Dear Kid Whisperer,
I am so stressed out. My sixteen-year-old is going to be the death of me. She has her driver’s license, and she has a car, and is pretty much always one to two hours late whenever we give her a time to be home. She doesn’t even answer her cell when we call. I’m at a loss. -Stacey, Columbus, Ohio
Let’s simplify things right off the bat with a few necessary paradigm shifts:
Your daughter is not entitled to a cell phone.
Your daughter is not entitled to a driver’s license.
Your daughter is not entitled to a car.
Your daughter is not entitled to freedom.
Your daughter is not allowed to stress you out.
You are not responsible for your daughter having a social life.
It is your daughter’s responsibility to act in such a way that she can have a social life.
Here’s how I would handle this situation.
Scene I: Kid Comes Home Late
Kid: I know, I know. I’m “late.” (quotation marks indicate her use of sarcastic air quotes)
Kid Whisperer: I am so glad you’re home. I was so worried.
Kid: Aren’t you going to lecture me?
Kid Whisperer: What good would that do? We’ll talk later when I’m not upset. I love you, and I am glad you are safe.
Scene II: (The Next Morning)
Kid Whisperer: Good morning. I feel better than I did yesterday, but I am still stressed out. I love you so much, and from now on, I will only allow you to live your life when I know that the way you live your life will not stress me out.
Kid: What’s that supposed to mean?
Kid Whisperer: You have caused a major problem for me. You have made me feel so stressed out that I can barely function. I am going to ask that you take some time to de-stress me. I’ve been so stressed that I have neglected the laundry, and have not cleaned the house in days. I’m going to have you do it in order to take away my stress.
Kid: Forget that, I’m out of here! Where are my car keys?
Kid Whisperer: Oh dear. I’m feeling more stress. I was going to clean the bathrooms today, but now I’m too stressed out for that too. I have taken your driver’s license, your cell phone, and your car keys. You may want to have a tantrum now. Whenever you are done, all of the chores will be waiting for you. I’ll give you guidance on how to use cleaning products if you need help.
Kid: This is child abuse!
Kid Whisperer: Oh, dear. It will be up to you whether you solve the problem of taking away my stress. Once you have done so, you can go back to having a social life, and you can then continue to have a social life as long as you never, ever stress me out. So, whether or not you will have a social life is completely up to you.
Kid: I’m going to call Children’s Services!
Kid Whisperer: The good news is that no matter what you decide, you will be free to have a social life once you turn 18 and you leave the house forever. I’ll love you no matter what you decide.
If Kid chooses to go with the “No Social Life Until 18 Plan” (which is highly unlikely) you will have a housekeeping problem, not a discipline problem. If this occurs, you can hire a neighborhood kid to do the cleaning for Kid, and pay the neighborhood kid with Kid’s savings and allowance. Either way, your stress level will be successfully lowered. Also, Kid won’t be able to heighten it again, since you’ll know that they are safe and sound (though broke and lonely) in your home.