Imagine if your teenager followed all your rules and always told you the truth. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Well it is, but a recent study has identified the type of homes where teens follow the majority of rules and tell the truth most often. The trick is, it’s up to the parents to create the right type of home environment.
Parents who are the most warm and the most conversational with their teens are the best able to consistently enforce rules. These parents set a few rules over a few key areas. They talk with, not at, their teens about why these rules are in place. They expect these few rules to be obeyed while supporting the teen’s autonomy and freedom to make decisions when it comes to other areas. For example, a rule could be, “In our home we are responsible.” The parents talk with their teen about why responsibility is valued and what is considered responsible behavior. Everyone, including the parents, are expected to behave accordingly. This doesn’t mean that a teen won’t mess up, but when they do the discussion comes back to the value of responsibility.
Teens from these types of homes are also the least likely to lie to their parents. In these homes teens are able to protest, which means they deceive their parents less, but there is more arguing and complaining. It is this ability to speak openly that encourages teens to be honest.
The trick is, being a parent who is able to handle conversations that can turn heated. We all have a certain level of conflict that we are comfortable with and honest teen conversations can easily push parents beyond their comfort level.
Many parents view fights with their teenagers as harmful and destructive. These types of parent’s feel that being challenged is stressful, chaotic, and disrespectful. The interesting thing is the majority of teens perceive arguments differently. They do not view them as harmful or destructive regardless of the amount or intensity. Teens actually feel arguments strengthen their relationship with their parents because it is a way for each person to get to know the other. Most teens also view arguments as a sign of respect not disrespect. In fact, when teens initially want to break rules they often talk to their parents in hopes that they might budge. Even if an argument ensues the teen feels it was worht it.
Over time if parents are not able to handle conversations with their teens many may resort to lying or hiding their behavior. In many families, a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy can become the norm as long as everything looks good on the surface.
The study did not elaborate on how lying or hiding behaviors from parents affects teens but it is worth thinking about. When teens consistently lie or hide information how does that inform how a teen thinks about relationships? How does it inform their sense of integrity? Do they interpret what they are doing as bad? Do they assume that because what they do is bad that they are bad? As teens continue to lie, does it get easier? Do they engage in increasingly less appropriate behaviors because they know they don’t have to face their actions? Whatever the effects of lying or hiding behaviors, there is a way for parents to create home environments where teens more often than not tell the truth and follow the rules. Be warm, set a few key rules over a few key ares, support your teen’s autonomy in appropriate areas and be open to conversations even if they are heated.
– Permissive parents, those who don’t set rules, sometimes feel that rule setting will push their teens away. They feel that by not setting rules their teens will trust them more and disclose more, but this is not true. Permissive parents don’t actually learn more about their kid’s lives. Also their teens can interpret the lack of rule setting as a sign that parents don’t care or don’t want the hard job of parenting.
– A teen’s need for autonomy and their objection to parental authority seems to peak around age 14 and 15.
– Withholding information from parents is a way for teenagers to create an independent identity.