My 16-year-old daughter traveled with me to Southern California where I taught a parenting workshop earlier this year. Afterwards she was bombarded with parents asking her “teenaged” opinion about some of the guidelines I proposed. One parent asked her candidly:
“So do you agree with all your dad’s guidelines?”
I had shared a few of the guidelines we have in our home. One was the fact that my wife Lori and I reserve the right to read any of Alyssa’s texts.
Alyssa’s answer to this parent surprised me. “I actually agree with all those guidelines, except the last one about checking my texts,” she said matter-of-factly. “That’s just wrong.”
I smiled. Teenagers never have a problem being honest when they’re sharing their feelings.
On the drive home I asked Alyssa, “Okay, so tell me about this problem you have with me checking your texts.”
She was happy to provide her reasoning. “It’s not that I don’t want you snooping… it’s just that my friends and I can’t talk about personal stuff because we know that you can read it. Like,” she added, “What if I want to talk about female stuff?”
I really respected the way Alyssa handled the conversation. She discussed the issue like an adult, and provided really good reasoning.
I finally asked her, “Alyssa? How many times have I checked your texts in the last year?” I quickly added, “Really think about it before you answer.”
She thought for a moment, finally saying, “I don’t know. Probably once.”
“Yep.” I agreed. “And why do you think I only checked it once?”
She pondered this one for only a second or two. “I don’t know. Because you trust me??”
“Exactly.” The fact is, Alyssa has earned my trust so much in the last year, I barely need to check up on her at all. Plus, we talk about most everything. I’m in the loop.
This segue of high guidance to low guidance is what many parents can implement. I call it, “No Rules at Age 17 1/2.” When they are young, they need more guardrails. But the older they get, the more we have taught them to think for themselves. This should require a lot less guidance from us.
I finally told Alyssa. “Just hold on baby. In one more year you’ll have no rules at all. Until then, I reserve the right to peek at your phone if needed. The fact is… I’m proud of you for being so trustworthy that I don’t need to!”
This seemed to pacify her just a little bit. But it’s no secret, she’s looking forward to that guideline going away!
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