Current Issue

Q:  Our 14-year-old son looks at least two years older, and in many ways he’s more mature than most boys his age. He recently started hanging around with a group of boys who are two years older than he is and have driver’s licenses. These boys don’t have bad reputations; in fact, they’re good kids who make decent grades and stay out of trouble. Still, we’re concerned. Should we insist that he find friends his own age?

A:  If I were in your shoes, I’d leave well enough alone. I can certainly understand your concern, and if the boys in question were “bad,” I’d recommend a more active approach. In this case, however, it simply sounds as if your son can relate better to boys who are slightly older. He probably regards the behavior of the typical boy his age as more than slightly childish and wants to avoid “guilt by association.”

These older boys have affirmed his image of himself as “older” than his years. They accept him, and given that they are good, responsible kids, I have a suspicion that they are acting as good role models, thus helping him channel his social maturity in constructive directions. If my suspicions are correct, the relationship is probably going to help your son take a later leadership role within his peer group. In short, instead of this situation being a prescription for trouble (as it might be under other circumstances), I think it’s actually helping your son to stay out of trouble.

In my book Teen-Proofing, I caution parents of teens against letting their anxieties drive a tendency to micromanage their kids’ social lives. Not only do parental attempts at micromanagement prevent a teen from learning by trial and error (the emphasis being on error), but parental micromanagement often precipitates rebellion. Workplace studies have determined that micromanagement of employees causes conflict, communication problems, deceit, and disloyalty. Parental micromanagement causes the same problems and solves absolutely none.

You are treading dangerously close to falling into this quicksand. If you want your son to continue being open and aboveboard with you, you’d do well not only to back off but also to welcome his friends into your home with open arms.

Yes, keep an eye on the situation, but that’s your job regardless. If you sense trouble brewing, let your son know what your concerns are. In that event, you should make it clear that whereas you’re not going to try to “choose” his friends, you are going to hold him completely, 100 percent responsible for the choices he makes while he’s with his friends.

As I tell parents over and over again, it’s not your job to always prevent your child from getting into trouble; rather, it’s your job to make sure your child learns what he needs to learn if and when he does get into trouble. In the absence of trouble, you don’t have much of a job. So, with that in mind, enjoy the vacation.

Family psychologist John Rosemond is the director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, North Carolina. For information about his talks and workshops, contact Elizabeth Stevens at 919-403-8712.

Younger Son, Older Friends

by John Rosemond
From the October 2006 Signs