Q. "Ever since my son read about some kid suing his parents in Denver, he's been talking about his 'right,'" says a mother in Landover.
"Jack says children have rights too, but we can't agree on what they are, and every night there is a new fight. In fact, it's getting worse. He will be 16 in three months and it's, 'When I'm 16 I'm going to get a car' (he doesn't have a job) and, 'When I'm 16 I ought to be able to stay out as late as I want.'
"Now he says he should be able to smoke at 16 since we smoke, and if my husband can have a beer before dinner, he ought to be able to have one too.
"We've always tried to give him everything we could afford, and let him have the same privileges as his friends, but now, no matter what we do, it's not enought."
A: We think Jack makes a good point. Children do have rights.
They have the right to be fed well and clothed, no better or worse than the rest of the family, and to have a small allowance if possible.
They have the right to be taught to read and to write and to compute well enough to learn the rest on their own if they must.
They have the right to privacy and as much independence as they can handle.
And they have the right to be respected and -- with luck -- to be loved.
Children also have the right to have responsible parents, and at this age that may be as hard as it was when he was Two or Four. Now you do a lot of nodding and "hmmming," and when the demands get too insistent, you draw the boundaries wide but firm.
He's going to get a car when he's 16? The answer is not, "And just how do you thing you're going to pay for it?" but "Are you? or, "What kind would you like?" or, "I don't blame you; that would be wonderful."
We all like the liberty of sharing dreams with people we love. And there's no harm in it.
The child, they say, is father to the man. First he wants privileges (he has that right, too) and then he has to figure out how much they are worth to him.
When his birthday comes he can decide whether he wants a car bad enough to work every weekend and every afternoon after school to earn the money to buy and maintain one. And if he doesn't, he will have to decide if he wants to use the family car enough to pay for his own gas and insurance, although you may agree to pay the premium if he keeps the car clean and in shape and runs the errands or drives the carpools. The more he uses it for himself, the more he should use it for others.
As for his other grand plans to be on a par with you: of course not. Unless he regularly tars the roof, cooks the meals, clean the house, waits for the repairman -- and pays the mortgage -- he hasn't earned the same rights that you have and he knows it. Most of this big talk is a Fifteen's way of cutting the cord, and although he will challenge every rule at least once, most of it is done with words.
It's only human nature to want more than you can have, but as a parent, you have the right -- in fact the duty -- to say no to anything that doesn't suit your way of life. Every parent profits by an occasional detached examination of the rules, and perhaps a loosening up, but you can't abdicate your responsibility.
Never mind what he says the rest of the kids can do. This is the child you'll be loving all your life; it's important that you like him too.