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Suzanne Korf: Butting in on butting out

How much parental involvement is too much? When do you butt in and when do you butt out?

It’s easy when kids are small and they need their parents to guide them and keep them safe. But at some point, you have to start letting them make their own decisions, as painful as that might be.

I always thought that once my kids turned 18, my job would be done. I know you never stop being a parent, but I thought that by the age of majority, I would have taught them enough that they would be OK on their own.

Society seems to agree that parents should step back as kids become teenagers. As soon as your child is 14, their health record becomes confidential. Your child could have a mental or physical condition that you do not know about.

As soon as your child enters CEGEP, you may still pay the bills, but the school will not communicate with you about your child’s progress or difficulties.

Now that my sons are 14 and 18, I am not so sure this is the best time to back away and let them do their own thing. As kids get older, the choices they make often have bigger consequences. We try to prepare them to make good decisions on their own, but shouldn’t parents still be involved?

One of the hardest things is knowing how strict to be with a teenager about things like doing homework, staying out late, drinking and time spent in front of the computer. You don’t want to create an environment that is always confrontational and will cause your child to rebel. On the other hand, you don’t want your child to do badly in school or engage in self-destructive behaviour. Each child is different and what works for one won’t necessarily work for another. Parenting styles are very different, too, so your child may have friends whose parents are very lenient and others whose are very strict.

Smoking is one of the things I struggle with. According to the Canadian Lung Association, each day almost 100,000 young people around the world start smoking. I was shocked when my son became one of those statistics. Is this one of those decisions you let them make for themselves? Given the serious health risks, I decided to “butt” in.

I tried throwing away cigarettes, giving lectures, saying nothing, begging and bribery. Nothing worked. Now I am trying to encourage him to smoke one less cigarette each week and am pasting messages of positive reinforcement as the screen saver on his iPad.

It may not work, but hopefully he knows how much I care. Maybe when he’s 21, I can finally butt out? Hopefully, by then he will have “butted out” too!

Suzanne Korf is a professional fundraiser who has worked for non-profit organizations for more than 25 years. She is a director of development for The Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation. She is a mother of two and a resident of Pointe-Claire since 1991.

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