Teens Require a Balance of Unconditional Love & Firmness

Raising Children: Love, Limits & Lessons

The Northampton Bike Path and Stubborn Teens

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 52,000 bicyclists were injured in traffic accidents in 2010 and a huge percentage of that number reflects those who were not wearing helmets. Taking this into consideration, we decided we were not willing to accept the risk of injury to our teen.

You might be thinking, “What the heck does the path and teens have in common?” It might be a stretch, but bear with me. You see, it all started when I took my grandkids on a walk on the Northampton Bike Path one day. I love that walk and if you’ve never been, the next time you’re in Northampton, go check it out. Using the trail, one can get from downtown Northampton to Look Park, Leeds Village and even all the way out to Station Road in South Amherst, using the Norwottuck Extension Trail and the Norwottuck Rail Trail. There are even future plans to extend it out to Williamsburg someday.

While I was on my walk that one day, I noticed a group of teenage boys riding their bikes. They were all dressed in a way that their peers would consider them to look cool, except for one thing; they all had bike helmets on. The boys appeared to be around the same age as our 14-year-old who has been trying to avoid wear a bike helmet this summer. This lead to a conversation my wife and I had recently, about how we were going to reintroduce this matter to our teen, now that she has taken a new interest in riding her bicycle to her friend’s house. She’s one of those stubborn types who focuses excessively on her appearance, especially if she’s leaving the house. We remember her going through the tween years, refusing to wear a coat when it was cold or rainy because it wouldn’t look cool (glad that one is over). Now we’re going to have to tell her that she’ll have to wear a helmet when she rides her bike. We know that one’s not going to go over well!

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 52,000 bicyclists were injured in traffic accidents in 2010 and a huge percentage of that number reflects those who were not wearing helmets. Taking this into consideration, we decided we were not willing to accept the risk of injury to our teen.  When we arrived home, we announced to her that a helmet would be necessary for all future rides. She of course threw a fit as we expected, and announced she would not be wearing a helmet. We allowed her to express her opinion and then went about our day. We know that our lack of arguing with her may lead her to think that we’ll cave, but we won’t. In a few days, I’ll offer to take her to the store so she can pick out a better fitting helmet and again, I’ll be ready for her to object and refuse to go.

The next time our 14-year-old wants to ride her bike to her friend’s house, we’ll gently remind her of the new rule and she’ll most likely respond by throwing a fit over it. That’s what many teens do. My wife and I will remain calm and stand our ground, that’s what effective parents do. Based on past experiences with her, she will probably refuse to ride to her friend’s house all together before retreating to her room. A few hours will pass and then she’ll reemerge from her room, reluctantly asking that we take her to the store to buy a helmet. She’ll be grouchy for most of the day and we’ll read texts from her to her friends about how horrible and over protective we are (yes, we monitor her texts with her knowledge).

Creating rules and limits effectively requires a balance of unconditional love AND firmness, with plenty of room for our kids to object. We should also allow their objections to occasionally change our minds if appropriate. In each situation we should allow them to disagree, state their case, and then take their points into consideration before both parents emerge as a team to deliver the final verdict.


Bill Corbett

Bill is the author of the award-winning parenting book series, Love, Limits, & Lessons: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Cooperative Kids (in English and in Spanish) and the executive producer and host of the public access television show Creating Cooperative Kids. He is a Western Mass native and grew up in the Northampton area. As a member of the American Psychological Association and the North American Society for Adlerian Psychology, Bill provides parent coaching and keynote presentations to parent and professional audiences across the country. He sits on the board of the Network Against Domestic Abuse, the Resource Advisory Committee for Attachment Parenting International, and the management team of the Springfield Parent Academy. Bill’s practical experience comes as a father of 3 grown children, a grandfather of two, and a stepdad to three, and resides in the area with his loving wife Elizabeth and teen step daughter Olivia.  You can learn more about Bill and his work at www.CooperativeKids.com.

[Photo credit: (ccl) Anita Hart]


  1. Bill Corbett said,

    August 14, 2012 at 11:36 pm

    Thank you for your comment Emma. Sounds like you did a great job and are now enjoying the fruits of your labor! Please call on me if I can help you further.


  2. Emma stamas said,

    August 13, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    My husband and I have successfully raised tthree children and are now proud grandparents. This sounds like great advice for parents who want to raise responsible, sensible, and emotionally healthy teens. We tried to follow these guidelines and they usually worked. Now we get to thoroughly enjoy our now grown adult children and adorable grandchild.


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