Parenting 101

Dear Darcy:

My son is 13 years old and he has always been closer to his father than me.  This never bothered me, but in the last year or so, he’s gotten more and more disrespectful to me.  It starts out teasing but it doesn’t end there.  And god forbid I ask him to help around the house or even clean up after himself.  I know you specialize in teenagers. Is this normal?


For the record, I no longer specialize in treating adolescents.  I specialize in working with members of the LGBT community (that’s an acronym for lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender), although, being the non-discriminating person I am, I do make it my business to answer at least one straight question a week.  Having said that, as someone who used to work exclusively with adolescents, I would be happy to answer your question.

Children require boundaries, clear expectations of behavior, regular household responsibilities and appropriate reinforcement of their good behaviors in order to grow into civilized, well-adjusted adults.  Although they will fight against your efforts to impose my suggestions, they will derive safety from the inclusion thereof and will (unconsciously) experience insecurity in the absence thereof.  Parents often make the mistake of taking their parenting cues from their children: In the rare event that the child welcomes structure, the parent feels inclined to continue.  In the more likely event that the child resists the structure, the parent finds reasons to give up.

I’ll tell you what I’ve told hundreds of parents over the past 15 years:  Do not wait for your child to give you permission to parent him.  Parenting is a thankless job.  You will get no standing ovation for parenting properly.  But, like all long-term investments, when properly finessed, you will enjoy the dividends for many years to come.

In contrast, less than ideal parenting (which includes parents who behave as doormats and allow their children to treat them disrespectfully), will produce children who never learned how to manage their own emotions, who never learned how to self-sooth and who grow into adults prone to anger and rage.  Such children become adults who are verbally abusive to their spouses, to waiters and to anyone whom they believe they rank above.

Put in the hard labor now and you’ll enjoy a civilized relationship with your child throughout his adult life.  Avoid the tough work now and you’ll have an adolescent on your hands well beyond the age where it’s cute.