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Helping To Determine If Your Kids Are “Old Enough”

The internet is a buzz with Buzzfeed’s survey results of when parents think their kids should be allowed to do certain things. Buzzfeed polled more than 100,000 parents on when kids should be allowed to join facebook, get their own cellphone, stay home alone, babysit other children, wear makeup, dye hair, get ears pierced, get a tattoo, view an R rated movie, go to a concert with friends, go to the mall by selves, sleep over at a friend’s house, hear the “sex talk,” go on a date, walk to school alone, have their own Instagram, drink pop or coffee, or alcohol. The results of the poll can be viewed at http://www.buzzfeed.com/mikespohr/these-are-the-ages-parents-think-their-kids-should-be-allowe#.jjzlmePOW. The survey may be helpful to give parents an idea of what is normal or typical for other families but its best use is as a guideline rather than scripture. We are all familiar with children who throw out the “Everyone else is allowed to _____” card. Parents may feel lost as to how to know whether their particular child is ready. Birmingham Maple Clinic family therapist Carrie Krawiec has some suggestions for parents to decide what ages work for their unique family and the unique children within that family.

  1. Actual age vs Developmental age.
    1. In the survey parents are asked “How old do you think your child should be to….” Parents should ask themselves about their own child
      1. “How old is my child?”
      2. “How old does my child behave?”
      3. “How old does my child react emotionally?”
      4. “Does my child demonstrate the kind of logical thinking and problem solving that matches this responsibility/privilege?”
      5. “Are my child’s interests the same as other kids their age?”
      6. “How old does my child look?”
      7. “What age range do their friends seem to look/act/behave?”

This will help to give parents a slightly more complex view of where their child is at emotionally, intellectually and socially ready to take on a new privilege.

  1. Past behavior and current behavior
    1. The best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. Does your child have a history of following directions, being trust worthy, making good choices, showing respect to people and belongings, having self control or are they likely to take risks, be reckless or disobedient.
  1. Introduce new priveleges one at a time, gradually and incrementally.
    1. Start with a privilege that is relatively benign (the risks and consequences are low) and move up to more and more complex behaviors. As stated above you need to know how they handle privileges over time. Too many at once makes this kind of monitoring hard to do.
    2. For example you may start with a phone with no social media and see how it is handled and then move up to adding one social media account at a time as expectations are met.
  2. Break each privilege into some small fundamental expectations.
    1. Be clear and specific what you expect your child to do. For example, if you are authorizing a Facebook account tell your child you will be doing either secret or announced spot checks. Let them know you expect to see appropriate language (no swearing), tasteful pictures (nothing sexy, nude or illegal like drinking or drugs or bullying), that you expect to be told honestly who friends are if asked. Then implement the plan on a trial basis. As your child meets your expectations then you can reduce the amount of supervision you provide or add another privilege like an account on a different social network.
  3. Practice Practice Practice.
    1. Before first launching a new task start first with a dress rehearsal. Pretend the new privilege is on such as staying home alone. Give your kid an idea of what you expect of them then hide out in your room or home office and test certain behaviors such as ringing the door bell or calling the house phone (the child should not answer if you told them not to). Troubleshoot as necessary, predict potential problems, and move on to launch when the kinks are worked out.
  4. Encourage on track behavior and set limits when necessary.
    1. Have a plan for how you are going to encourage appropriate behavior. Verbal praise (“Way to go,” “Thank you” and “Good job”) or physical praise (high fives, thumbs up) are great free ways to support and acknowledge your kids understand your expectation and are executing good decision making and both you and they will feel confident that things are going well.
    2. Also have a plan for how to respond if the behaviors are not up to snuff. It may be removal of the privilege and trying again at a later time or a temporary suspension. It could also be a work chore in which a child has to do some task like rake the leaves or wash the windows in order to resume the privilege again.

A family therapist can be useful in helping parents and families improving problem solving and communication techniques to reduce conflict around these developmental milestones. If you would like to schedule an appointment with a therapist you can visit www.birminghammaple.com or visit www.birminghammaple.com