Monday, March 13, 2006


Bryan Caplan links to a great post on parenting and economics. It reminds me of one of my previous posts on the topic. In any case, Bryan then asks:
The only problem: Most of Cox's advice is aimed at parents of young kids, but most of the anguished parents I know have teen-agers! In particular, I know a number of parents who have 18-year-olds who refuse to go to school or get a job. What's a parent of a teen-age bum to do?

As the father of four boys (all under the age of 10) I practice a parenting technique called "Love and Logic". It's described in a book called "Parenting with Love and Logic" and it's quite similar to what Dr. Cox prescribes.

In any case, what to do with the teenage bum? I would hope that my pre-teen children would see something like this coming from a mile away since they've been dealing with me and my devious wife since they were born. But if I just started practicing this parenting style on them as a teenager, I'd first sit them down when we're all in a good mood. Maybe after a good movie on TV, or going out to they're favorite dinner or something like that.

Then I'd casually say something to my wife. Of course, we'd have rehearsed this many many times so that we knew what our plan was. Maybe we'd do it on the way home in the car.

Me: You know, honey. John's been living at home for a while now. He's not in school and he's not got a job.

Wife: Yeah, I know what you mean. It doesn't seem like he's got any plan for anything, really. I'm not sure what to do about this, do you have any ideas?

Me: Well, I've decided that we need to start treating John much more like an adult. We've been doing a really bad job at that lately. We're acting like he's 4 years old and it's just not working.

John (interrupting): Yeah, that's right.

Me: I'm sorry, John, I'm speaking with your mother right now. Just a minute. Anyway, I think we should start treating him much more like an adult. Do you think we can do that?

Wife: Oh yes, I know exactly how adults are treated. I don't think that will be a problem at all.

Me: Ok. Then we're agreed. Sorry, John, you were saying?

John: I was just agreeing with you.

Me: Oh, good. So this sounds like a good plan to you?

John: Sure. Whatever.

Me: Oh good. I'm so releaved. I thought you might hate this plan.

John: Why would I hate it?

Me: Well, let's not think about that for now. I'm sure that it will all work out just fine.

And then I'd just end the conversation.

The next day, I'd put a bill on his bedroom door for rent. The rent statement would read: "Can be paid monthly in cash or by semester in college grades of C or better." Rent or a college acceptance letter is due on the 1st of the month. I wouldn't say a single thing other than that. The monetary amount would not be ridiculous, but it'd certainly be more than he could afford without getting a job, maybe $100 per month.

I suspect that the kid would not do a single thing, and the 1st of the month would roll around without a payment or an enrollment letter. At which point, I'd go into his room, remove his stereo (or some other valued possession) and sell it. In it's place, I'd leave a note saying something like, "repossesed for non-payment of rent".

Now the trick to this would be when the kid came home and discovered his missing stereo, to be empathetic. To say something like, "Man that really stinks! I know *exactly* how you feel. I would hate it if I lost my house because I didn't pay the mortgage! What are you going to do?"

Now if the kid's smart, he'll do something immediately. If he's particularly stubborn it will take a couple of months of losing his things before he starts to realize that he's being treated like an adult and it's going to require and adult response: get a job, go to school, or move out.

You might prefer to start with something smaller: maybe stop buying his favorite food. Then escalate to bigger things like his stereo.

This seems harsh. But it's all in the delivery. It's all in how much empathy and compassion for the kid's problem you have. If you make life difficult enough for the kid, but deliver that difficulty with empathy, the kid will choose to leave. He might be very unhappy, but that's when you innundate him with your catch phrase: "I love you too much not to treat you like the adult that you are. Good luck!" The kid may not like you very much when you do this, but it will serve him well in the future. When a payment of a bill (or some other adult responsibility) starts to get close, he'll have the memory of this (relatively) small pain to help him avoid a much more painful situation that's not delivered by his parents.

And that's how a parent gets through this kind of thing. If you *could* lay both painful situations side by side and choose which one your child was forced to experience, you'd almost certainly choose the least painful one. When you do something like this, you have to remember about the larger pain in the future that you're sentancing your child to if you avoid the small pain today.

Of course, if you want a much better set of examples, I recommend this.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great suggestions! Some of the postings I read previously had a lot of judgement about people's parenting. My eldest has worked and supported himself since he turned 18. He never gave me any grief. This younger one was born stubborn and spirited. I've been consistent. He's had consequences and just figured out that I really can't make him do anything. I've cut back on everything. No more movies, take out, laundry. I stopped cooking for him, no longer buy him anything. Still, he refuses to get a job or go back to school. I've actually thought of buying him a one-way ticket to his father's home. He also knows that all programs that I may want to send him to are voluntary, so I can't even send him someplace. I guess the answer is: sell his stuff. I'm going for it. Thanks!

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