Traverse City Record-Eagle

Body & Soul

July 21, 2012

Ask Evelyn: Teens' limits, parents' instincts

Q: I'm a widowed, fairly liberal, single parent of a daughter who has one year left of high school. She's always been a good and cooperative, communicative kid, but she has some questionable friends.

Perhaps her friends' parents are more tolerant than I. I will stick to my personal trust limits and my own moral values, but I'd feel better with some input on how much freedom she should be allowed at age 17, nearly 18.

Is it time for her to quit asking permission to do things and just "let me know"? Can I continue to punish her by withholding "perks" — like cell phones, etc? Where should I draw the line? — B. B.

A: Reflect on the ways your child has grown and how she has behaved over the past decade. You'll probably feel that you've done a good parenting job thus far.

I suggest you trust your own instincts. But if you have strong feelings that her friends are questionable, you might be right. Have them over as often as possible to observe and learn more about them. Think of ways to get to know the parents, too. You'll find out more about their standards and values.

Seventeen is still a vulnerable age, and peer pressure can be risky. But when she goes to college, you will have far less input, so make the most of your input and your relationship this year. The two of you have always had good communication, and that will work in your favor.

I think your daughter is still too young to simply quit asking you for permission, and too young to not tell you where she will be and when she will be home. After all, it's a matter of considering the feelings of her family (you), and it's also a matter of respect and manners. Be sure to stress that aspect. And ask her how she would feel if she were in your place.

You and your daughter can also have a "family meeting" to decide on some ground rules and on the consequences for inappropriate behavior. This type of "contract" is a good way to continue to involve her in being responsible for her decisions and actions. You can also decide together on a reward for responsible behavior. You can put this contract in writing and sign it, and plan to discuss any necessary modifications if needed. You know your child best; you'll know what to do.

Note to Mom of 15 Year Old Girl: No, do NOT let her "hang out" alone at a boyfriend's house. Fifteen-year-olds are usually experiencing raging hormones and confusion regarding what to do about them. It's just too much temptation.

Remember, you're the parent. She needs adult guidance and straightforward discussions about limits and the potentially serious consequences of sexual activity.

You would not want her to give in to passion which could make a mess of her life. Talk clearly, firmly and SOON.

Evelyn Petersen is an award-winning parenting columnist and early childhood educator and author who lives in Traverse City; see her website at

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