Dear Dr. Debbie, Is it too late to teach my teenager to be accountable for her actions?
She and a group of friends rankled our elderly neighbor with a late evening spontaneous symphony, metal trash can lids included. The neighbor went out to ask them to be quiet, which they initially did, but they started up again an hour later. I found out about it this morning from the neighbor. (I admit it didn’t occur to me to silence the kids. I was just happy knowing where my daughter was!) I asked the neighbor if there might be something the kids could do to make it up to her for ruining her night’s sleep then shared her list of possible chores with my daughter.
Without a hint of remorse, my daughter and one of her friends went over and raked some leaves -probably the easiest job on the list – and called it a day.
Is this just part of the teenage phase?
It is true that the teenage years are hard on parents. Probably because this stage of a child’s development is fraught with huge changes and critical daily demands. This is a stage known for risky and rude behaviors, particularly when among their buddies. Their bodies are changing and hormones are surging as they shift from the familiarity of childhood toward unknown futures. As they may be keenly aware, their futures may leave these very dear friendships behind.
Friends play a very important role in the teen years. They help you get into trouble, but also prove their worth when they help to get you out. It doesn’t help that our ridiculous high school start times impose a constant state of sleep deprivation. A teen’s full schedule may include school, sports, and other responsibilities, often with the pressure of college applications and career path decisions in mind, and often with less than all cylinders firing in their brains.
This concert sounds like just such a poor decision, albeit with a worthy goal of having some creative fun with some friends.
One of the best bits of advice for parents of teens is to pick your battles. Though your frustrations with typical teenage behavior may feel never-ending, being a teenager doesn’t last forever. At times you must put on the brakes for her and get her turned in the right direction. Help her to do the right thing when an idea that sounded like a good one among her peers turns out to be not so good. Remind yourself that you are still teaching her important skills based on the values you have guided her with since the beginning.
You need to help her do the right thing by the elderly neighbor. Even if your daughter’s friends don’t join in, your daughter owes the woman an apology. Your daughter was presumably hosting the get together and assumedly has an ongoing relationship, even if limited, with the neighbor. She must be held accountable. Help your daughter understand that the group’s actions were inconsiderate of the neighbor and an embarrassment to you.
Since she didn’t call the police on the teens, and waited until morning to let you know that she was awakened yet again after her request, I’m trusting that this neighbor has some compassion for teenage shenanigans. You might point this out to your daughter to help get her started on the apology note.
A hand-delivered note, delivered by your daughter at a time the neighbor is certain to be awake and receptive, could lead to a fresh start between them. Who knows, maybe the neighbor might appreciate being invited to a (daytime) concert by your daughter and her musical friends?
Teenagers, like all of us, don’t like our errors pointed out to us. However, pointing out how much better she will feel about herself once she does the right thing and makes true amends, you can help your daughter get back on track. This lesson will hold her in good stead now as a good neighbor, but also for infinite future relationships in which she is bound to take a discordant misstep now and again.
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What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.