The other day I was having a discussion on Twitter with some fellow parents of teens about bedtimes. It turns out my kids go to bed a lot later than others. My daughter, who is only 9, is never in bed before 9 and is rarely asleep before 10. My 12 year old son usually goes to bed just before 10 and falls asleep very quickly.
My 14 year old son endlessly procrastinates and wanders the house – having a late shower, then getting a drink etc etc and often isn’t in bed until 11. A few weeks ago, I decided to give up on waiting for him to go to bed and just go to bed myself. So I go to bed sometime before 10.30 and 11 – and if he’s still up, so be it!
I got the feeling others were frowning on this. I shouldn’t let this happen. I’m the parent. I should stop it.
But how easy is it to stop a 14 year old boy from doing things he doesn’t want to do? Not that flipping easy.
And I realised many years ago that my kids genuinely don’t need as much sleep as other people’s kids. They’ve always gone to bed on the late side (never before 8 even as babies and toddlers) and it’s worked for them and for us. Yes, I don’t get adult relaxing time in the evening. But maybe that’s not my priority?
Because there’s no rule book for parenting. We all do our best for our own families, our own kids and ourselves. What works for us won’t work for everyone. There may be things other families find acceptable which horrify me. But that’s fine. It works for them.
We have to choose our battles. Especially with teenagers.
Because if we don’t prioritise, life with teenagers really can be one endless battle. Bringing up teenagers isn’t a bed of roses, but it’s not (for me, at this moment) the worst thing in the world. I know what my son can and can’t do, what he will and won’t do, and we work with that.
There are rules and boundaries and he knows those. If he breaks them, he gets into trouble. But I won’t come down on him like a ton of bricks. It doesn’t work. Not for him and not for me.
There have been a couple of issues recently where we have felt he has let himself and us down. He’s very disorganised and fails to tell us when he’s going to be home and either forgets to take his phone out with him or forgets to charge it. I’ve lost count of the number of texts I’ve received from him from other people’s phones. There was an issue with honesty too.
With both of these issues, it would have been easy to go in yelling, with all guns blazing. How dare he let us down like that? How dare he be so thoughtless?
And what would have happened? He would have turned on us. Yelled until he was red in the face – probably with us yelling back. Then he would have stomped upstairs and slammed the door. There would have been tears. Maybe mine. Maybe his. Maybe both.
His brother and sister would have been cowering in fear. His sister would almost certainly have been crying too.
And I would have felt dreadful. For the rest of the day and probably the day after.
And what would I have achieved? Nothing.
The fall-out would have been way worse than the initial incident and he wouldn’t have learned anything.
So when we’re disappointed, we talk to him firmly, but calmly about what he’s done wrong, how he’s let himself and us down and how he needs to change that for the future.
Our priorities are honesty, taking responsibility, being organised and his education.
Bedtimes don’t matter. Not in the scheme of things.
We all choose our battles and how to fight them. It’s the only way to bring up a teenager to become the likeable, responsible adult you want them to become.