I read a bumper sticker the other day, posted on the back of a fifteen passenger van, driven by a woman with half of her hair pulled out, and a strange glazed look in her eyes. The message read, “Better Ask Your Teenager NOW, while they still know everything.” I smiled at her in motherhood induced sympathy.
“You’re just trying to totally mess up my life aren’t you?”
That is how the conversation with my fourteen-year-old son began late Sunday afternoon.
Apparently he felt that his discovery of a loop-hole in a family rule deserved my admiration, and not the immediate punishment that actually occurred.
“You think you know everything,” he continued. “What gives you the right to just pull a punishment out of the air, whether it’s fair or not?”
An interesting question.
In my defense I didn’t cut his hands off, lock him in a dungeon or place him on bread and water for the duration of the week. I simply grounded him from playing computer or video games for the last four hours of the day, a punishment that was dramatically extended when he wouldn’t stop arguing his point.
How do parents come up with the punishments, meant to teach their young people that stupid choices bring unpleasant repercussions? My sixteen-year-old daughter suggested that a family counsel should be convened where all possible rule infractions could be considered, and an appropriate punishment decided on by popular vote, our pet dog being given the tie breaker responsibility in the event of a stalemate.
“So, the curfew is at 12:30 a.m., and everyone but the child in question, is smoking and drinking in the car, when suddenly a deer jumps into the middle of the road, causing the driver of said vehicle to swerve into a ditch, thus causing the said stinky but sober kid to show up at 1:15 a.m. What, if any, is an appropriate punishment? And can some of it be commuted if said child can prove that they were wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident?”
There in lies is the challenge, to come up with an appropriate punishment that is both humane and just, while at the same time severe enough to at least make a teenager think, before they go jumping into a car full second-hand smoke and drunken teenagers.
In real life, the results of stupid actions aren’t always as mild as a simple grounding or a few extra hours of house work. They can be major big deals like income loss, jail time or death. And if we as parents don’t get these lessons drilled into our kids now, while we at least have a little control over them, we’ll have to sit and watch them screw up for years and years to come.
And so, with all the love and compassion I can muster, I give him my answer.
“The same supreme power who sent you to me in the first place, who let me love and care for you, and who will hold me responsible if you don’t learn right and wrong before you walk out of my front door for good, He is the one who gave me the right… and you’re still grounded.”