(Excerpt from Fall 2008 Banana Moments: Family Business Quarterly) When it comes to the law and parenting, a generation ago it was a more simple matter. Parents were “the law”. Children caught doing stupid things that were illegal, such as vandalism, burglary or consumption of illicit drugs and alcohol, would be turned over to their parents. There was an expectation that the parents would impose appropriate consequences to correct their conduct – and everyone knew each other (parents and children).
According to Melissa Sigmund, of the National Center for Juvenile Justice, today “stupid kid stuff is getting prosecuted” and parents need to be aware of how the law will be enforced with minors in their own community.
Children from good homes are at risk of having run-ins with the law for a couple of important reasons. First, our family lives are more complex and hectic. It is hard to stay on top of what is going on with our children because we have so many demands whether it is a two-income family situation, single-parent household, a blended family situation or a combination of the three. One of the most severe consequences of our “busy-ness” is that we do not necessarily know the parents of the children our son or daughter has befriended. So when a child is doing something illegal, unrepentant and repeatedly, and you do not know who their parents are, it will be necessary to involve the police.
Parents by and large are not perceived as “the law” anymore – so increasingly law enforcement is dealing with the discipline needs of our youth. As a society, we have established that parents cannot be trusted to get it right in this regard. Witness Columbine and Virginia Tech as extreme examples of “youth gone homicidal” and the consequential zero tolerance for anything resembling a weapon by youth – on or off campus. I know two families in my community (who are anonymous to protect the children involved) whose sons were prosecuted with felony charges for aiming and/or shooting air soft guns at other kids. Clearly it is not acceptable to aim toy guns or shoot air soft pellets at others, and the incidents certainly demanded consequences so that lessons could be learned. In both cases, these families went through tremendous legal expense and stress that was well beyond what would have happened twenty years ago.
“We’re using atom bombs to destroy ant hills”, said one of the parents of these two families, “This incident could have been handled by the school, but the law required they be prosecuted because there were toy guns involved”. As a result, many law-abiding parents have confided they are wondering if it’s better for youth to deny and conceal stupid acts in order to avoid being treated like a criminal. The consequences for our children are dire. It is increasingly difficult for them to learn the hard lessons without being held accountable. And we cannot truly hold them accountable if we are afraid that dealing in truth will result in extreme criminal treatment for ”stupid stunts”.
Keep it simple; follow the law.
This is actually a huge relief for parents who feel like they need to justify rules about curfew, and driving, etc. If you stress abiding the law, there is very little to discuss or negotiate. It keeps things simple for you and your child.
Children pay attention to what we do, not what we tell them to do. So it is important to demonstrate respect for the law in everything we do, whether we agree with it or not. Some examples of how parents can demonstrate respect for the law:
- Honor traffic laws (i.e., don’t roll through stop signs, or text while driving)
- Enforce provisional or graduated driver’s licenses for teens
- Honor local curfew ordinances
- Sharing prescription pills is felony drug trafficking
- Making threats to kill someone or do bodily harm is felony terrorism
- Minor children taking nude photos of themselves and sending them to a love interest is felony child pornography
It remains a simple truth that when we hold up the norms for what is legal and safe – to the best of our ability, our children will be more secure. That does not mean they will be thanking us for it. Their job is to test limits. Our job is to reinforce those limits which provide boundaries for personal security until they are the age of majority at which time they are responsible for maintaining their own personal boundaries.
Local ordinances for curfew of minors really can seem antiquated and for many this may feel like a form of micro management by local government.
And perhaps for generations past, it wasn’t such a big deal, complying with curfew.
With cyber-powered communications, the juvenile behavior issues of the past are amplified. Kids texting one another to congregate in the wee hours of the morning are at risk of falling into unlawful and unsafe acts, or are staying up all night texting or playing video games because our mobile devices do not have a curfew either.
Curfew is a great way to instill age-appropriate limits and demonstrate respect for the law. You will probably have earlier curfew hours for younger children and then extend hours as your child matures and demonstrates responsible behavior.
Without an appreciation for curfew, we are at risk of blind spots wherein our child may be exposed to risky conduct and keeping secrets that ultimately become a burden promoting anxiety and insecurity which make us vulnerable for more risky conduct.
To learn about the curfew in your neighborhood, check your city or county website. Below are some links:
Roseville Curfew Municipal Code 10.70.020 Definitions (click on search, and enter “curfew”)
Placer County Municipal Code 9.16.010 Minors
Sacramento County Municipal Code 9.28.015
Laying down “the law” at home: House rules that strengthen relationshipsWhen house rules are readily translated to the benefit of the individuals and the family, it is more likely that children will embrace them and act on them independently. They bind the family into a common code of conduct. Rules that pertain to safety and other boundaries including treating others with respect, and personal development are more likely to be embraced. For example, family members can be expected to make sure the home is secure by locking doors and windows, use clean language, and not post personal information including the home address on their social profiles. Another example of a house rule may be times when homework is finished in the evening and lights out for bed time.
If, however, rules really serve parents and there really is no higher purpose, it is better to admit it is for your convenience, and as long as you are parsimonious with these types of rules children will feel less tempted to rebel when it is stated up front “do it for Mom” or “do it for Dad.”
Few, high-impact rules. It is better to have fewer rules that really are important and enforce them, rather than have lots of rules that are not consistently enforced. Too many unimportant, unenforced rules weaken your credibility as a leader and are fodder for dissention and rebellion.
By the same token, a home with no rules weakens your credibility as a leader as well. It is important to strike a balance based upon your family’s circumstances.
Strong distinction between rights and privileges.
Food, shelter and clothing are examples of things that children can expect from parents; while dessert, driving the car and use of Internet and mobile phones are privileges.
Privileges are important to instill the kind of responsible behavior and good judgment that reflects your family values. When children appreciate that a privilege is not a given, it is conditioned upon their being a reliable, trusted member of the family who can be counted upon to maintain the standards of your house rules, it reinforces the importance of their role in the family.
This helps children appreciate that who they are and what they do really does matter.
Follow the law. This is actually a huge relief for parents who feel like they need to justify rules about curfew, and driving, etc. If you stress abiding the law, there is very little to discuss or negotiate. It keeps things simple for you and your child.
Open communication – means that children are allowed to express what’s on their minds, respectfully and will not be judged for it. It does not mean that you will agree or they will get their way, but it is an opportunity for you to repeat what you heard them say so they can know that you are listening. Often children do not feel their voices matter or that they are heard. Our children need to experience expressing dissent in constructive ways, and in the process parents will learn more about their child and may also make some changes based upon quality input from the kids.
Language matters. Swearing and foul language should be discouraged because it can lead to a hostile environment. Anything that contributes to negative or hostile environments should be discouraged. Some people have swearing jars wherein the offender places a fee into the jar – including Mom and Dad.
Unplug time. Establish a time at the end of the day when everyone, including Mom and Dad unplug from their smart phones. Place the phones in a central location.
Try not to go to bed angry. Settle disputes. Do not let them linger. Most people, when they have an opportunity to express their “interest” are willing to concede other points as long as their “interest” is protected. Interests are tied to legitimate needs. Such as privacy from siblings raiding clothes or other property. Instill an ethic in the home wherein the individual is respected and not expected to put up with disrespect, including siblings borrowing things without permission or stealing from one another.