When Parenting Teens And Tweens, Know Your Mandate

by Shannan Younger
Originally Published: 

Image via Shutterstock

My tween daughter rolled her eyes as she quickly turned away and stomped upstairs. She didn’t exactly slam her bedroom door, but she definitely used more force than was necessary.

There was no mistaking that my daughter was not happy with me—not at all—because, well, because she was 12 ½. The age in and of itself could explain the situation, but what triggered this upset was her use of, a website we had specifically told her she was not to use, under any circumstances.

The Terms of Service state, “Physical persons must be 13 years or older to use this service.” That’s in large part due to a federal law called the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. We had previously made it clear that in our house, that requirement was to be followed. My daughter protested: “But you said I couldn’t have an account. I don’t have an account. You never said I couldn’t use it without an account.” The eye roll and flounce out of the room was her response to me stating that I had, in fact, clearly informed her that the app was not be used under any circumstances.

When my husband and I were doing a post-bedtime postmortem of our rocky night, I started to second-guess a few of our decisions. Okay, fine, I started to Monday-morning-quarterback the vast majority of parenting decisions I have made over the years, for probably the millionth time.

“Maybe I’m overdoing it. Am I a helicopter parent? I know she needs freedom to make mistakes, and…”

Then I stopped.

I remembered what football coach Lou Holtz often says in his motivation speeches: Know your mandate. When I thought about that phrase and what it meant for me as a mom, I suddenly felt really okay about my parenting decisions. All my actions that night served my mandate, and that made it infinitely easier to set aside the oh-so-familiar doubt and questioning.

Here’s what I believe my mandate is as a parent:

– Keep my child safe.

– Do what I can to keep my child healthy.

– Display love and affection for my child.

– Make sure my child is educated.

– Teach my child to be respectful and responsible, which includes but is not limited to following both the law and our rules.

I feel confident saying that all of those fall under the umbrella of parenthood. Every parent sees their mandate somewhat differently, but in the hierarchy of needs, these are at the top for me. I’m sure my list is far from perfect and that it may change over time. I do realize that I cannot keep my daughter safe forever, nor should I. As she gets older, it will be more along the lines of “Teach her how to keep herself safe.”

All the items on my list of mandates require time and energy, something no parent ever has enough of. What I find equally helpful in making sure that I can meet those mandates is the knowledge of what my mandate does not include. My role as a parent is not limitless. Thank God! I think the wisdom of knowing your mandate is that you also know what you do not have to do in a given circumstance.

Here’s a list of what I believe is not included in my mandate as a parent:

– I am not my child’s friend.

– It is not my job to give my child everything she wants.

– My decisions do not need to mirror those made by other parents.

– I am not my child’s sole entertainment committee.

– I am not responsible for my child’s happiness.

That last one may be the sticky wicket for the aforementioned tween on this evening. Most parents I know do not relish making their child unhappy, despite a large number of children who think that’s not true. It isn’t easy for me, either, knowing that she’s upset, but I remind myself that she alone is responsible for her happiness.

The thing about tweens and teens is that they’re capable of being responsible for themselves. Whether or not they choose to be is a different story. Making good choices often leads to greater happiness. That’s a tough but important lesson to learn. Part of our mandate is letting the chips (and the painful consequences that sometimes accompany them) fall where they may. It’s a learning process that can be painful for all involved.

Knowing my mandate also makes it easier for me to stick to my position, even if it is a lonely one. I know that I’m swimming upstream with my rules about age of use for social media, and other parents have taken a different approach. I know that this isn’t the only time that I will differ from what other parents are permitting (especially in the eyes of my child). But knowing that my rules fit with what I see as my mandate bolsters my confidence that I’m doing what’s right for me and my child.

Lou Holtz may not have meant to give parenting advice, but his recommendation is one that works well off the gridiron. In fact, it’s wisdom that applies in all circumstances, even those involving upset tweens and teens. And yes, I would think that even if I had not attended Notre Dame in the ’90s when Holtz was the football coach there.

Knowing what your mandate is, and what your ultimate goals are, makes it easier to stay the course. Not easy, but easier. When it comes to parenting tweens and teens, I’ll take all the help I can get.

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