Locked Out of the House

By Rabbi Moshe Don Kestenbaum Aug 30, 2017 09:18 AM

As parents, we like to be in control of our children – where they go, what they do, etc. Unfortunately, today’s child is quite difficult to control. He is not quick to defer to his parents like yesterday’s child. The more parents try to intimidate their child into good behavior, the more he seems anxious to rebel.

Maybe we need to take a deeper look at what it means to have control. If my child follows all of my rules – he leaves and returns when he is supposed to, he dresses and behaves in front of me the way I demand – does that mean I have control? It depends.

I am not saying that it has to be precisely this way, but let us take two common scenarios.

Scenario one: A child completely obeys his parents on the outside, but at the same time he is doing things the parents do not approve of behind their backs. He doesn’t have a close relationship with his parents. He cannot talk to them about his life, because they will just express disapproval and swiftly look to shut down whatever he is doing.

Scenario two: A child is less obedient. His parents are softer and more accommodating, and he is therefore less afraid to challenge their rules. There is give and take, and even compromise. However, the child is open with his parents. He tells them what is going on in his life and even values their opinion. He loathes doing things behind their back, as he feels disloyal to his trusting parents.

I ask you: Who has more control of their child? The parents who have their child follow their rules while he’s doing things behind their back, or the child who is open with his parents and shares his life with them? There is no question that the second parents have far more control. They have such control that even when they are not around, the child is under their influence.

Every parent has to determine where to be strict and where to be soft, and certainly every child’s needs are different, but this we must keep in mind: Without a close relationship with our child, as much as we think we are in control, we are really not at all. It is a façade. It looks like we are in control, but, in reality, we are not at all. And when we have a close relationship, as much as it appears at times that we have little control, we have far more control than we realize. We have the vital keys to helping our child and influencing him.

I have heard from parents over the years that they have been advised to lock their child out of their house if he or she breaks curfew. Where will the child sleep? Who knows. But this is what they must do to enforce the law.

I feel strongly that this is disastrous advice. Locking one’s child out of the house sends him way too strong of a message. It tells him, “I don’t want you here.” It tells him that it’s not his house. Find other consequences if discussion and conversation don’t work, but please, never lock your child out of your house. It is questionable whether the method will even work, but even if it does, it will cause the child to carry extremely negative feelings towards his parents and ultimately lead to a loss of control. I have witnessed firsthand the negative effects of such tactics.

Before a parent does something drastic (like call the police) to assert control (not to protect someone’s life), please ask someone who really understands teens and has seen how these situations play out. I have seen catastrophic results from parents following such kinds of advice.

If we want control, we need to focus on building a close relationship with our child. There can be no more powerful control than that.

Rabbi Kestenbaum works with children, teens, and parents. He now has offices in Passaic, NJ. and Cedarhurst, NY. He can be contacted at kestenbaum4@gmail.com for private appointments or parenting workshops. His shiurim and past articles can be found at heartofparenting.com and waterburyyeshiva.org.

Rabbi Kestenbaum is the author of “Olam Hamiddos,” “Olam Ha’avodah,” “Run After the Right Kavod,” and “The Heart of Parenting.”

Rabbi Kestenbaum works with children, teens, and parents. He now has offices in Passaic, NJ and Cedarhurst, NY. He can be contacted at kestenbaum4@gmail.com for private appointments or parenting workshops. His shiurim and past articles can be found at heartofparenting.com and waterburyyeshiva.org.