Dear Dr. Mike
One of the big rules for my 14-year-old daughter is no boys in the house when parents are not home! My daughter agrees with the rule, in principle, but cannot resist letting boys in when they knock on the door--some of them are much older (17). Also, what is an appropriate punishment when she breaks this rule? (One time we went ballistic--took her phone away, grounded her, and threatened her with an all girls school.) What should we do?
Dr. Mike Responds
First off, agreeing with the rule in principle but not in action is really disagreement with the rule. At this age, with teens' increasingly sophisticated abstract reasoning skills, it is easy to be fooled by their understanding. Remember, they learn more by what you do than what you say, and vice-versa, you learn more by what they do than what they say. Do not hold this against them.
The first step to the deep internalization of principles is agreement in the abstract; the final step is congruency in behavior. Holding a consistent structure is how we support our teens in their identification and internalization of these principles of living. Thus it is important to catch your daughter when she violates these principles and to not take these violations personally--they are part of the learning process.
Here the behavior, having older boys in the house without parents at home, is risky business, even if all the guys are good kids. In this case, there is too much room for behavior that escalates and gets out of control before anybody fully realizes what is happening. You need to be actively involved.