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A lesson in consequences

Sometimes when my daughter and I get together, we do a bit of reminiscing. Our most recent conversation focused on an event that occurred in 1991 when Kate was 15 years old.I was living in Denver, and Kate would stay with me during the summers. We owned a small condo in East Vail and I promised to take Kate and five of her closest friends to Vail for the Fourth of July weekend. About a week before the big event, I asked the mothers of the girls if we could meet to establish the ground rules – curfews, dietary requirements, allowed and proscribed activities, etc.The mothers were somewhat surprised that a single dad was willing to tackle a houseful of teenagers for a long weekend. But Kate was always an easy child, we had a great relationship, and I enjoyed her friends. About a week before the “meeting of the moms,” Kate began receiving telephone calls after her telephone curfew of 9 p.m. I told her to remind whoever was calling that she wasn’t allowed to take calls after 9. She told me that these were some boys she and her friends had recently met at the mall, and she couldn’t stop them from calling.On two occasions I answered the phone and told the caller, a teenage boy, that Kate wasn’t allowed to accept calls after 9 and that he would have to wait until the next day to speak with her. In both instances they responded with “screw you!” and hung up on me. When I asked Kate who she thought might be calling, she said that she didn’t know because none of her friends would say something like that. But she conjectured that it was probably part of the new crowd the girls had met at the mall. I decided to let the subject rest until the meeting with the moms.We met at a centrally located home, and all the moms attended except one. (Interestingly, the daughter of the mother who did not attend was the most exasperating of the lot.) As we discussed the ground rules for the Fourth of July weekend, I was amazed at how different the mothers’ rules were from those the girl told me they had. After 30 minutes of discussing curfews and activities, we came to several agreements: The girls could not sleep in all day; they had to be up by10:30. The bed and hide-a-bed had to be made before leaving in the morning. The bathroom was to be “clean” before they left each day – since “clean” is a relative term, the young ladies took that to mean free from life-threatening viruses. The girls had to eat breakfast before leaving for the village and the soccer fields – eating hot dogs at the playing fields was OK, but they were not to leave the house an empty stomachs. And they must be home for dinner before we-they left for a concert or whatever the evening’s activities were.It was then that I told the mothers about the offensive phone calls. I was hoping for some guidance on the matter. But all the mothers did was to offer cliched platitudes, such as “That’s just the way boys are these days.” I didn’t buy it and added a stipulation to our agreed-upon covenant. I told the mothers and the girls that it wasn’t my position to contravene regarding the curfew of the girls. But if Kate received another phone call after 9 p.m., Kate and only Kate would have a half hour taken off her curfew for each such call. I further shocked the assemblage by adding that if I received another offensive-obscene phone call, that Kate and only Kate would be grounded one night during the weekend for each such call.One would have thought that I had just sentenced my daughter to a 1940s Florida chain gang, the protestations were so loud. I don’t recall if the girls or their mothers objected more, but I did not back down. Whether my method in this matter was appropriate can be debated. Nevertheless, for the remainder of the summer, Kate never received another phone call after 9 p.m., and there were no more obscene hang-up calls. It was obvious that six girls made excellent use of the teen tom-tom system and alerted the known teen universe that Kate’s dad was an (ogre, monster, tyrant – pick one) and they had better watch it “or else.” I have no idea what the “or else” meant, but in teen world I’m certain there was a consequence the boys did not want to face.I always believed that parents must establish reasonable limits and enforce them in a reasonable way. And that somehow the onus for behavior – i.e., notifying parents where he or she is, what they are doing, a number where they can reached, etc. – must be placed upon the teenager. Parenting a teen is not easy. But my daughter and her friends knew that when rules were made, they were either adhered to or appropriate consequences followed. To this day whenever Kate visits me, many of her friends (now in their late 20s) still follow the 9 p.m. no-call rule. Many of today’s societal problems result from an abdication of responsibility and lack of consequences – and these issues begin in the home. I don’t pretend to have been the perfect father. Nevertheless, I’m amazed at what I see all too often in the parent-teen dynamic, and that is unfortunate. Because without clear expectations and appropriate consequences, parents miss golden opportunities to gain admiration and respect from their teens. And the teens lose lessons that might otherwise guide them later in life.Butch Mazzuca of Singletree writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at bmazz68@earthlink.net


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