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Allow your child freedom but with a sense of responsibility

Allow your child freedom but with a sense of responsibility
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First Published: Fri, Jan 07 2011. 09 09 PM IST

Life lessons: Let your child spread her wings, but set the rules. Thinkstock
Life lessons: Let your child spread her wings, but set the rules. Thinkstock
Updated: Fri, Jan 07 2011. 09 09 PM IST
My 15-year-old daughter and I share a good rapport. Recently, however, she has been recently asking me half-jokingly if I, like other parents, am going to “grill” her when she gets to go out on her own with friends next year in junior college. I’ve told her there will, of course, be some negotiation on her freedom and privacy. Could you help me with what I should and shouldn’t insist on knowing when she goes out?
Parents ask questions that may appear nosy to young teens, but since you have a good rapport with your child, perhaps you could come up with areas that are “legit”—where you can legitimately ask for information, and which areas you need not know about.
Life lessons: Let your child spread her wings, but set the rules. Thinkstock
First, make it clear that what appears nosy is really questions whose answers will define whether your child is going to be safe or not when she goes out on her own. Safety— physical and emotional—is an issue and can’t be dismissed as your “needless worrying” or “interference”.
These are legitimate questions to which you can reasonably expect clear replies:
• Where are you going? From this, the parent knows how far from home the destination is, and the route. You could suggest better ways of getting there if there are any potentially dodgy areas they have to negotiate.
• What will you be doing? Here, you can figure out if they’re doing healthy, “normal” things and if someone in the group has some other ideas that are potentially dangerous/illegal/unsavoury in any way.
• When will you come back? Rather than a question, this should be a time you set that is realistic as well as safe. This should not be negotiable; stick with what you think is the right time to get back home.
• Who is with you? You definitely need to know how many people are going to be there and who. Reserve your comments on whether you like all these people or not if they are not troublemakers. Be prepared to not like all her friends. If there’s anyone in the group who is known to be reckless or a bit on the wild side, you can indicate that your daughter need not follow any sudden changes of programme that this person may suggest.
• How are you going and getting back? A fair enough question, it will help your daughter pre-plan safe and sensible ways of getting back in time, without any odd encounters.
You could impress upon your child the fact that lying about any of these questions could put her and her friends in serious trouble they may not have anticipated. Moreover, once they lie, it is difficult for them to quickly seek help if anything goes wrong because they then worry about their lie getting exposed. “It’s just not worth lying about these things”, is what your child needs to learn.
My twins, 16, are about to get Scootys. And their father has promised them the use of our second car on their 18th birthday once they take lessons and get a licence. I think that though access to vehicles will come at the legally appropriate ages, we need to put down some ground rules and advise them on many things not learnt in driving schools. Is there any point in doing this? Specifically, what should we tell them?
Yes, there is a point in having that conversation and having it on an ongoing basis, without nagging or harping. Legal age and licences is one thing, but the emotional stability and civic sense needed to be a responsible driver must be inculcated in youngsters by parents.
The first thing to underscore is that they are responsible for themselves and for just about everyone on the road at any given time when they are driving. Becoming aware of this will keep your children from doing a lot of the reckless and endangering things young people indulge in with a motorized vehicle at their disposal.
Some basics about maintenance, as well as good handling of their vehicles, would be a good idea. Make your children responsible for the scheduled servicing of their vehicles.
You would also need to explain how insurance works—if they’re old enough to drive, they are old enough to know the implication of insurance and the rights and responsibilities that come with it.
You would also need to lay down the law on speeding, drinking and driving. While the law is getting stricter over this, your own home rules should involve zero tolerance. Make it clear that you will not hesitate to withdraw the use of the vehicles if they ignore this cardinal rule.
Where and at what time they go with their vehicles is something you would need to know, especially in the early months of their driving independently.
Driving other people’s vehicles and lending their own to friends is something that you could discourage. A word of caution about whom they give lifts to would be important too.
Make it clear to your children that you would not hesitate to let them face the consequences of dangerous driving, traffic violations, wrong parking and other such issues, and will not bail them out if they are in the wrong. Driving while using the cellphone—talking or texting—is something you have to ban. You can make it clear that you may take the car’s/Scooty’s keys if something like this happens.
While all this sounds like much grim advice, it is important to also understand and relate to your children’s excitement and pleasure of driving their own vehicles. Do make an effort to be focused on this too, if possible!
Gouri Dange is the author of The ABCs of Parenting.
Write to her at learningcurve@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Jan 07 2011. 09 09 PM IST