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Ultimatums to Teens - A Word of Caution

  • anonymous Asks ...

    Last night my 16 year old daughter wanted to go to a party on a school night. I said no and she said she was going to go anyway. When she was walking out the door I asked her to think about what she was doing, and that if she would not obey the rules she couldn't stay in this house. She said a few angry things and left and I told her if she left now to not come home. So last night she did not come home. I don't know what her plan is but I am worried about her out there on her own. But we have had a lot of discipline problems with her and if I don't carry out my threat then I think I will have no way to protect her from bad choices anymore. Additionally, having someone disrespect my wife and I in our own house is not really a situation I can tolerate. Is there any way for us to not ask her to leave and still get her to change her behaviors?

  • Rev. Christopher Smith Says ...
    Rev. Christopher Smith

    Making threats, especially when angry, is not generally a good idea. This is especially the case when trying to parent a teen. The problem in this particular situation is that you created a "no win" situation. You have now found yourself in a situation of having to chose between options you find difficult to make.

    The reality of the present situation is that you are left in an untenable situation. You are now left not being able to provide basic cae that is a responsibility of parenting. You want to do this while also providing reasonable structure. You may be very justified to be worried about your child, especially as time goes on.

    Before making some suggestions about moving forward, a more general suggestion might be helpful for situations such as the one that occurred. It sounds like you basically provided an A or not A with consequences type of choice. Many parents give this type of choice to children. If they chose A (the desired outcome), all is well. If they chose not A then either the consequences kick in or it weakens the parenting. This is especially problem some when the consequences are broad and not really likely or able to be enforced (such as NEVER come home). A better solution in such situations is to offer the child (especially a teenager) a range of choices, preferably with all of them being acceptable to you as the parent.

    However, back to the present situation. You have a range of options available to you. If your teenager is truly out of control, in a dangerous way, you could talk to your local child welfare office about them being identified as "a child in need of services" (this may be beyond where you are at but depending on other suspicions could be appropriate). You could see how your child does in another environment - spending the summer with an out of town relative is an opportunity that has just passed. You could entertain the idea of the teenager returning home conditional upon discussing boundaries for that - and to be most effective this does need to be a discussion. With as difficult as it sounds like the relationship has become, I would even suggest using a marriage and family therapist to help facilitate that conversation. That person may even prove helpful longer term. Going this route is not just giving in, still expresses love and caring, and has the possibility of laying groundwork for the future.

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