The Bush Doctrine of Parenting

When George Bush announced the "Bush Doctrine" as a policy of preemptive attacks on terrorists and states that harbor them, citizens lined up both for and against his argument. When it comes to parenting and the dangers facing teens during adolescence, some parents have begun implementing their own version of the "Bush Doctrine" as critics try to make their voices heard as well.

Sexual predators targeting children in Internet chat rooms, temptations to drive recklessly and at high speeds, and substance abuse all threaten the lives and well-being of teens.

Most parents, whether they know it, or will admit it, have teens who have been at risk from these dangers.

Where should parents draw the line in their family's personal battle with these "terrorists of adolescence," you know... the people and activities that put a teen's life and well-being at stake? Are parents even in the fight? How committed are they and for how long?

The enemy is present and totally committed. Parents are woefully outnumbered and surrounded, and their enemy will never, ever give up. However, in parents' arsenal, they possess the most powerful weapon of all. If misused, this weapon could be ineffective and may even backfire. What is this weapon? It's the bond of trust between parents and their teens.

Why would parents object to putting a GPS system in their teen's car to alert them when their teens broke family rules (and often laws) by driving their car too far, too fast, or recklessly? Why would they scoff at the idea of putting software capable of retrieving their teen's email and Internet chat room discussions on their family computer? Knowing that substance abuse is illegal, addictive, and deadly, why would parents refuse to implement a home drug testing program that would allow them to know which, if any substances their teens were using? While parents as well as teens value the bond of trust, some choose to believe that merely suggesting that these tools may be necessary, makes them the first to break that bond.

Consequently, advances in technology that make these accurate, real-time tools available to parents often go unused until it's too late. Often parents unwilling to use such tools, or use them properly, will accept heavier losses if not outright defeat. Quality intelligence gathering is the cornerstone of an effective battle plan.

Ben Franklin once said, "Wise is the man who fixes his roof before it rains." If ol' Ben were alive today, I'm certain he would encourage parents to sit down with their kids long before such problems were likely to occur to explain their expectations, the tools at their disposal, and the rewards and consequences tied to the information they gathered.

Kids need to know that their parents are on their side and that they are united against common foes. Parents need to let their teens know they are providing them with a "socially acceptable" excuse to deter pushy peers. What could be a more potent response for teens than "I can't: my parents are checking"?

Ronald Reagan, in dealing with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, took a "trust and verify" approach that when applied by parents properly in this capacity can help parents and teens find a reasonable middle ground. Trust without verification removes the leverage and power the bond of trust has on teens. Many teens believe (and rightfully so) that their parents are easily duped and don't know what's going on. With this belief, teens doubt their mischief will ever be discovered and don't feel their parental bond of trust is in jeopardy. Little or no behavioral deterrent exists. Additionally, without verification, a window of opportunity exists for uninformed parents to cause damage to the bond of trust by falsely assuming that their kids aren't deserving of their trust and treating them accordingly.

If decisions are only as sound as the facts on which they are based, more information is better than less. Facts trump gut instinct, and it's better to get important information sooner rather than later. "Terrorists of adolescence" exist, and parents are equipped with the most powerful weapons in the battle. It's simply up to parents to use them wisely.

About the Author

Mason Duchatschek is the president of in Fenton, Missouri. As part of his research, he has interviewed thousands of parents, teenagers, school board members, counselors, school principals and superintendents.

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