When we were anticipating the arrival of our first child, and we were sitting in the thematically coordinated nursery and dreaming of the Child of Our Dreams, most of us ignored the imminent realities that would plague us — from night wakings and disgusting messes to deception and outright defiance. If you have a teen son or daughter, the ignorant bliss of a parent-to-be is probably a distant memory. You know many joys of parenting, but you also know the realities.
Some parents seem to live in a blissful dream world, only to be occasionally awakened from their stupor by major infractions that require discipline. Other (wiser) types realize where potential pitfalls are and set up plans for how to help their teens avoid such errors and communicate would-be results ahead of time.
Providing a modern parable of sorts, showcasing Reactive vs. Proactive parenting styles would be the Laptop-Shooting Dad of February 2012 alongside the iPhone-Contract Mom of December 2012. While perhaps some parental differences could be attributed to genre (text versus video), gender or geography (North Carolina versus Massachusetts), the comparison still bears consideration as a caricature of two distinctive parenting styles.
The blogger who outlined 18 rules for her teenaged son’s new iPhone expressed her understanding of reality in the last of her smart phone laws: “You will mess up. I will take away your phone. We will sit down and talk about it. We will start over again.” She follows that great dose of reality with these powerful words of solidarity: “You & I, we are always learning. I am on your team. We are in this together.”
While it might not be fair to assume we know all the ins and outs of any relationship based on a cameo we see online (or even in real life), I’m not sure I can imagine the laptop-shooting dad saying, writing, or otherwise expressing the same sentiment to his daughter. When parents are shocked by their kids’ misbehavior and unprepared for such situations, reactive mode sets in, and a combative, antagonistic stance is naturally assumed.
Besides the completely negligent, abusive types, I’m pretty sure most parents (including firearms-bearing reactive types) really do make choices based on what they think will benefit their kids. It’s just that when we’re caught off-guard, we generally don’t respond carefully: We react.
So how can we avoid those kinds of situations? With each new stage of development and freedom, parents can be proactive by considering the new ways their teen can now misbehave and discuss those potential pitfalls with their teen. Included in such discussions should be clear communication of consequences, along with reminders of solidarity within the context of a loving, open relationship.