The Parenthood Dance–parents and kids aren’t equals

[This post by licensed professional counselor Lesley Cross addresses the problems with parents treating their children–tweens and teenagers–as equals.  The article mentions parents hosting parties where they permit underage guests to consume alcohol in the “safety” of their home.  If you are an Ohio resident, please see “social host” laws summary at the end of this article–the law might surprise you.]

by Lesley Cross, MA, LPC, Bridges Counseling of Worthington

When children are young, it’s easy to know who the “boss” is.  The parent(s).  They’re the adults. They’re in charge of making the decisions, the schedule, meal choices, preschool and daycare selections, playdates, driving arrangements, ensuring assignments are done, etc. This dynamic is fairly well understood and respected by both child and parents and continues relatively smoothly until WHAM, the tween and teen years hit. And somehow, many tend to forget who is in charge and why that role was important and the parenthood dance begins.

The issue with the dance?  There cannot be two leaders. Only one can lead the dance and the other can add to it but not push for their own direction. Otherwise the dance falls apart.

Tweens and teens push for control. It’s natural, even healthy. But they don’t deserve full control and it is unhealthy for them to have it.  Tweens and teens still need the parents who are in control and often in ways they didn’t need them prior, to ensure they reach successful adulthood.  When a parent treats a child as an equal it hurts the relationship in a way that causes both parties frustration, confusion and possible harm.

When children are treated as equals they expect their vote and desires within the family to carry the same weight as the parents (i.e. their activities, curfews, household responsibilities, etc. are what they deem to be appropriate and just. They will fight for these “rights” as the respect for parents as an authority is lost when the child and parent are equals.)  When children believe they are equals they do not have a concern about any consequences for safety and legal ramifications (i.e. the parents who host alcohol and or drug parties at their home as to “protect” their child from experiencing them elsewhere versus getting drunk or high in the “safety” of their own home.  Parents need to be able to enforce that such activities are governed by laws which apply to the adults, and the parents’ liability stands, regardless of the teenagers’ wishes).

Children who believe themselves to be equals tend to fight their parents more, negotiate for more freedom and often just take it as there is not a respect for, or even existence of, parental authority.  This creates a role confusion for the child and a frustration for the parents as the child has lost the understanding of the role hierarchy.  When this hierarchy becomes a level playing field, parents are unable to enforce guidelines, boundaries, expectations, household policies and safety.

Children are not our equals.  They have not earned (or have the maturity for) the same rights or treatment as adults. This is not to say that their feelings and desires are not worthy of respect or validation. Healthy discussion and communication on boundaries and expectations is critical within the parenting process.  Being in control does not mean hoarding power; it means treating children with respect, love, guidance, boundaries and the wisdom of knowing what’s best for them. And this can only be done when parents are not equal with their children.

The legal angle:

Ohio, as with many other states, has “social host” laws that pertain to adults hosting a party where a guest under 21 years of age consumes alcohol and then injures a third party while still under the influence–typically by causing a car accident that injures someone else.  The event actually does not have to be a “party,” as Ohio law states that an owner or occupant of a public or private place . . . cannot furnish it [alcohol] to an underage person. . .  

Ohio law provides that minors are permitted to consume alcohol with the consent of–and in the presence of–a parent or legal guardian.  What the law requires is that the parent actually be present.  The parent cannot give consent to another adult to permit their minor to drink.  And, it is a strict requirement in Ohio that the consenting parent be present when the minor consumes alcohol, so if other minors want a drink, their parents must consent and be present also.

In summary, if you host a party where alcohol is being consumed, you can consent to your child drinking, but if an underage guest drinks and his or her parents are not present and consenting, then you could be liable for any trouble that results from that underage guest.

To see the underage drinking laws in your state, click here.