parents may look forward to more time to enjoy their child. They will have spent less time going back and forth between inconsistent decision making. Ultimately, parents must remember their primary function is to guide their children into adulthood and be able to function successfully in society. Children cannot meet or exceed expectations that are unknown and cannot be successful without a clear understanding of the consequences of their decisions, both large and small.

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