At an event I spoke at last night for a small group of moms with 5th -7th graders, per usual, I asked how many of their kids were the proud owners of smartphones. If you have been reading my blog regularly you know by now that giving kids smartphones makes me crazy. Anyway, 3/4 of the hands shot up. As usual I gave my old fuddy duddy rant about why I think smartphones are hazardous to a teen's health. This rant can be found in any number of my previous blogs, so I won't bore you with it here. But the deed was already done, so I decided to focus more on the process by which these phones ended up in their teens hands. The common thread whenever and wherever I ask this question is: "All their friends have one and we didn't want them to feel left out."
OK being left out is not having a phone at all. I understand the relentless pressure teens can exert when they want something really really badly. They know just what buttons to push. They know just how to make you feel guilty that somehow you are not as good a parent as their friends parents, if you don't allow them to do X or buy them X. So in your effort to make your teen happy, and therefore make your life easier you cave. The message sent to your teen here is if you want something really badly, be persistent, make them feel guilty, never let up, and eventually you will succeed
Developmentally teens are driven to conformity. They want what everyone else has. They want to look like everyone else, they want to listen to the same music, have the same clothes, eat the same food, drink the same water, have the same backpack, play the same video games, watch the same TV shows all in the name of fitting in. Conformity plays a huge part in giving teens a sense of sameness and peace as they struggle with the difficult task of developing an identity. They are being bombarded with changes in their brains and in their bodies, and the sameness takes away some of the angst. So, if it isn't unsafe or disrespectful, I am all for the cloning of teens. It is a temporary state, and as they move into the later teen years, they start to nail down their own particular brand of who they are, and the whole conformity thing falls by the wayside.
Your role in all this is to judge what is unsafe or disrespectful. There may be many things that your teen wants to do, watch trashy TV or buy brand names of items that are ridiculously overpriced, that go against your values but are not unsafe or disrespectful. You just don't like it, and therefore don't want your teen to have it or do it. In these cases I recommend saying: "I get how important it feels to you to have UGG boots like your friends. They seem like a lot of money to me, but I get how important they are to you, so here is the $60 I would have spent on boots for you, and you are welcome to use your birthday money or your savings to add to it and get the boots." In this scenario, you take care of yourself, and give you teen the choice to get what he/she wants without you having to totally give your support and go against your own values. Here is the thing, there will be things your teens wants, or events they want to go to that are unsafe. Here you will need to draw the line, even if there are other parents who aren't. This is hard, this makes you unpopular, this creates havoc. I get that completely. Whether it is a smartphone that gives your teen unlimited access to more distraction than their little brain can handle, or a concert that takes them too far from home on a school night, or not allowing them to go to a house that you feel is unsupervised and therefore unsafe, these are the unpopular decisions parents must make. When you make those kinds of decisions judiciously, your teen understands that you are concerned with the big picture and of their safety.
The Rolling Stones had it right in their song "You can't always get what you want." That goes for your teens and for you. You won't always be the most popular parents. You won't always be the "mean parents" either. But you do have to be the smart parents. Trust your gut. If you are saying yes to something even though your gut is saying no. Stop and figure out why. Of course we want to make out kids happy, and often we give in on things cause we love to see the smile and appreciation on our teens faces no matter how fleeting it might be. And many times we can "give in" and feel OK about it. Just make sure that whenever you feel that gut pulling you in another direction, ask yourself, is this safe?