A friend recently asked a provocative question: What is your suggestion for parents who struggle with sticking to their personal beliefs while raising a child who is drawn, by outside forces, to a different belief? I'm really trying to find out how other parents handle situations where their decisions -- big and small -- might negatively impact their kids' social life.
As my children are still too young to have put me in the position of dealing with these things, I answered freely and confidently.
Since you'll never convince them that it isn't fun, attractive, or compelling, all you can do is inform them of their choices and how those choices might pan out. Try to convince or dictate, and it says more to them about you. Lay out the facts (or rules), and future behavior says more about them. Think of it as more of a consiglieri role than a director role.
For instance, tell your daughter that she is free to dress how she likes. However, dressing in trendy, body-revealing clothes will have the following results:
- People will notice her body, not her.
- Boys will make assumptions. Girls will assign a reputation, earned or not.
- Competition is everywhere and with everyone; style competition in a high school environment can only escalate, and there is no final prize. Compete intellectually instead; it's a stealthy move. You won't remember half their names in 10 years, and you haven't even met your best friends yet. People live a long time.
- Trendy clothes go out of style in a flash, so all fad items will be purchased by the child. They are not good investments for the parents.
- Investigate together the school's dress code. You can be at least as strict as the school. If wearing something there gets a detention, it gets similar action at home.
Emphasize that these are not punishments designed to make life miserable; rather, they are the rules and social norms, and so long as the entire family has been informed, any further breaking of the rules and resulting consequences is solely of the child's choosing.
Violent games? Can't avoid them, so set limits. Same as above: you'll throw them off by saying they are free to make their own choices, but bring them back by assuring them that freedom to choose doesn't come with immunity for those choices.
- Delay having video games in the home as long as possible. I went nine years, not because I denied them, but because I never mentioned them or purchased them. Children will discover them at others' homes and at school, and then you can talk about what the rules are there and what they will be at home.
- None in the morning when they are getting ready for school -- they're distracting and they listen less when re-enacting what they've learned. If the children are more violent with each other, there are more consequences; tolerance doesn't go up in proportion to the video game rating.
- Compare it to junk food. Tell them that it's not necessarily bad for them, but it does take up space better used by healthier stuff their bodies need.
- Set expectations in the house: they have chores, homework and whatever else. If everything else is done, they are free to do what they like in the time they have carved out by being more efficient with the rest. It cannot take away from other responsibilities.
- As with trendy clothing, video games are optional and transient, so the child will pay for them either with gift money or money earned doing chores or tasks. They earn the money, and then choose how to spend it. Let the money be the buffer, and the video games do not come from you, and whatever earned the money has nothing to do with whatever the money buys. Make it clear that if they earned it, it is theirs, and so long as it's not dangerous or illegal they are free to spend it and enjoy or repent according to choices made with full knowledge of the rewards and consequences.
I'll get back to you when I've made this work in my own home.
Mindy is a divorced mother who lives in the Bay Area with her three children.