You might think that too-permissive parents are the ones whose kids have no rules, no curfews, no dress code, and no manners. True, but they're not the only ones.
You may be surprised that some of your habits could put you into the "pushover" or permissive parent category, according to experts, even if you think that you're doing everything right with your tweens and teens.
"Many parents today misunderstand their role," says parenting expert Leonard Sax, MD, PhD, a family doctor in Chester County, PA, and author of Girls on the Edge and Boys Adrift. "They often see their role as making sure the son or daughter gets into a top college and protecting the son or daughter from disappointment. They are there, providing the safety net in situations where it might be wiser to let the kid experience the consequences."
Here are five common ways that parents become too permissive, plus how and why you should change your ways.
1. No Routines or Limits
For many parents, life can get too hectic to follow through on their parenting plans, especially if it will take some work to get the kids on board. After a while, their family's lack of routine can result in lazy, spoiled teens or tweens without schedules and responsibilities.
"Everybody knows that they should have rules, routines, habits and socializations," says Laura Kastner, PhD, author of Getting to Calm: Cool-Headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens and Teens, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Washington School of Medicine. "But for busy parents, when they finally get home, they don't want to turn their family time into acrimony."
Like it or not, the only way to change the situation is to become less permissive, setting limits for the family.
"If you say, 'We're now going to have bedtime,' the kids will really push back," Kastner says. "You have to be calm, absolutely resolute, and not cave."
If you're married or living with your partner, they have to be on board. "You want your spouse to be on the point as much as possible, because kids will go after the weaker partner," Kastner says. "Once you get past the first two weeks, you're probably on your way."
2. Avoiding Conflict
Many parents find it easier to give in to their tween or teen's demands than get into yet another argument, so they become more lenient than they'd like. This may be particularly true for parents who didn't like the strict way that they were raised, so they relax the rules.
"As kids hit puberty, that's when conflict within the family increases," says Madeline Levine, PhD, author of Teach your Children Well. "The constant door in your face, 'I don't want to talk about it' and rolled eyes. But the exhaustion that comes with it is not a reason to back off on the mandatory rules."
You can let some minor things slide, if you really hate conflict, but it's crucial to your credibility as a parent to continue being tough about the things that matter.
"Pick your battles, but don't bow out," Levine says. "Forget about the hair color and save it for the piercing. Parents can't afford to back down."
3. Making School an Excuse
Savvy teens who want to shirk their responsibilities at home often use schoolwork as an excuse, because parents are usually pushovers for anything supposedly related to academics.
"There isn't a kid in America that doesn't know that saying, 'I'm going to be studying' takes precedence over chores," Levine says.
You may think that you're helping your child by doing his chores for him, but your permissiveness could hurt him in the long run.
"When kids go out into the community, they have to have some skills," Levine says. "Out in the real world, nobody says, 'I'm going to clear the table for you.'"
To ensure that your child becomes a well-rounded adult, require him to follow through on all of his responsibilities, not just those that could boost his GPA.
"We have the CEO model of parenting: How'd you do on this test, what's your GPA this semester," Levine says, "but parenting is really 30 years down the line -- making sure they have good relationships, good jobs, and become good parents themselves, not just making sure they get into the right school."
4. Trying to Be a Friend to Your Teen
Some overly permissive parents are more concerned with their teenagers liking them than being effective authority figures.
"A friend can't tell another friend: 'You're not allowed to do this,' but a parent must say that to a 14- or 15-year-old," Sax says. "Some 'cool' moms don't feel they have any authority to exercise."
Teens need authoritative parents to help them make the right choices, not friends to gossip with, Sax says. If you're ready to change your relationship with your teen, you need to own that and make a big change.
"Sit down with your son or daughter and say, 'I haven't been doing this right,'" Sax says. "Trying to do this gradually doesn't work. There's not a smooth transition from peer to parent."
5. Rewarding Kids With Technology
Tweens are getting smartphones at younger and younger ages, often because they wear down their parents by begging for the devices. But giving in isn't good for your child, even if you justify that she can call you if she unexpectedly needs a ride home.
"Permissive parents are having a heck of a time with smartphones and social media," Kastner says. "They give sixth-graders smartphones and Facebook accounts, [don't set screen-time limits] and then their grades go down. There's no reason for parents of middle-schoolers to give up as much control as they do."
If you've already given your tween or teen a gadget, use it to promote better behavior.
"The best thing about smartphones is you can take them away," Kastner says. "Tell your kids, 'You get your phone as a paycheck. You have to be a good citizen, go to bed, do your homework.' You don't even have to fight about having them give it to you; call your carrier and have them turn it off."