Between the books, articles and blogs, the parenting-advice industry churns out millions of words each year telling us how to raise successful, happy children.
A lot of this material crosses my desk, and I try to share the most helpful parts. But when I need real-life advice, I turn to a friend who has battled in the same trenches recently, and managed to raise wonderful adult children. That living proof of a kind, thriving adult is a convincing testimonial that something worked on the parenting side.
Recently, I surveyed dozens of parents I've admired over the years, who have enviable relationships with amazing adult children. I wanted to know how they navigated the tumultuous teenage years.
Looking back, when were they glad they'd said "no" to their teens?
It's difficult to set and consistently enforce boundaries with adolescents. Children at this age have better skills of persuasion than toddlers, but similar boundary-testing, over-reactive temperaments. They are also skilled at guilt-provoking mind games.
Themes emerged in the responses from the parents I interviewed. These were the top 10 situations in which parents were glad they stuck to their guns:
-- No to parties when they did not know the parent hosting it. Even when it mortified their children, parents called to ask if an adult would be at home during the party. Unsupervised high school parties were not allowed.
-- No to having friends over when there were no adults at home. Even when children are old enough to stay away from physical dangers, their brains are still developing. Having an adult nearby can prevent risky experimentation.
-- No to allowing extra riders in the car when a teen first got his or her license. It's too easy for inexperienced, young drivers to get distracted with a bunch of friends in the car.
-- No to a co-ed sleepover after prom. Some parents even banned single-sex sleepovers as a general rule, or limited sleepovers to homes of friends the parents knew well.
-- No to staying out too late. These parents set a curfew, and their children may have complained that it was earlier than when some of their friends had to be home. The parents said they encouraged making their home the "hang-out house," where their kids' friends could stay as late as they were allowed.
-- No to doing things for the kids that they could do themselves. It may have been easier and avoided tears and fights for parents to do certain tasks for their teens, but these parents said they knew teaching independence would serve their children far better in the long run.
-- No to getting every material thing they wanted. Teens were required to do chores around the house. Some parents expected their children to earn their own spending money by getting jobs.
-- No computers or televisions in the bedroom. The computers were kept in common areas. Now, of course, children can access powerful computers in their pockets, but the idea of setting limits on technology is still relevant.
-- No to TP-ing houses.
-- No to attending parties with alcohol. Not only is underage drinking illegal, these situations can lead to life-threatening consequences.
Of course, there will be times when a child will disregard a rule no matter how often or clearly it's been explained.
"Sometimes they push us because they want to see how much we really care," one parent said.
Just as important as what their children were prohibited from doing is what these parents made a point to do: They were present, active and available in their teen's lives. They kept a watchful eye without smothering them. They shared their expectations that their kids would put in the effort to do their best work in school. They talked to their teens, even when they realized that they were not going to be their friend.
The friendship can develop later, once the child matures into adulthood.
"Trust your instincts," one mother said. "And pray a lot."