Dear Your Teen:
I have a 14-year-old entering high school and a 22-year-old (temporarily) living at home after college. My freshman has curfew, allowance, minimal chores, and I prepare meals and do laundry. My post-college daughter living at home must do her own laundry and pay for her own expenses, but she has no curfew and is legally able to drink. I’m afraid it will be hard to enforce two different sets of rules successfully. How do I manage the rules for my 14-year-old and balance them with the different set of rules for my adult child living at home?
EXPERT | Dr. Deborah Gilboa
It sounds like you have made a great start. You have a clear understanding of the boundaries and privileges that are appropriate for each of your kids. The only challenge you have is to make those boundaries and privileges clear to your 14-year-old. You are way ahead!
To make your stance clear to your freshman, you may be best served by formalizing the increased privileges and obligations of entering high school. Point out whatever has changed since middle school. Does your 14-year-old have a slightly later curfew? Are you more flexible about where or when that child does homework, or spends time with friends? Do you supervise the younger one’s activities in a more relaxed way? It may help to write things down.
Show your younger child the progression of privileges as each of your kids matures. What lies ahead for your younger child if you’re impressed by this year’s behavior? This philosophy–that a child’s privileges are dictated by their own maturity and not the age of their siblings–is strong and reasonable.
Of course the 14-year-old will want to compare, and talk about things like “fair” and “if she gets to, I should too!” If your adult child living at home had the same limits as a freshman, this may be worth mentioning. Though it is likely that your younger one will not feel that this revelation has anything to do with the current situation!
To take your teen’s focus off your college grad living at home, point out what privileges the younger one can earn with excellent behavior. Encourage your freshman to focus on living up to your expectations. This will show you better than any words if your teenager is ready for a few more privileges. You can even explain – not so subtly – that more mature kids understand that “fair” doesn’t mean “equal!”
Deborah Gilboa, MD, aka Doctor G, is a Pittsburgh-area family physician who also offers parenting advice on Huffington Post and is founder of AskDoctorG.com.