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What Makes a Good Parent? Rules, for One

You and Your Adolescent author Laurence Steinberg gives tips on the best way to approach authoritative parenting for your teenBy Deborah Goldstein
My sister is a travel agent. Last year, she booked a trip to Disney World for a family who required two rooms: one for mom, dad, and the 13-year-old daughter; and one for the 17-year-old daughter—and her teen boyfriend. Call me a prude, call me old-fashioned, but I cringed. (Disney, of all places?) I try not to judge other parents now that I’m one myself, but I think there’s a huge difference between accepting the reality that your teen might experiment sexually and literally encouraging her to ah, do it, by booking and paying for her hotel room.

I also think there’s a difference between offering feedback on a term paper your child has written and literally re-writing it yourself. Or giving them some space to grow when they go off to college instead of coddling them by texting, calling, or Skype-ing multiple times per day. These examples of modern parenting make me wonder if it’s possible to be your child’s best friend and parent. How do you set boundaries—without alienating your children—so they turn out a little more Taylor Swift, a little less Lindsay Lohan?

Laurence Steinberg, author of You and Your Adolescent: The Essential Guide for Ages 10-25, suggests authoritative parenting is the answer:
“Authoritative parents do not demand unquestioning obedience from their children, nor do they give their children free rein. Their rules are based on reasoning, and their limits built on love. This is in contrast to ‘permissive’ or ‘indulgent’ parents, who love their children dearly but have difficulty setting limits or imposing rules, and ‘authoritarian’ or ‘autocratic’ parents, who are controlling and in charge but discipline their children harshly and without sufficient affection or explanation.”

In theory, it makes sense, but how do parents put this into practice on a daily basis while juggling jobs, their kids’ impossibly busy schedules, and modern stresses like cyber bullying, where it’s crucial to keep the lines of communication open?

Steinberg explains that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
“When parents are under stress, tired, or preoccupied, they often slip into domination (‘Just do it because I say so’) or permissiveness (‘Do whatever you want’). Moreover, some young people are easier to reason with than others,” he concurs. “What matters is a general pattern over time.”

My son is only three, my future daughter still in the womb. When I get there, wish me luck.


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