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Discipline and Guidance: Early to Middle Adolescence: Socializing, Dating and Driving

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.

Socializing and Dating

Family rules and expectations can become complicated when teens visit each other's homes. As discussed, every family has their own values and beliefs, and their own rules that reflect these values and beliefs. Parents of different families often see their roles differently. These differing expectations can become sources of difficulty for teens and their parents. Nevertheless, parents need to establish clear guidelines that enable their youth to make wise choices.

3D figures datingFirst, youth should be explicitly taught they are expected to follow their own family's rules whether they are at home or visiting someone else's home; and, they must also comply with the rules of the home they are visiting. However, these two sets of rules may conflict with each other (i.e., one set of rules is more strict or more lenient than the other) leaving teens to judge which set of rules should apply. Teens should be instructed to follow the more strict set of rules when they are in doubt.

The best way parents can help prevent problems from developing is to be in direct communication with other parents. Before youth visit each other's homes, the children's parents should talk with each other, on the phone or in person, so they can become acquainted and begin a dialogue about rules and expectations . If one parent has strong convictions about certain rules or behavior that should be enforced regardless of which home a child is visiting, they need to respectfully discuss these expectations with the other parent to see if their expectations are agreeable to the other parent. When there is disagreement, parents should discuss their different approaches and work out a satisfactory solution. For example, if Johnny's mom doesn't want Johnny hanging out at a friend's house without adult supervision, Johnny's mom can discuss this with Ken's mom and inquire whether there will be an adult present during the time the two boys are planning to visit. If Ken's mother reports she doesn't share that belief or that she can't be home when the guys want to socialize, Johnny's mom may ask that the boys visit at her home instead (with her supervision) for the afternoon or the boys may need to reschedule their visit to coincide with a time when Ken's mom is expected to be home.

If parents become aware of activities or rules at another child's home that they do not agree with, they should calmly discuss their concerns with the parents of the other child. Perhaps the youth did not accurately explain the difference in rules or perhaps the other parents were not aware of the reasons for concern. If after that conversation, parents feel like the friends' parents do not see the need to address the behaviors or to adjust their monitoring or rule application, parents may need to create other ways youth can still foster that friendship without socializing at that friend's house. As mentioned, teens can be taught a simple "default" rule to follow: When two sets of rules conflict, follow the stricter version of the two rules. Then, at the soonest opportunity the youth should discuss the conflicting rules with their own parents.

Adolescents also begin dating during this time, and may begin to form romantic/sexual relationships. Parents should first discuss with each other their own thoughts about dating, and values regarding sexually active teens, and teens should be made aware of any expectations their parents have. More information about this delicate topic is available in the Puberty article about teaching sexual values and in the Adolescent Sexual Development section.

Driving Privileges

Consistent with laws that apply to everyone, parents should help their youth recognize that driving is a privilege and not a right. As such, it is a privilege that is earned, and can be taken away. Similarly, the use of a car, whether the family car or a teen's own car, is an expensive privilege that can be awarded for responsible behavior, or taken away for irresponsible behavior. At a minimum parents should clearly establish and communicate their expectations about driving and the use of a car. Specifically, teens should be aware of what behavior will result in the loss of driving privileges (for instance, drug or alcohol use). More information about driving is found in the Safety section.

Experimentation with alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs

Besides talking to youth about the risks to using substances, parents need to express clear rules and expectations around teen substance use. At a minimum parents should establish rules that are consistent with state and federal laws. Youth should not be allowed to smoke or use any tobacco product before they turn 18, and they shouldn't be allowed to drink until they are 21. Illegal drugs are off-limits for the same reasons; because in fact, they are illegal. Parents need to make these boundaries clear. Therefore, parents should not provide their youth with alcohol or tobacco, or allow any youth to use alcohol or tobacco while in their presence. Some parents may wish to make an exception for substances used during sacred religious events or important family traditions. For instance, in the Catholic tradition, the consumption of a small amount of wine is part of a holy sacrament and in the Lakota tradition, tobacco may be consumed during a sweat lodge purification ceremony.

Furthermore, youth should clearly understand what the consequences are for illicit drug use (including alcohol), such as the loss of driving privileges, and establish clear guidelines about what should be done if they are with friends who are using alcohol and other drugs. It is important that parents make it clear, that not only do they expect their own children to refrain from alcohol or other drug use, but youth are expected to avoid being with friends while those friends are using alcohol or other drugs. More detailed information about this subject is providing in the Safety Section.