How Strict Is Too Strict?

kids in front of school, Mike Riera letters, 101700
Parents need to set boundaries. When are parents too strict? When aren't they being strict enough? The Saturday Early Show Family and Adolescence Counselor Mike Riera helps define that very fine line and answers questions e-mailed by our viewers.

The first letter reads:

"Dear Mike:

I believe my second-grader is going through back-to-school anxiety. He's doing bizarre things that are out of character. I'm trying to make the point that he is at school to do his job, so he has lost all computer time, TV and playtime and has to write sentences that should take until Wednesday of next week. Is this too harsh?"

If you are correct in thinking that his misbehavior stemmed from back-to-school anxiety (and it's often the case), then he needs first and foremost to reconnect with you, then the school, and then worry about consequences. Punishments that may already be in place and consequences by themselves don't teach kids much of anything, except maybe not to get caught the next time. If the punishment is in place, live with it, but don't make it unduly harsh.

Use the time when he isn't watching TV and playing on the computer to do some fun things together to reconnect. Also cut way down on the sentence writing, as that will only make him bitter. Talk with the teacher and brainstorm about what he or she can do.

If a child is behaving this way, it is probably his best way to communicate how he feels inside: scared, anxious, and alone. There are escalating stages to poor adjustment: feelings of sadness and fear; acting out; and withdrawal. If your son is still in that second phase, consider getting him to a counselor because simple transition issues should be over this far into the school year.

The second letter reads:

"Dear Mike:

Why do parents give more freedom to sons than daughters? I'm in tenth grade; my brother is in eighth grade. When he said he had a girlfriend, my parents said nothing. But when it comes to me dating, they freak out. I'm going on 16 and still can't date. How can I change their minds?"

You're right, it is unfair! Anecdotally, parents of boys worry most about drugs and alcohol; parents of girls worry most about sex. This leads to more rules and fewer freedoms for girls.

The only way to change their minds is to understand where they are coming from and that it isn't fair, then set about doing something about it. Point out the unfairness to them, and then ask them the big question: How can I prove to you that I'm ready to date? Then show them you can take care of yourself.

Give them examples, show off a little bit. Tell them you would never go on a first date alone with a stranger and that you will always double date, as it's much safer that way. Also, let them know that you understand the connection between substance use and unexpected and undesired sexual play. Acknowledge that they've done a good job as parents and that you understand that sexual activity grows out of intimacy, not the other way around. This is a big one, especially for parents of girls, so you might want to really emphasize this point. Be ready to be frank with them about what you know and what you need to learn about sex and sexuality, too.

Finally, stress that dating is just dating; it isn't the same as having sex, at least in your mind. Then be patient because it'll take them time. When they do let you date follow their guidelines to the 'T'or you won't have another date until you're 21!