Cancelling Christmas?  Yeah, I’m Down With That…

Now that the first third of the major painting project is finished – and that’s fodder for another article on practical economics and kids – it’s time to get back to writing and what should appear but mild uproar over a parental decision to “cancel” Christmas.  Is this going too far?

Let’s set the stage here.  The parents live in the western US and have three sons ranging from five to eleven years of age.  Upset at the ongoing disrespect and ingratitude for a period of months, the two reached a point at which they pulled the plug on Christmas, at least the material Santa-aspect of it.  There will still be a tree and the kids will be allowed to receive their gifts from their grandparents and other family members, but the usual Santa-aspect fol-de-rol will be gone this year.  In its stead will be activities that foster what should be a greater appreciation for the season – adopting less-fortunate families, adopting elderly neighbors as “grandparents” and inviting them to meals and sending care packages to a weather-devastated village.  It isn’t simply refusing to even acknowledge the season, but a purposeful refocusing on the meaning of the season to teach a lesson in gratitude and respect for others.

But is it going too far?  From my standpoint as a parent of three kids, it’s frankly not too far at all and given the ages of the boys, probably not a moment too soon.  If you’re going to discipline your children, you need to start at a very early age so that you aren’t forced to fight battles with recalcitrant and hormonally addled teens, some of whom might actually be bigger than you are.

First, understand that raising kids to be appreciative, respectful and grateful is difficult in present American society.  The consumerism runs amok and with the plethora of kid-centric programming – Nick Jr., Nick, Cartoon Network, etc. – there’s an ongoing push to have whatever is coming down the pike.  This can be coupled with programming that also shows frankly disrespectful behavior to parents and other elders and yes, it is corrosive.  At an evening meal this past Thanksgiving break, Eldest and Middle – now in college and high school respectively – rode Youngest for getting Cartoon Network’s Fairly Oddparents banned from the household eight years ago when he responded to me with a character’s phrase, blah blah blah.  Even if the family controls the household electronic media, the kids will likely be spending time in school with more than a few peers in which the programming and media isn’t controlled; the upshot is that the kids will still be exposed and influenced via their classmates.  We’re raising our kids to take their place in the world and the unfortunate reality is that the attitudes and behaviors of other kids will bleed over into our own households and will require ongoing monitoring and conversation.

Second, the mother states in a paragraph that there seems to be a fair number of parents who aren’t enforcing discipline upon their kids.  There are parents who will threaten consequences that on one hand seem thoroughly unenforceable, such as the several parents that I’ve overheard at airports threaten their misbehaving children with leaving them behind instead of taking them along to Florida.  Really?  You’re not going to take them along?  At some point, the smarter kid realizes that there’s no way this is going to happen and the parent loses stature in the kid’s eyes and the belief is born that what’s coming from the ‘rents mouths really is blah blah blah.  If discipline is going to be effective, it has to first be enforceable; you can’t in the spur of the moment make a threat that can actually be met. Kid, if you don’t pull yourself together and stop that behavior now, when we get to Florida, you’ll be sitting on the beach towel for the first half hour instead of going in the water.  The next part of the deal is to actually enforce the discipline, however unpleasant that might be in the moment.  In the case of traveling to Florida, it’s actually best if you already have a track record of enforcing the discipline so that the child complies in the public airport instead of melting down into a massive tantrum.  So if you promise
in the household to remove a bedroom door for three days should certain misbehavior continue, then you had better follow through when that moment occurs again.  When the child realizes that you are actually serious and willing to follow through, then good behavior will generally occur later without the need for public histrionics.

The third point is that our economy is changing before our eyes.  In the past several years, the typical family has seen falling income and declining assets, coupled with the need to take on greater responsibility for medical bills and health insurance than before.  This is the kiss of death for the consumption model with which we ourselves were raised, when benefits were routinely provided by employers and Grandpa had a pension that provided at least a semblance of some security in his old age.  Our own kids need to start seeing a change in the Christmas behaviors and practices so that they can themselves adapt and work within the economic constraints within which they are likely to find themselves.

So yeah, I’m good with the notion of cancelling Christmas if the parents think that that’s what is necessary to restore some order in the household. It’s not just a simple ban but is being reinforced with more positive behavior that models the better aspects of the season and yes, it is something that the boys will remember, especially when Mom and Dad are telling them something when they’re man-children instead of boys.  If my own wife and I haven’t had to cancel Christmas, it’s only because we’ve already removed bedroom doors and cleaned out bedrooms of all toys for a week at a shot so that the kids understand that we’re serious when we say something.

Is Embarrassment a Disciplinary Tool?

Is it ever appropriate to purposefully embarrass a child in order to maintain control or apply discipline?

For all of the talk about how wonderful children are – and yes, they are – there’s another viewpoint and that’s one not discussed unless you’re sitting with a group of parents who are up to their elbows in raising and managing their children.  These folks, who do the toting, waiting and cajoling, are hardnosed because they see the unpleasant mess that comes with raising kids and when several parents gather, the philosophies, techniques and tactics naturally arise in conversation.  It was in such a gathering that I sat waiting for Youngest and the conversation turned to the question of embarrassing the child in front of her peers. 

One parent commented about a recent situation in which the child publicly misbehaved with a group of friends and was immediately chastised in front of the peers for a disciplinary two-fer.  Parental discipline was joined by peer embarrassment to lock down the misbehavior.  I don’t know the circumstances of the misbehavior, but the correction certainly met the criteria of handling discipline immediately and if the situation was serious in any way – such as bordering on illegality or physically dangerous – then that chastising in the moment would be entirely appropriate.  But it was in subsequent conversation that things became unclear.  Another parent commented that the presence of friends was immaterial to disciplining her kid and when others agreed, a third parent remarked that embarrassing the child publicly was a potent technique as the kid knew to stay in line when with peers.

I appreciate that last comment about the effect of a kid’s peers.  When kids are in groups – and this becomes more problematic towards and during the teen years – the group dynamic can become combustible and raucously out-of-control.  Middle-school boys are sometimes only a hairs-width away from devolving into a Lord of the Flies scenario.  With more parents either absent or failing to supervise their kids, the potential for misbehavior rises and anything that a frustrated or scared parent can do to put the brakes on errant behavior might seem to be fair play.  Both my wife and I have meted out discipline in the presence of friends but only because it had to be handled in the moment and frankly, that discipline extended to the friends as well.  If embarrassment arose, then it was purely a by-product of the situation.

To purposefully inflict embarrassment seems to be ultimately counterproductive however.  There’s a point where parents, fathers especially, become an embarrassment by sheer dint of…simply being parents, and fathers especially.  Oooohh, lookit that on his face.  He always has a few hairs that corkscrew out of his eyebrows like some demented cockroach on a meth bender.  Don’t mind him, he always breathes that way…  Given the typically lowered state of parent/child relations in the teen years, it doesn’t make much sense to further antagonise your kid and drive him further out of your sphere of influence.  Understand this:  if we’re going to raise our children to make their way in the world, then we have to allow them to use the teen years to move into it gradually with support and supervision.  This means that we have to recognize and work through all of the various other spheres that will touch upon them during this time.  There are people in this world who will happily, like Lampwick from Pinocchio, lead them astray to their own ends and without concern for their well-being and if we purposefully create ill-will, then we create an even steeper slope upon which we must walk.

As I considered the question for this article, I thought about how I’ve handled things with my own kids.  When I’ve seen something that requires immediate correction – typically involving a safety issue – then I’ve dealt with it in the moment and the chips fell where they may.  But more often than not, I’ve taken the child to the side, such as the other night.  In that instance, another kid was there and I pulled mine aside to straighten things out without fuss.  However, I also stated that if I witnessed the behavior again, then I would put both of them on the carpet and the chips would fall where they may.  The saving grace with this child is that I’ve managed to be consistent enough through the years that a follow-through was certain.  In this particular instance, the misbehavior ceased and I didn’t have to follow-through.

Embarrassment is a potent tool, lethal in it’s effect upon a child.  My choice would be to treat it as an unfortunate consequence of a necessary correction in the moment, but I wouldn’t utilize it as a sledge to hammer the kid.  Staying connected with them through the formative ‘tween and teen years is difficult enough.




Controlling Your Kids

One of a parent’s responsibilities is to control their child and nothing is more frustrating than a parent who can’t or won’t control their child in public.  When should you step in and provide control if the other parent won’t?

This question arose recently at a scouting event in which boys – fourth and fifth grade levels – were gathered at a science museum to earn an Engineering badge.  This was a four and a half hour workshop run by a museum staffer, for which admission was charged.  Parents were present and while I’m a scout leader that arranged for the boys in my group to attend, I wasn’t present because of another obligation.  According to other parents to whom I spoke, there was a particular boy from another group who simply ran wild and disrupted things; even the other boys from my group were appalled at his behavior.  He ruined experiments and talked back to the staffer and in one experiment involving electricity, actually injured one of the boys from my scout pack, who showed several of us the mark on his stomach at a scout meeting four days later.  A father who was present backed up the accounts and the event involving the electricity.

On one level, the museum bears responsibility because the staffer didn’t act to control the child when he was found to be openly disruptive.  But the reality is that this is a staffer who’s paid to present a program and not discipline children who are there with responsible adults, either parents or scout leaders.  The boy’s father was present and at no time stepped in, but simply sat back and watched his child misbehave and openly create problems.  No other adult stepped in either, apparently for fear of appearing to overstep boundaries and upsetting the father and the result was that when I met with the boys several nights later and asked about the event, what I heard was a story about a trainwreck instead of electrical circuits and bridgebuilding.  This was confirmed by the parents who were present with our boys.

It’s an unpleasant and uncomfortable situation, fraught with the prospect of further conflict if the other parent is an ass who won’t like seeing Junior chastised.  But when should you step in?

  • When you believe that the other parent will simply not intercede AND there’s real prospect of injury should something go wrong, like children throwing rocks at kids who are coming down the sliding board.
  • When it’s an event for which you’ve paid money and a lack of control threatens to ruin it for your child and other children.
  • When it’s not only misbehavior, but open bullying of your child and the other parent will not intercede.

 In the last instance, it might take a little time to see how your own child handles things.  Years ago, when Youngest was not quite three, we were at a mall play area when he encountered a child who by size and appearance was several years older.  This child would purposefully run into Youngest and knock him down, then return to his mother, who was also clearly watching events.  Youngest was knocked down twice and purposefully shoved down once and in the middle of this, she and I exchanged looks as things unfolded.  When the last shove occurred, I moved to intercede but stopped as Youngest got up, walked over and punched the bigger kid in the face.  To his credit, Youngest proceeded to play while the other boy then left with his mother. 

Each of us has a responsibility to monitor and control our children.  It can be embarrassing to have to do so in public, but that’s one of the prices paid for having kids in the first place.  Each of us likewise has an obligation to step up when we see a child’s misbehavior being willfully ignored by the idiot parent, and I say that because if you don’t, that’s how you look to the rest of us.

Unpleasantries:  Discipline and Teens

One of the most difficult aspects of raising a child is discipline, at whatever age.  That said, disciplining the child becomes even harder as she ages and in the teen years, it can become a damned unpleasant thing for which  parents can be unprepared.  Teens are affected by their peers – some of whom have little or no parental discipline – and frankly, the media.  They’re affected by their own bodies, which are producing a complex and potent hormonal chemistry regardless of gender and they’re affected by their own sense of growing independence and competence.  

We’re almost three generations removed from the bestselling parent books of Dr. Benjamin Spock, who was mistakenly believed to have taught that it wasn’t in the child’s best interests to be disciplined, discipline being equated with punishment.  Parenting experts say that we should be firm and in control with the intimation that voices should never be raised and that if we handle it correctly, then the teen will desist and all will be well.  And somehow, the belief has seeped in that we should be our childrens’ friend first and foremost and friends simply don’t treat one another in a nasty way.  The final result is, I believe, that there are many parents who will defer to the teen who pushes the limits and boundaries in the belief that what’s required to keep them within them is not acceptable as portrayed in the popular media.  And the inmates wind up running the asylum.

Discipline is ultimately rooted in the notion of teaching and learning, which is a far cry from simple punishment.  If you have just a quick, quiet conversation to point something out to them, you’re actually engaging in discipline and it’s frequently enough to keep things in order.  The difficulty is that as they age, all of the factors already mentioned come into play and make correction more difficult; if you haven’t already been quietly covering things with them, then it’s going to appear even more onerous than it would otherwise. 

Even if you’ve paid attention and had the ongoing conversations through all of the previous years, handling discipline with teens will become testy for all of the reasons proffered above.  While the teens are motivated by whatever they want – most likely short-term or short-sighted – you’re the one with the sense of the larger picture and that’s fine except that the pressing teen doesn’t see it that way.  There will be pushback and questions and even when the questions are answered, the rationale will be challenged and it can happen persistently.  Because the kids are now older, any number of issues will be thrown at you in sometimes forcible short order and in the moment, you have to determine the wheat from the chaff and move accordingly, all the while keeping the end goal in mind.  You have, in a sense, been ushered by your teens into Hogwarts, where the staircases move while you try to reach where you need to be. 

These exchanges aren’t easy as sometimes frustration seeps in amongst both generations and voices are raised against one another.  It isn’t a pretty scene and if you’ve consumed the popular parenting media, you’ll feel like a failure because it isn’t as calm, controlled and easy as it is made to appear.  When the time is less tense, you can re-evaluate what’s been said and even go back and revisit the issues with your teen; communication is an ongoing process.  When these instances occur, it doesn’t mean that you’re a failure as a parent.  What it means is that you’re having to grapple with the change that occurs with growing kids and change isn’t easy.  What makes a failure is simply taking the easy road, acceding to the demands of frequently irrational teens because it means a few moments of peace.


PracticalDad Discipline:  (Re)Grounding the Kids

Teddy, have you forgotten who you are?

                      – Parent to elderly acquaintance when he was a child

Many years ago, I had a conversation with an older gentleman who related that that was the common phrase uttered by his mother when he misbehaved or did something dumb.  The implication of the phrase was that he had been raised to not only know better but to actually behave better as well.  His parents assured that he knew the difference between right and wrong and could never blame misbehavior or errors in judgment on not having known.  In a sense, they wanted to assure that he knew who he was and that he was firmly grounded in the family values.  Perhaps it’s something that we miss and need to remember when we ground our own children for disciplinary reasons.  Grounding isn’t just a punitive measure because we’re either too terrified to let them out or we just want to throw away the key in complete frustration.

To say that a person is grounded is typically a compliment, such as she’s a good person who’s really grounded.  If you look up ground in the Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, there are a multitude of definitions and one of them pertains to furnishing "with a foundation of knowledge."  Apply that to the person who’s really grounded and you mean that she has a solid understanding of herself and the world around her. 

When kids screw up, and it can be spectacular, one of the common parental responses is to ground the child from favorite activities or pastimes so that they learn from the transgression.  But that can also mean banishment to the bedroom or some other place away and apart from the family.  In the short term, it means that the child will stay alive a little while longer and that you will too because that risk of stroke is lessened when they’re absent.  Unfortunately, it’s only to likely be a short term fix if there’s no continual involvement and followup to re-engage and help him remember who he is and what the family values are.  In the heat of the moment, we forget that the root of the word discipline pertains to learning and teaching and that means that we have to be the adults and put away the anger and fear; we must make purposeful efforts to spend time with them in whatever way possible to help reconnect them to the family values and lessons.  I have to rake, come hold the bag for me.  I’m going to take the car in for an oil change, come along and we’ll go next door for a soda.  Come and watch this with me, I think that it’s something that you’ll appreciate.  I’m going to walk the dog so get your jacket on and grab a plastic bag.  In other words, it does no good to ground them if we make no further efforts to ground them as well.

The next time that you have to ground your child, take a little time to cool off.  Spend the evening away from him, take a walk, drink a beer or go beat your head to a bloody pulp against the wall.  After things are back in perspective, then go back and start the hard work of actually grounding your child.

PracticalDad:  Must Discipline Be a Contest of Wills?

It had been a brutal session with one of the kids, who frankly refused to do what was asked on multiple occasions.  With a father who used to be a drill instructor, I learned how to get into someone’s personal space and face and this is finally what I did when I’d tired of the nonsensical back-and-forth with this recalcitrant ‘tweener.  The face looked up at me as I glared down, inches from the nose and with that, the child retreated to perform the oft-requested task.

My wife shook her head at me and sighed as she said, does it have to be a contest of wills?

It’s a question that has stayed with me since that evening some time ago.  Does there have to be a contest of wills between the parent – and when there’s a father around, it often falls to the father – and the child?  Discipline is one of the less pleasant sides of parenting and in today’s world, many parents seemingly want to be a friend or pal and nothing puts a dent into being a pal than having to assure that rules are followed and chores performed.  It can be much easier and less likely when the kids are smaller – they’re more eager to please, their social world hasn’t expanded to a point at which they’re too heavily influenced by other kids, and they can be more easily redirected when they get stubborn.  But shouldn’t it become easier when they become older, seemingly old enough to be reasoned with?

Unfortunately, no. 

Kids do grow and as they’re exposed to more people and situations, they start to change.  While I can try to pick my battles, there are simply some things that I can’t let slide and this is where it gets hairy.  The kids are undergoing huge changes as they explore their sense of independence, their unwillingness to appear "under the thumb" before their peers and the general sense that Dad is now a blithering idiot.  It’s compounded with male teens as some are surging with the testosterone that makes them believe that they’re ready to assume the role of Alpha male in the household and that is something that can’t be permitted lest the inmates take over the asylum.  It’s difficult, and this is coming from a guy who’s made it a point to assure that the kids understand from an early age that Mom and Dad have the final say.

So I’ll just have to continue to try to manuever through the situations as they arise and hopefully, keep the clashes to a minimum.  But they’re still going to happen.

Let the Kid Decide?

When is it appropriate to let the child make a decision of importance?  I’m fairly clear that as the parent, I have the final say in whether something happens or not, but when and how do I start to let the kid make some important decisions of his own?  Perhaps the most critical decision of a teen’s life is what happens after high school and if there’s no experience there because the ‘rents make all the decisions, then what happens?

The question raised it’s head – again – with Youngest, who’s entering fourth grade.  He was playing right field on a local little league all-star team in a double-elimination tournament several weeks ago, and the team was forced to play four games in four straight July days with no breaks.  He came off the field at the end of the first game, limping, and we noticed a limp after the second game as well.  By the afternoon before the third game, he came up to me limping and we treated it immediately with ice and ibuprofen; that third game went well for his bat but again, he came home with a slight limp.  Because this was now the fourth game in four straight days, our plan was to have a quiet day with a lot of rest and that’s the way the day went.  The problem arose, however, during the pregame warmups as he was shagging fly balls in the outfield and as I watched, I could see – in a single instant – when the look on his face showed that something had definitely gone wrong.  Since the coach was still busy with the other outfielders, he limped over to me and said that the knee hurt too bad to play.  Let’s be frank about what went through my mind.  The team only fielded ten players for nine positions, so there was no bench of which to speak and where would leave the rest of the team in 90+ degree heat?  Should I pull the Knute Rockne/Vince Lombardi take one for the team speech?  Honestly, what are people going to think of the boy for not going through and of me as well? 

As I looked at him, I quickly considered that I’d seen him play in the past with blistered feet and a shiner from taking a ball in the face.  He’d also been limping for three straight days with no qualms and while 98% of kids whine about little things, he’d come through some big ones without a whine.  As we talked with the coach, his options were to play in entirety, not at all or at least play for two innings and then sit.  The boy was clear that he couldn’t play and when I briefly revisited the question again, he was certain that he could no longer play.  The other aspect is that this is a child who’s playing for love of the game.  While there’s certainly responsibility to the team, there’s also a responsibility to protect that love of the game.  There’s no pay and to make a 9 year old play through even worse pain when he’s clearly played through some already would only damage that desire to play further.  I looked at the coach and confirmed what the boy said and like that, he was on the bench with ice on his knee.

So how do you handle such a situation?  There’s a fine line between understanding when to demand more of the kids and when to step back.  How do they respond to pressure?  What else is at stake for the options?  Are they prone to needless whining?  If they actually get their way, are they giving up something else that they obviously like?  Life can be damned hard and what our kids will have to face in the future is likely to be harder than ours and we do a disservice by letting them slide or coddling them.  The kids learn that they can manipulate us to avoid unpleasant situations and once they’re in the world, they’ll run into someone who is going to hand them their heads.  Yet if we repeatedly force the situation, then they’re defeated and learn that they have no ability to make an independent decision; there’s value in learning how to make a decision.  I’d like to enumerate any number of easily remembered bulletpoints, but it simply comes down to your own sense of the child and the situation at hand.  And like many times with children, there are probably going to be miscalls – and God  knows that I’ve made them.

As of now, Youngest is out of all running and impact sports for the near future as the orthopod to whom he was referred found legitimate damage to the knee.  The kid made the right call and frankly, I’m proud of how he handled the situation.  But that doesn’t mean that he gets a pass for the household chores.


Keeping Up With The Rules

For a guy who’s written about trying to maintain control of the household electronics, it was brought home the other night that I wasn’t aware how enforcement has slid as more kids came along and they grew older.

Enforcement is part of the parent’s job and I knew – intellectually – that I was being stretched as the kids multiplied and aged but a car conversation with Middle brought home how much.  Part of our primary defense on the personal computer is simply placement in the family room; with me and other siblings that would happily rat out the offender generally around.  But we’d previously had some age limits on use of the internet and allowable sites with Middle not being allowed on until a certain age and Middle pointed out that Youngest was allowed on at a younger age than he.  My retort was that Youngest had cleared a few specific sites for play and I’d reviewed them – which is true – but Middle’s response was that his younger brother was getting on without my permission and I wasn’t challenging him.

This is, unfortunately, true.

The simple reality is that with more kids, activities and general stuff, I’ve fallen into the trap of just checking on the site content but letting things ride for a short while before booting the child off.  In my mind, it was acceptable since I didn’t have the time available at the moment to just deal with the probable distraction caused by Youngest, who’d probably need or want something.  But my downfall was in failing to recognize how it would be viewed by an elder sibling who saw the youngest getting away with something, and he was entirely correct.  The other simple reality is that I’ve gone back and reviewed some of the basic rules with Youngest, who will have to check in with me anytime that he wants to use the computer, and especially to go onto the internet.

The final reality is that I’ve had to tell Middle that he was correct and that actions were being taken to rectify things.  And if Youngest just has to wait and entertain himself without a screen, then those are the breaks.


Monitoring the Movies

My wife and I go particularly out of our way on two items, making sure that the kids feel comfortable enough to have their friends over regularly and also monitoring the electronics.  While they seem different enough, last night was a case where they intersected and we had to decide whether the electronic control would damage the kids’ willingness to have friends over.  Can we be so controlling that the kids will cease having the friends over?

The situation was a gathering last night after the town’s Christmas Tree lighting ceremony, when multiple families and kids descended on a friends home for real hot chocolate and Christmas cookies.  Afterwards, five teenage boys – ages 14 through 18 – and a third grader came back to our house for multiple activities.  The youngster was spending the night with Youngest while the boys wanted to watch a movie and eat like locusts.  The typical chaos reigned as the group entered, settled in and began to pillage the pantry and refrigerator like Vikings at a nobleman’s castle.  As we got the younger kids settled, the older ones switched on the television and went to the On-Demand section to peruse and make a selection.  When I returned to the kitchen, they had already started The Expendables with Stallone, Willis, Schwarzenegger, etc.  The opening sequence of the film was the shoot-’em-up violence of any PG-13 film and I moved on to other tasks, thinking nothing of it until my wife called my attention to a scene in which someone was being waterboarded, to my wife’s horror.  One or two questions yielded the information that the film indeed had an R rating, earned for gratuitous violence. 

We’ve not only monitored and controlled electronic usage, but we’ve always been strict with the movie rating system and have on any number of occasions shot down a movie request because of the proposed movie’s rating.  My wife left the decision on handling it to me and after a short while to think, I left the movie run but joined the kids so that there was indeed parental supervision.  The gist of the thought process was that this kind of movie would be seen by any of the others and the concern that if I were to embarass them, the willingness to bring others into the house would falter.  It wasn’t a movie that I would’ve permitted them to attend and the boys did get one over on me.  After the movie, I spoke to my kids and told them bluntly that any future movies would have to be cleared with me first or else I would end it at that moment, regardless of the embarasssment.

In retrospect, I wish that I had just ended the film then and there.  While this wasn’t a situation that demanded immediate action – like drinking, partying or fighting – I should have made the boys toe the line so that they don’t begin to believe that I can be rolled.  The kids will sometimes get one over me but it doesn’t mean that I have to accede to the con.

Whose Room Is It?

Dad, it’s my room.  Why did you open the door?

This came from one the kids who arrived home from school to find the bedroom door open.  And it begs the question, just whose room is it, really?

Teens are acutely aware of their privacy, especially as their bodies change and they become more aware of their privacy.  I get that and recall the days of walking in my bedroom, shutting the door, turning on the music and turning off the world.  While it appears to be lazy – especially as I wander through carrying laundry or stuff – it does serve a purpose.  That however, is a different article for a different day.

The question arises because of what occurs behind the doors, at least in terms of unacceptable behavior.  Yes, I also know about self-stimulation and unless it appears to take center stage in life, my view is that it’s normal sexual development for teens.  But unacceptable behavior in this instance pertains to actions which damage the property.  I know one family whose son had an Air-Soft gun, a high-pressure air gun that can shoot plastic pellets at a high rate of speed, and he’d periodically load up the gun and shoot the walls of the room.  Did it knock holes in the walls?  No, but it did leave the walls with an interesting dimpled effect from the high-pressure impact.  It’s a conversation that I’ve had on multiple occasions with one of the kids as I’ve had to (re)explain my stance.

  • I reserve the right to open up the room when the child’s not around to permit air to flow and stuffiness to dissipate.  Teenagers’ rooms can get rank in a New York minute if permitted.  When the kid gets home and chooses to shut the door, I’ll honor that.
  • If damage occurs within the room – and I mean the damage that arise from brain-dead anarchy – then the door will stay open as the child has shown himself incapable of behaving in such a way as to deserve privacy.  Sorry, but the Justices don’t live under my roof.  It might be your room, but it exists inside of my house and will revert back to me when you’ve grown and moved on.
  • Privacy is also a privilege that can be removed in the event of outside misbehavior so egregious that it warrants it.  And there have been instances in our household when the bedroom doors have been removed because of major-league issues.  While we sometimes permit the kids to earn back removed privileges – note that I didn’t say rights – the loss of privacy is something that we’ve let run the full course.
  • I periodically make the statement that I reserve the right to search a room if I deem necessary.  I don’t know that that will occur but I don’t want the kids to claim that they were ever unaware that it could occur.
  • To the extent that it’s possible, any damage within the room will be fixed or cleaned up by the offending child.  That includes scrubbing the floor and spackling and painting damaged walls.  I can talk until I’m blue in the face but having to sand a recently spackled wall will send a memorable message – and teach the kid another life skill.

The last point that I’ve occasionally had to make, especially as the kid ages and matures, is whether they’d like someone to treat their property as they might have treated mine.  Some kids will never quite understand the point, but others will and amend their ways accordingly.

And to finally prove the point, not only do I open the door to the bedroom but I even open the window.